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The BSO's Basement Tapes

Posted by Geoff Edgers  June 10, 2008 03:01 PM

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If you're an orchestra junkie, there's some interesting news out of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The BSO has finished a six-month project to restore a group of audio tapes - which include a world premiere of Milhaud's Sixth Symphony and Leonard Bernstein performing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat - taken from concerts between 1951 and 1959.

The bad news: You can't actually buy or download any of the music taken from the 229 reel-to-reel tapes of the BSO and Pops recording off radio broadcasts by amateur audio engineer Robert Waddell. To listen, you'll have to call and make arrangements with Bridget Carr, the BSO's archivist.

"The recordings are great," Carr told me. "It's one of about five or six collections we have that document a time when there wasn’t an official radio broadcast archive, so yes, they’re treasures for us. We chose this collection because it was recorded so well but we’ll be seeking funding to preserve and reformat the others in the future."

The recordings were found by a couple in Fremont, New Hampshire who purchased Waddell's house in 1996. Two years later, they donated the collection to the BSO. Why do they matter so much? Because a 1961 fire at WGBH destroyed most of the broadcasts made over the previous decade.

The Waddell tapes captured 125 selected BSO concerts led by Charles Munch. They include the world premiere performances of Walter Piston’s Symphony No. 6 (November 26, 1955), Darius Milhaud’s Symphony No. 6 (October 8, 1955), and Bohuslov Martinu’s Fantasies Symphoniques (January 8, 1955). There's also Bernstein conducting and performing the Mozart concerto on March 1, 1952 and a recording of WGBH’s first radio broadcast on October 6, 1951.

For this project, the BSO worked with Philadelphia's Safe Sound Archive, digitizing the recordings at 96 kHz, 24 bit resolution in .wav format. The Grammy Foundation provided the money needed to do the project.

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About Exhibitionist Geoff Edgers covers arts news for The Boston Globe..
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