CSO audio engineer Charlie Post gives his acceptance speech during the Grammy Awards online ceremony on March 14.
It finally happened. Post and two collaborating engineers were honored March 14 for the CSO Resound recording of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13 (Babi Yar), a searing denunciation of anti-Semitism and the horrors of war. It was recorded live in September 2018 with Zell Music Director Riccardo Muti leading the CSO, the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and bass Alexey Tikhomirov, and released in January 2020.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said. “I’m happy for me [as] this is my first, but I’m overjoyed that the recording itself won. It’s really delightful news.”
Post and his colleagues David Frost and Silas Brown were cited in the category of best engineered album, classical. Almost all of the Chicago Symphony’s concerts in Orchestra Hall are recorded; a select few are transformed into commercial recordings and distributed on the orchestra’s own label, CSO Resound.
“It’s sort of a dream-team combination on this one,” Post said at the time of his Grammy nomination. “Of course, the orchestra played fantastically well. The soloist [bass Alexey Tikhomirov] was great. And the work itself, the Shostakovich symphony, is just so beautiful. It’s so dark and brooding with sarcasm, wit and dark humor. It all comes through in this music.
“Oh, my goodness, when I was recording this at the live concerts, I was sitting there in the control room every night, thinking, ‘This has to be a commercial release. The world needs to hear this piece and this performance.’ I was so glad to hear that Maestro Muti was in agreement. If it gets a win, I will just be over the moon.”
And, of course, that’s exactly how things played out.
The awards for the classical Grammy categories are not part of the prime-time television ceremony. Instead, they are given out during an online segment. Starting at 2 p.m. (Central), Post was stationed at his home studio and he had to be all ready instantly to his give his acceptance speech if he won. “You get 30 seconds exactly,” he said. “You get no more than that to give your speech.”
When his name was announced, he was on camera immediately. “I fumbled a little bit, because I was nervous,” he said. But he had his acknowledgments written out ahead of time, and he got through his speech. His wife was watching the event in another room and communicating with family and friends. When he walked in to see her, his remarks were just being streamed due to a 30-second delay.
After that, he and his wife polished off a bottle of champagne and basked in the congratulations flowing in from all over.
For the Symphony No. 13 recording, Post's first task was deciding on the number and type of microphones that would be used and how they would be arranged in Orchestra Hall. He ultimately settled on 45 microphones, a larger-than-usual quantity to accommodate Shostakovich’s augmented percussion and woodwinds in this work. “Watching the first rehearsal from the hall and studying the stage set-up is important to get a good recording that will result in an excellent end product,” he said.
Post then oversaw the recording of the three live concerts from which tracks were compiled for the release. “I was getting chills while recording it, and that doesn’t always happen,” he said.
He sent the 50 or so resulting audio tracks on to New York-based engineer Frost, who on March 14 added three more Grammys to his lifetime total of 16. Besides the CSO recording, Frost also won another for classical producer of the year and contributed to a Metropolitan Opera album honored as best opera recording. “So he’s got 19 now,” Post said. “I’m excited for him as well.”
Frost carried out the editing and mixing of the Shostakovich release, deciding which segments of which performances would go on the album and balancing the sound from section to section. In addition, he removed noises such as audience coughs and dropped program books. Finally, the recording went on to Grammy-winning mastering engineer Silas Brown, in New Rochelle, N.Y., who handled the final touches.
Instead of his usual duties this season, Post has been focused on CSO Sessions, which premiered Oct. 1. Created in response to pandemic restrictions that tabled the CSO’s live performances, this ongoing series of small-ensemble concerts is streamed on the CSOtv video portal. “It’s been non-stop,” he said, “because these production deadlines are really tight.”
Post provides all the audio for CSO Sessions, which are taped by the orchestra’s videographer, Todd Rosenberg. “It’s soups to nuts,” he said. “I’m setting up the microphones, listening to rehearsals, producing the actual recordings. I’m the only one who is interacting the musicians during their recording.”
Rosenberg then has to sync all the images to the audio that Post has edited — not always an easy task.
As pleased as Post is with winning his first Grammy, he’s already ready to get started on the next one. So when the full CSO returns to Orchestra Hall when the pandemic finally lifts, that will be his goal. It's a job he loves and keeps giving back. Of his work with the CSO, he said, "While I received a comprehensive education in music in college, this is a constant source of furthering that education."