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The Bernard Herrmann Society
A Fireside Chat With Phase Four Producer
Tony D'Amato

Tony D'Amato was brought in to produce Decca/London's Phase Four recordings. Working on them from 1960 to 1978, its important to note that Bernard Herrman would have probably passed on without setting much of his recorded legacy straight, and Stokowski might have faded into obscurity instead of becoming the vibrant elder statesman of Classical music that relished life so much towards the end.

We got together for this conversation in late January of 1997. From a small table in a charm-filled pub on Long Island, we spent the better part of an afternoon having a late lunch and cocktails by the fireside. I didn't quite know what to expect, but I found Mr. D'Amato to be replete with charm, a high spirit for life, and more than a modicum of integrity, something we seem to find less and less of these days. He brought with him an exhilarating sense of class from a time when men and women knew no other way. Being a handshake away from Herrmann, Stokowski, Dorati, Leinsdorf, Black, Munch, Sargent, Maazel, Sean Connery, Ethel Merman, and many others, I present the conversation as close to unedited as I can.

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David Green: So, let's start at the beginning...

Tony D'Amato: After high school I went to NYU and Juilliard for a time to study composition and piano, though I knew I wasn't terribly good at either. I always figured I'd be a second-rate Puccini, but then, given some of the people I worked with later, that wouldn't have been so bad, I suppose. But while I was in school came the Marine Corps. I was actually drafted. The Marines had never drafted before, but at the start of Korea they found themselves in need of it, so they did.

DG: How long were you in?

D'Amato: Two years.

DG: So, we're in Korea, for two years...

D'Amato: No, in America actually. California, where I edited the station newspaper.

At this point we order our lunch. The steak, for Tony, is ordered medium-rare while I decide on the less intrusive stand-by Fish And Chips, something that I figure won't exactly distract me...

D'Amato: So, I was the Military editor. It was wonderful there. The paper was produced in Laguna Beach at the South Coast News. It was a very lively time. It was the fifties, when Nixon was baiting the Communist candidates against whom he was running. And this particular paper, the South Coast News was involved in promoting the candidates against Nixon. But we used the paper mainly to produce our own military journal called the Flight Jacket, and it was my job to edit the stuff as it came in and proof the galleys right there. So they said, 'well, there's no point in you hanging around the base. Be here two days a week.' They told me to take commuter rations to set-up a place off base, with expenses. So I spent two years in Laguna Beach. That was marvelous.

DG: It must not have really been affected by much 'progress' yet...

D'Amato: You can't imagine... I lived on, I think, Canyon Road. You'd walk to the beach and if someone was there, you'd say drat and walk to another one. So, all of that was very nice.

DG: So, when you came out, what made you go back to school?

D'Amato: A variety of things... A, I wanted to, and B, the GI Bill. The GI Bill helped my generation more than anyone can know. I wish youngsters today had the same opportunities. But it wasn't enough just to go to school, you had to work, and I did work. But never could any of us have made it without the Bill, certainly anyone I knew, working class, was going to school on the Bill. It was certainly one of the things the Government did right.

DG: I don't know we would have had the growth after the war without it.

D'Amato: Almost certainly not. But it was a good time for the nation economically then. It was a time when jobs were plentiful, and America was in the throes of re-building Europe, and taking the lead in their globalization efforts. But the bonus to all this change in growth was a change in our leisure habits, with technology being applied to our old leisure habits. Long play replaced 78, stereo replaced mono, and the technology just keeps progressing. Its never stopped, and it probably never will. Some aspects have taken longer than others, and it was inevitable we would get video discs and CD's with 'digital sound'. What may be questionable is the quality of everything, as in interpreting a Beethoven symphony better than someone else, but there's no question that the technology itself has just galloped along.

