BEETHOVEN CONCERT 30 OF 40: A Tech talks

The first concert of Beethoven reCYCLE Part Three in Christchurch took place in a brand new venue! Not just brand new for Chamber Music New Zealand, but newly built too. The blogger for this concert is the super technician and all-round nice guy Al Tie, who was there to ensure Michael and the piano looked their best under the lights…


Meeting Michael Houstoun for the first time was daunting . . . . . until I actually met him! 

Technician Al Tie.

Technician Al Tie.

In my world I meet lots of performers and sometimes lofty individuals that command more respect than they deserve, but Michael floored me! His outstretched hand and wicked grin put me at ease instantly. The consummate professional deserving of all that his reputation implies.

I had my doubts about his tolerance for me phaffing about with lights and curtains and the horrid potential of needing microphone enhancement. The acoustics of the brand new 700 seat Auditorium Chapel performance space at St Margaret’s College in Christchurch quickly made it apparent that sound at conversation level was plenty loud enough. I am by no means an avid follower of classical music but I do have a good appreciation of well crafted and professional work, whatever the genre. Michael makes his piano seem like an extension of his arms, his pace, timing, interpretation and ability to make exceptional sound from what is essentially pieces of wood, metal and shiny paint (sorry Mr Steinway!) is something only a live performance can explain. 

In the “techie” world we like to enhance productions to the maximum that technology will provide, whether it be fancy lighting or the latest sound gadgets that an audience would never know existed. But in the end 3 lights and black curtains was all it took. Although I experimented, with Michael’s good humour, on a keyboard enhancement to minimise the lighting shadows on the keys. Running a string of LED’s under the keyboard lid was a genius idea that seemed to solve the age old problem of not being able to see the keys clearly on a stage (all performers can now blame bum notes on that effect!!). Unfortunately the shiny nature of modern plastic coated keys made the individual LED’s too bright in this instance. I will pursue this idea with large amounts of light diffusion as Michael was impressed with the potential, as might many keyboard specialists. Having had a light string five meters long it seemed natural to wind the balance through the piano to reflect what an audience often misses. Oh how wrong this idea was! All I needed was a flasher unit and the disco Steinway would be reality! We both had a good chuckle at that.

Lighting up the Steinway!

Lighting up the Steinway!

Classical music has been so far from my experiences of late and I wondered how I was going to “endure” three performances of at least two hours each. In my position at the back of the auditorium with whirring fans and the potential for something to go pop at a critical point, I hunkered down for the arduous mental task of staying alert and awake! How completely wrong I was. Two hours flew by so fast I wondered if i had only made it to the interval. The therapeutic benefits of Beethoven’s music are well known but listening live to a performer at the top of his game is an experience every person should have more than once in their lives. I was encouraged to see a decent smattering of “young-uns” at his performances as we all know how most youth view classical music, the very word seems to imply some ancient ritualistic cult reserved for “old” people. It’s a real pity as most young people have a decidedly better hearing range than us oldies! It will be a great day when the young can sit, listen and observe without the aid of smartphones and twitter – yeah right! All young people should be hog-tied and forced to listen to a live performance, especially by Michael. If nothing else they will get 2 hours of complete mind blowing peace and a realisation that the world does not need to be amplified, and at the end they’ll still be alive with all faculties intact!

The technicality of Michael’s work is unfortunately a little lost on me as I’m sure my work is lost on him, but the most important ingredient of all is tolerance! Let people do their thing to the best of their ability and experience the results. We are all different, with different agendas but we can all appreciate quality, and Michael’s work is superb!

– Al, 1.11.2013

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