Jeremy Tusz wants to give the Milwaukee Symphony’s home listeners the best seat in any house.
Tusz, the MSO’s sound engineer, records every subscription concert for rebroadcast on radio, and sometimes for release on CD – such as the upcoming set of the four Brahms symphonies, conducted by Music Director Edo de Waart.
Before the orchestra takes the stage for its first rehearsal, Tusz has placed the microphones that he will need for that week’s configuration of musicians. He does his own sound check during rehearsal, and after the concerts, he goes to work on the raw recording track. That involves both eliminating extraneous noise such as coughs and page turns, and sometimes tweaking the balance of the music.
“My ideal would be to use as few mics as possible,” he said, “and in a great hall, you can get away with it.” Like many other employees and friends of the MSO, Tusz has high hopes for the proposed move to the Warner Grand Theater in several years.
He tries to place microphones at “the sweet spot where you’re not so close that you’re hearing individual string players, but it’s still a nice blend.” Although he puts microphones over each section of the orchestra, 90 percent of the finished product will come from the main mics above the conductor’s head.
Few orchestras of Milwaukee’s size have a sound engineer on staff, but the symphony decided two years ago to move beyond relying on assorted freelancers. A number of candidates recorded and edited concerts on a trial basis, but “Jeremy was by far the best,” said Susan Loris, the MSO’s executive vice president and general manager. “He’s been a fabulous addition to the MSO staff.”
Since the symphony plays two or three performances of every subscription concert, Tusz has choices to make when he puts together the version for broadcast. He feels fortunate that unlike some groups, the MSO is consistent — tempos do not vary from night to night, so it’s easy to take the best passages from each performance.
The Milwaukee Symphony’s radio broadcasts, now in their 46th year, reach 3.8 million listeners over the course of a season on 175 stations. The concerts are also available for streaming at mso.org/listen.
Performances that will be released on CD, such as the Brahms symphonies, get an especially close look, with input from de Waart and assistant conductor Yaniv Dinur.
For the Brahms, the orchestra scheduled a short patch session after the final performance of each symphony. Tusz and de Waart prepared three categories of spots to address: “This we definitely need, this would be nice to have, this only if we have time. We definitely got through the first two columns.” A committee of musicians also listened to the Brahms recordings before the release and made suggestions.
Another benefit of having an engineer on staff is that Tusz posts recordings of dress rehearsals to a password-protected site, which musicians often listen to before the concert. “It’s a tool that helps improve the quality of the music-making,” he said.
Recording technology has advanced greatly in the past decade, so that Tusz can now do almost all of his sound editing on the same laptop that he uses to send email. Cutting out a cough, he said, is “almost like Photoshop,” and the recording software automatically eliminates smaller noises. Even so, he said, over the course of the four symphonies, he removed thousands of noises and made more than 300 edits. Over the course of a season, the orchestra fills up eight terabytes of data, with two separate backup systems.
Tusz, a native of Canada, has been a busy freelance audio producer on both sides of the border, but is now based in Milwaukee. He still loves the physical format of LPs and CDs — but he limits his collection to about 1,000 albums because he has moved so often.