But I married in 1958, to a girl outside my religion, and in those days it was impossible for us to stick around. We got married in Germany, which was where she was born. We went to England, and by the time we got back to America she was pregnant with our first and I had to get a job. I had nothing really in mind, I tried for any number of jobs. I tried teaching, and I even applied for the American Kennel Club, as a pedigree inspector. I got turned down by Columbia Records, and finally I got picked up by the managing director of London Records, a subsidiary of British Decca, not America Decca, which is another story...


DG: What did they hire you as?

D'Amato: They didn't know. The man who hired me said, 'Looks like a good piece of real-estate... I don't know what I'm going to do with him... But something will work out', and something indeed worked out very quickly. At that time stereo wasn't really being dramatized enough by the European companies to satisfy the American predilection for real drama. You know, with pounding in the left speaker, pounding in the right speaker, and a hole as big as you like in the center. This is what Enoch Light did with Command, this is what Living Presence did, this is even what RCA did with their three channels, using the middle channel as a panning channel. I'm talking about pop stuff for the most part. So, they'd play a riff with a melody of 'Have You Ever See A Dream Walking', and they'd have something walking from the left speaker to the right.

DG: The 'Ping-Pong' effect.

D'Amato: Right, so the people at London were saying, 'That's what we need. We haven't got it, we haven't got it. We need to come up with a program.' They sent me into a studio, somewhere in Manhattan. And my arranger was someone called Ronny Rouillier who was a saxophone player, and also an arranger years earlier for Ted Heath. We worked very easily together, and we produced Bahia, and it was horrible. It was this in the left, that in the right, and it was just horrible; but it worked. It was what the guys at the office wanted. They sent it along to London for it to be copied and expanded, but they wouldn't do it. They said they were into quality, they weren't into gimmicks. So, the president of the company, Lee Hartstone, in 1960, convinced the chairman of the company to leave me there for six months while I produced a dozen recordings. I had some idea of what I was going to do. They said yes, and I worked very hard...

DG: Was there some excitement? I mean, two years earlier you didn't even know what you'd be doing for work.

D'Amato: Yeah, but things happen very quickly in this business once they start. If you accept them and don't let them overwhelm you, you can stay inside that excitement and do your job. But, I was there six months, in England, and then I came to the states to try and promote the product on a coast to coast tour. You know, at Hi-Fi shows where we'd demonstrate the stuff, speak to distributors. Of the twelve, eight hit the charts. I couldn't believe it. I was suddenly like a celebrity, and I hated it. There were one or two records from the beginning that I really liked. Productions that really only worked in the stereo format.

DG: Tell me about them.

D'Amato: Well, the very first one was called Pass In Review (SP 44001), using multi-channels, and getting bands to pass from left to right. It had cheering crowds. We got a really natural sound. But it was difficult. Let's say one of the bands was passing by with a tune, say in C, fading in from the right. You as the listener are on the bandstand, as if you're watching the parade. But by the time it started to fade in the left speaker, something had to fade in from the right in another key. So you got a reaction from the right speaker as you were getting one from the left with the different sounds blending together making a rather interesting overall sound. But there were other problems on that recording we had to get through. There was a section requiring tanks go by, but we couldn't get tanks for the recording, so the Grenadier guards at Pirbright managed to get every non-commissioned officer with an automobile to cross in front of our microphones in first gear. And then we slowed it down to half speed.

DG: And that did the trick.

D'Amato: I tell you it sounded like tanks. But that part of the process was fun, as anything about to be launched as new is fun. Whether it's the movies, television or music: when you're improvising, you're being your most creative. Later on they could do this kind of parade recording a lot easier by programming this recorder for this, and another for that so they came out just about perfect.

DG: But the fun and inventiveness is now pretty much gone.

D'Amato: It is, and that's a problem. That's a real problem. It's not as easy as saying 'oh, things were easier in the old days', but the method of getting somewhere, from A to B, took so much more out of you; good things, of course. But stereo was what was wanted, and we had to run with it. But mono, believe it or not, is better for certain kinds of music. Mono sound really isn't as isolated as stereo. By not being able to pinpoint images, it blends much more easily. Stereo pinpoints to where it isolates so much information it isn't natural. That's also true of digital sound. It pinpoints its images to such a degree that it's almost alien to the ambiance it sits in. This was never true of mono sound. Not bad mono, but good mono sound was great for jazz.

DG: And vocal recordings as well.

D'Amato: Oh yes.

DG: Did you ever have thoughts of doing serious vocal work with Phase Four?

D'Amato: Well, we never really got into vocals with Phase Four. I suppose we could have, but we kept more to the classics after the beginning, which created a bit of a political problem at London, but Phase Four was always a political problem anyway. I mean, the series sold well. It was a line that sold well in America and Asia, and actually very well in Japan in particular. Still, to this day it does well in Japan. But England was a different matter.

DG: Let's go back to the end of the first year, after everything has hit the charts. It brought you fame, and, I would think, a bit of power.

D'Amato: Well, I was very comfortable with the salary, and they asked me to move to England. So, I did, even though I was offered jobs with RCA and others. I didn't quite understand why they'd want me, but I was looked on as the 'hot producer'.

DG: Well, look at the percentages, eight of twelve...

D'Amato: But that's all marketing. And anyone who had taken the time to figure it out might have seen that without marketing it might have been two out of twelve. So much of all of this business is just simply marketing.

DG: Well, the whole influx of demonstration and light records from the late fifties and early sixties being offered as 'Bachelor Pad' music now is completely marketing. It wasn't called bachelor music then.

D'Amato: It was just light music, marketed for single men. Probably just as many women bought records, though.

DG: But with the exotic covers of nude women and the like, incorrect hindsight makes modern listeners think this was a whole genre. I don't know, it's all marketing.

D'Amato: And it's finding a way to sell the old catalogue of that music to a new generation.

DG: So, you were asked to go to London, you went, and...

D'Amato: It continued to be a successful line, and it had to expand. The best place for it to expand was in Classical music. It just made sense. The states knew that, they wanted that overseas; maybe not in England, but everywhere else. There was still a great deal of trouble with the company in England. The attitude was that it may be good enough for America, but not for us. It was all that sort of guff. And it was much maligned for that reason, even to the point where they would cut two masters of the recordings. One for England with a bit less emphasis on the 'levels', because you know the British don't care much for gimmicks. So, they would get a different mix than everyone else. I felt it a bit stupid; but it was a very real thing, this friction. And quite simply, the very reason they never dismissed Phase Four was because it was making too much money. It was making money hand over fist for the company. I'm sure it still is. I see the re-releases on CD everywhere, and some of the LP's have become collector's items, costing quite a lot of money. My daughters hadn't really known anything about what I did until one of them saw my name on the Peter And The Wolf Recording (SPC 21007, original LP) with Sean Connery. That was quite a lovely experience, doing that recording.

DG: The record also has Britten's Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra, and it was conducted by Dorati, right?

D'Amato: Yes, well, the music was recorded separately, actually at another time. Dorati was a second choice, really. Malcolm Sargent was first. But he bickered with it. The idea developed at a time when many, many famous actors were making records.

DG: Hand over fist, in fact.

D'Amato: Yes, quite, and it was becoming a sizable market. And everyone was after James Bond. I knew that Connery would not sing, even though he was quite capable. And I knew he wouldn't even think of hurting his image.

DG: Well, he was discovered in the chorus of South Pacific, right?

D'Amato: Right, but mainly for his physique, not his voice. So, I went to see his agent, and said, 'look, I want to produce a recording with Sean, but I want him to narrate for children. I hear he likes working for children.' He said, 'well, he does.' So, I told him it was the Britten piece and Peter and the Wolf, and that we were going to get Malcolm Seargent to do the music. I told him I wanted him to affect the Bond character for Peter and The Wolf, and just a straight reading of the other. The answer came back that he'd love to do it. But, time was precious, and he only had four hours in the afternoon of one day to get it done. He was going off to Greece to meet someone about filming a story by Nikos Kazantzakis. So we met him in suite at the London Hilton, and he was terribly nice, telling us stories about how he wished to get out of the Bond character and about how he always wanted to do something for children. He also told us he wanted no royalties, that he wanted it all to go to the Saint Bernardo Home For Boys, a charity in London. He was really as nice a man as you can imagine. But in the corridor, the ladies were changing linens, yaking and yaking, and we were hearing the squeaking of trolleys.

DG: Oh, that's funny, and you guys are trying to do a recording.

D'Amato: Right, the engineer's getting upset, and I'm telling him, 'don't worry, we'll use sound effects.' And Sean has got this wonderful Scottish Burr, and I didn't want to change anything at all. If I had stopped to shut the girls up, he might have changed something, you see. So, in the Britten, when he's supposed to say Purcell, he says 'Puurshell', and the engineer's about to correct him, and I've got to keep grabbing him so he doesn't.

DG: Well, he certainly has such a superb voice and I'm glad you were there to stop them from correcting him.

D'Amato: I mean, the way he'd say 'Trrombones' in that Scottish burr, it's just priceless. That recording made a fortune, just completely hand over fist. But before this, I had to go to Malcolm Sargent. He lived at the Albert Hall mansions. He was a very enthusiastic man. To discuss anything we had first to go up to his 'man's room' where no women were allowed and listen to private recordings he had of a cornet player who played for the Grymsthorpe Company. Every factory in England that manufactured anything had its own brass band. So, he had this recording, and was sitting there talking about how original and brilliant this cornet player was. Then you'd go downstairs and state your business: Peter And The Wolf. 'Dumb Duck Quack? My dear man, a duck that's dumb can't quack.' I said, 'well, Sir Malcolm, there's another definition of dumb that means stupid.' He picked up a bell, rings it, and in comes his assistant, Miss Darlie, and he says, 'the OED.' She brings in this huge book, the Oxford English Dictionary, and she looks up the entry for dumb, and looks through every possible definition as well as sentences for how to use it. So he found it, read the definition and he said 'Well, imagine that.' And that was it. I went out and got Dorati.

DG: That was it?

D'Amato: Well, even after all those hours spent there, he finally just said that he didn't want to be associated with such crass commercialism. But Dorati accepted.

DG: Was he still with Mercury at that time?

D'Amato: No. I picked him up because nobody wanted him then.

DG: Isn't that tragic?

D'Amato: Yes. I also picked up Munch and Stokowski that way.

DG: It's inconceivable that nobody wanted Dorati, Munch, Stokowski.

D'Amato: Oh, yes, but it's true. I remember Stokowski having premiered so many works. I couldn't believe that he was considered by everyone, including my own company, Decca, as a sort of back number. They did it with Maazel; certainly they did it with Munch, Fistoulari. The industry at that time ignored people that not only conducted well over the years, but made real contributions to classical music. They would keep replacing them with new names, thinking that new names were going to capture something, but it didn't work that way.

DG: Tell me a bit about Stokowski.

D'Amato: Well, we picked him up like a shot when he was without a contract, and Scheherazade was the first album. We recorded him so much that long after he left us we had mountains of material to release. For example, in Holland he recorded an Alexander Nevsky by Prokofiev that he refused to let out. It's still sitting in the vaults, I'm sure. It was a beautiful reading, and for some reason he didn't want it.

DG: And you say it's quite good?

D'Amato: If it's Stokowski, it can never be bad. It can be eccentric, it could be a horrible mistake, but it's never bad in any real terms. I certainly thought it was good enough to go out, but he didn't, so there it sits somewhere. He made mistakes from time to time. I mean, if you listen to the Beethoven 9th he did for us, the first three movements had their own sound; you can hear it: it's one set of recorded conditions. But the fourth movement was different. He ordered everything changed, all the microphone settings, which he wanted mostly on the chorus. So, he started allocating less microphones for the orchestra than for the chorus. There is such a change in the ambiance when you get to that last movement. It's not necessarily bad, but it's drastically different. That's just how he was. If he wanted something a certain way, he had to have it.



DG: So, where does Herrmann come in?

D'Amato: Stokowski. He introduced Herrmann to me. Stokowski said, 'This man should work, he is good, he should work.' And then he dismissed Bernard. He said, 'We've talked enough, we can't talk anymore.' He was, you know, eccentric. Bernard adored the old man; he was always at his sessions.

DG: All the time?

D'Amato: Yes, well, he was with Stokowski when he went through his bad period, his divorce from Gloria Vanderbilt. Herrmann was very, very sympathetic to Stokowski, attending him because he loved the old man.

DG: Tell me a little about your impressions of the old man.

D'Amato: Well, he wasn't always terribly nice. He was impatient, but I admit he played at being the curmudgeon more often than he really was, so I imagine he must have appeared far more unruly and rude to others. But at the point I came into his life he was very frustrated. He never wanted to be reminded about how wonderful his last recording was, his answer was always the same, 'What's next'. He was always aching to do more. I couldn't fit it in, not at Phase Four, maybe for London, but I already told you that we had, even when he left us, a large amount of stuff still to be released. But, in any event, we did some adventurous material with him. We produced the Orchestral Set Number 2 by Charles Ives with L'Ascension by Messiaen (SPC 21060). We broke some ground with Stokowski. He wanted to something called The Universal Prayer by a composer named Panufnek, which I simply couldn't put out on my label. So, I gave him permission to break his contract with me for that period.

DG: Do you remember doing the Bach Transcriptions (SPC 21096)?

D'Amato: Well, the transcriptions... Look, he was an organist. He loved that instrument. He also learned to orchestrate big sounds. I know it sounds corny, but, I worked with many conductors, and there was a way Stokowski would sit and conduct and sometimes put down a beat very badly. But if he wanted to emphasize something, this hunched-over figure would suddenly stand erect, put out his arms, and he'd have that white hair going, and waving those effeminate fingers like stiletto's out there. I tell you, one would sit in the orchestra sometimes during rehearsals, and not help but be impressed.

DG: His presence would command the attention of everyone in the orchestra.

D'Amato: Absolutely. If his ears failed him, orchestras who devastate lesser conductors would just ride along. He would never know; they'd fix it. I remember we were doing Siegfried's Rhine Journey by Wagner (SPC 21016), and he kept telling Barry Tuckwell, on the horn part, that he was too close, and he kept telling him this until he was out on the balcony. This isn't some schmuck, this is Barry Tuckwell. So, up in the balcony, he's got a mirror so he can see Stokowski conduct. But it was that crazy sometimes. It was heartstopping sometimes, and it was wonderful. You'd go to the lunchroom the next day, and everyone would gather around wanting to hear the stories from the day before.

DG: So, Herrmann wasn't doing anything when he came to you.

D'Amato: He was on his way down. I don't quite remember the date, but the first thing he recorded for us was Music From The Great Movie Thriller's (SP 44126). I remember that for some reason when Benny died, I was left the original scores to the films, and other things. I didn't quite feel comfortable with them so I made copies and sent them to his brother, who I think might still be alive. But Norma, his wife, had given me all the work, and I'm not really quite sure why. I believe they're all safe in the Herrmann archives now. I always considered him a great, absolutely great movie writer. I really liked Benny, but what a difficult man.

DG: I certainly love his work.

D'Amato: During the time I knew him, he was quite depressed about what was going on in the movies. He was an artist, and he had to watch far lesser composers get work that should have gone to him. He was very affected by the entire Hitchcock thing.

DG: It's certainly a tragedy that right towards the end, the young generation of filmmakers from the late sixties film school class were starting to discover him. I've often reflected that he lived much the same life as the man who brought him to Hollywood, Orson Welles. As successful as they both were in their youth, they both had a period where they had to sit by as lesser artists got the work that they were far more qualified for.

D'Amato: They both died at about the same age. What saved him, I believe, in that decade before he died, was being able to record. As self serving as that may sound, I do believe it. Making records for us brought him something. You know, Psycho, as a score, was never meant for just strings. He wanted a big orchestra, and Hitchcock wouldn't give it to him. Hitch told him, 'It's a cheap black and white film and I don't want to spend any money on it. If you want to do something, do it for string quartet.'

DG: But of course it does work that way.

D'Amato: For the film... but when he recorded it for us he used a much larger string orchestra, and I believe he was quite happy with the result. It's quite good, but not terribly new. If you listen to Shostakovich's Chamber Symphony, then listen to Psycho, moods of it are already there in Shostakovich's work.

DG: I know some might find it gimmicky, but on the Psycho suite he did for you.

D'Amato: The session was wonderful. Just took our breath away.

DG: Takes mine away.

D'Amato: You remember the opening scene of Taxi Driver? Not the whole thing, which I didn't like, but that opening scene in the cab is the most evocative, striking work of Herrmann's career. His great regret was the choice he made, and I suppose he would have made it the same way again, but by opting for Hollywood he simply stopped writing anything else. The material he did write, the cantana for Moby Dick and the Wuthering Heights oratorio is quite good, and received fine write-ups.

DG: The first symphony of his as well.

D'Amato: Yes. He had terribly high blood pressure. I remember his wife, Norma, telling me, 'he's just always so angry.' The airlines used to have him on their lists as a difficult passenger. I crossed from New York to London with him, and we were having a glass of champagne. So we held out our glasses, the stewardess came, he saw the bottle, looked at the label, and said 'huh, California.' He then absolutely blew his top. He was screaming about paying full price for the ticket and getting cheap alcohol, and 'what is this airline, anyway.' He told them to take it back, or, rather yelled at them to take it back.

DG: He'd rather go dry than cheap.

D'Amato: Yes. But you know, he was wonderful to be with, even as difficult as he was. He certainly looked like a crazy old guy. I haven't though about these things in a long while. But, Contrary to popular opinion, Herrmann was not a great conductor. He was a terrible conductor, in fact. I read all over the place reviews of his work where they talk about the quality of his conducting, and I don't want to speak ill of someone not around to defend themselves other than to just set the record straight. He tried so very hard, but he wasn't very popular with the musicians. On the other hand, he was so talented, but all elbows, he conducted with his elbows.

DG: But the musicians respected his work so much, it kept them going.

D'Amato: Sure. They respected him; and even when he wasn't recording his own work, they knew, the players knew, that he would bring along a certain style of contact. That wouldn't come from me, or from the engineers, it came from Benny. An example is The Impressionists (SPC 21062).

DG: A fine recording.

D'Amato: Oh, wonderful. Absolutely terrific. Who would pick the Five O'Clock Fox Trot? He was wonderful. Then he comes up with a concept for The Four Faces Of Jazz, I mean, whether you like it or not, you have to ask, who would do it? Who would put those elements together? I loved everything he did.

DG: Mobile Fidelity has done Four Faces Of Jazz as well as The Mysterious Film World Of Bernard Herrmann, and Fantasy Film World Of Bernard Herrmann. London/Decca has their own Phase Four series as well. I guess they've put out about twenty or thirty under the Phase Four moniker.

D'Amato: Really? I wasn't aware. I'm so glad they're doing this now.

DG: You didn't know?

D'Amato: No, I didn't.

DG: Somehow I find that a bit shocking. Their (Mobile Fidelity's) CD's of them are quite good, but I can't say I'm as happy with the standard Decca/London issues. It seems as if they're using some sort of noise reduction that's removing much of the ambiance of what I hear on the original LP's. Another tragedy is that they aren't using the original cover art, nor the correct running order, and in some cases, not the original names of the LP's.

D'Amato: I haven't seen them. Though I did see a re-issue of The Four Faces Of Jazz and thought it was a pity that they threw a Stanley Black selection on the disc. You see, as a concept recording, it should have either been left alone, or at least given another Herrmann track with the same style of interpretation.

DG: Well, this is where the commerce becomes more important than the art. They don't consult you for any of this anymore?

D'Amato: No, why would they?

DG: Because it would add more validity to what they're doing. I mean, they could have asked you 'Hey, Tony, you were there, what should we put on this Four Faces Of Jazz recording...'

D'Amato: Ravel's The Five O'Clock Foxtrot from The Impressionists.

DG: See? So, don't say they don't need to ask you. As a rule, I don't think they should be throwing anything extra onto these re-issued LP's as it gives them an excuse, I think, to not bother releasing this recording or that recording. Especially with the Phase Four re-issues running only ten dollars to begin with.

D'Amato: Meaning?

DG: Meaning I don't think folks would complain if the discs didn't utilize all of the discs' running time.

D'Amato: You mentioned covers, and you know what was a great cover? The Impressionists. The subjects for that were an Irish plumber and his girlfriend. We dressed them up, took the photos, and, I mean, they looked like impressionists who got Saturdays off so they could go to the park. And then the paper stock looked like canvas. That was a wonderful cover.

DG: So what was the strain between Stokowski and Herrmann?

D'Amato: Well, Stokowski's way was that he would either slap you away, or you would become his gofer. Such men serve themselves. It's a terrible thing. People keep wanting them to be nice guys, but they're not; they're usually freaks. And I know this hurt Herrmann quite a bit, and they never really were friends.

DG: I'll bet Herrmann brought a lot of things to you that he wanted to record.

D'Amato: Oh, yes. I'm only sorry I had to turn some of them away. He definitely wanted to record more Ives. He loved Ives. He did Symphony No. 2 by him for me (SPC 21086). We did more with him, but he always wanted some more Ives. But he was no conductor, and it was difficult to figure out what we could let him do and couldn't... People don't realize he was dyslexic. That's why there are so many crazy spellings of his name, two R's two M's. Norma Shepard, his wife told me this. He had always signed his name differently, so there were different spellings all over. She's someone you should talk to for more on Herrmann. She's in Brighton, I think.

DG: Why is it albums recorded in the old days really do come across better now?

D'Amato: I did an album called France (SP 44090) with Stanley Black. He was probably the greatest symphonic arranger I ever worked with. We were doing Plaisir D'Amour, and I said, 'look, Stanley, I don't want the Eddie Lester singers with twenty guys. What are we going to do, over-dub them ten times to get a big sound? We're just going to get twenty times twenty people. We're not going to get depth, we're not going to get weight, we're not going to get body. How can we do it? We can't go over-budget...' What was beautiful about recording in those days was that there was always a solution to whatever problem you'd encounter. I went to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Of London...

DG: The London chapter...

D'Amato: That's right, and we got three hundred and fifty people to sit in the balcony at Kingsway Hall. They all brought brown-bag lunches. We gave three hundred and fifty pounds to their organization, and these people hummed right on cue. You could feel the vibration from them alone right under your seat. There was just always an inventive solution that hadn't been done before, and the immediacy of the situation was natural.

DG: And this comes across to the listener when playing back the older recordings now.

D'Amato: Quite possibly. Now, with Stokowski recordings, he just loved sound. Big sound. He was always willing to do anything for a recording at all phases. For example, on the 1812 Overture (SPC 21041), he said 'I want bells, much bells. Can you get back to me about it by Friday.' So someone said if we go to Saint Petersburg there are all kinds of bells everywhere. I said we don't have to go that far, maybe we can go to Zurich. Once a month, on a Sunday, for fifteen minutes all the bells in the city ring. So we sent a team out with recorders and picked up the whole thing. We played it for Stokowski and he loved it, he said. 'These are wonderful bells, oh how wonderful these bells are.' They went right onto the recording. Now it was taking a bit of license, but he was known for that.

DG: Not always really to purists' liking, either.

D'Amato: One of the few times that Stokowski really talked about these things, because he wanted to talk about other things, was on a trip from the Southampton. You know, I spent a lot of time with him. He really needed a companion. He would never fly. He would come into Southampton by ship, and he'd have to be picked up by car. I'd go to meet him, and we'd take two days on the road. He would always want to stop at different places, always at Winchester cathedral. He told me on this particular trip that had Beethoven been alive, he would have altered the recapitulation of the Fifth on the bassoon figure that restates the theme. The bassoon comes back, and why does it come back? Because there wasn't enough time back then to get one crook out of the French horn and put the next one in. When the valve horn was invented, that was not a problem anymore. So Stokowski took out the bassoon and put in the horn. People said that he was playing with the parts, but it was a certain kind of scholar's liberty that he took.

DG: One of the things that had to be exciting about working with him was going into the studio, knowing you were going to hear something different.

D'Amato: Well, with Scheherazade (SPC 21005), there's a tape somewhere of the rehearsal. It was absolutely magnificent. He says on it 'What's the matter with you? I give clear beat, why can't you just watch me?' If you could see his scores, they were all marked with crayons, just so he would know what it was he really wanted to remember. I've looked at his old scores, and I remember seeing the score to the Enigma Variations by Elgar, and on the front page there were two letters taped to it. One was from Stokowski to Elgar, the other was Elgar's reply. Stokowski was the conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the time and was premiering the work. He wrote to Elgar humbling himself with enormous gratitude to him for being able to conduct this beautiful piece of music. He talked about how much he owes Elgar, and how much the world of music owes Elgar. It was a beautiful reply as well. I begged him to let me copy those letters.

DG: They survived, didn't they?

D'Amato: Oh, yes, I'm sure they're in some archive, but I brought it up to show that beneath the surface he was, I imagine, quite sentimental. He just didn't show it often.

DG: Back to the big picture, I guess... After the final takes in the studio, did everyone sit in on playback?

D'Amato: Oh yes, everyone would sit in, take notes, and we'd run through until no one had any notes left. Then we'd know we had it. Then it was off to the cutters. We cut everything at half speed back then.

DG: Really?

D'Amato: Oh yes. It wasn't advertised, but they were half speed and they were usually cut very well with Neumann cutters. We had good equipment and great staff. Typically under-paid, over-educated Englishmen.

DG: What comes to mind musically when I say 'Best-Of' Phase Four?

D'Amato: Probably the best sound recording in the classical division was Leinsdorf's Der Rosenkavalier by Strauss (SPC 21037). You want to talk about sonics? I personally believe its the best sounding record Leinsdorf ever made. You know there are two ways to balance. The engineer can go in there and make it or break it, but if you've got a conductor who knows where everything needs to be its perfection.. Leinsdorf knew. Stokowski, Munch, Dorati, and especially Leinsdorf were always balancing. The left hand was always at work, hold down the trumpets, hold down the timps. And of course, the engineer wouldn't have a problem. I mean, with some conductors I'd have to tell Arthur (Lilley), 'we need more viola', and he'd say 'where?', and I'd let him know, and we'd take care of it next time around. But the conductors who were able to do that for themselves extracted the best sounds. It could certainly be magic sometimes. And we had great equipment back then. They say things get better with time, but I remember the equipment sounding so much more alive then.

DG: Tony, I thank you so much for this opportunity to talk.

D'Amato: Oh, David, it was my pleasure. This was quite a nice time, and I'm glad to see that there's such an interest in what we did back then.

Though he stays away from the recording studio these days, Tony is still involved in the business managing artists as diverse as the Vivaldi Orchestra Of Moscow and The Mantovani Orchestra. Living on Long Island, he is the proud father of five beautiful daughters, and will celebrate his 41st wedding anniversary this year.


Copyright © 1999 by David M. Green.
All rights reserved.


 
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