An Artist First

Thomas Moore with musician friends, after one of his GRAMMY wins.

When a tenor or soprano soloist does his/her job well, we all know it. But an opera involves hundreds of people, all contributing their respective talents to the performance. Thomas Moore is one of those people you never see–unless you happen to peer into the orchestra pit. An oboist with the opera’s orchestra since 1988, Moore also has a successful career as a Grammy-winning music producer. Take a glimpse at Moore’s experience with the opera and producing music:

How long have you been playing with the opera’s orchestra?

I have been playing with the opera’s orchestra since 1988, 20 seasons now. I won the position of Principal Oboe the summer that I graduated from The Cleveland Institute of Music with my Masters degree.

How does a performer become a producer?

I had been Principal Oboist with the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, which was resident orchestra for Cleveland Opera, Cleveland Ballet, as well as producing its own concert series. At its height, we were a busy band. In the ‘90 things began to fall apart for many of the cultural institutions around town. The Ballet left town, the Chamber Orchestra closed, and the Opera was the only thing left. I wasn’t getting any younger and was firmly rooted in Cleveland. I searched to find how I could make a life as a musician in Cleveland, whatever that might look like. I was tired of the hand-to-mouth existence. Almost on a dare, I applied for a position as part time editor with Telarc, the world class record label based in Beachwood. I didn’t know anything about the recording industry or audio in general, but I did have a high degree of musical integrity which they knew. They figured they could train anyone to work the machines, but it is a totally different matter to train an ear. I came to the company with something most didn’t have, first hand performance experience. I worked hard to learn how to edit and eventually became very good at it. Then my curiosity led me want to know what was going on at the actual recording sessions and I was send out to assist the other producers. This was my apprenticeship as a producer as it were. Eventually, when the opportunity presented itself, I was asked if I wanted to produce a project and of course I said “yes!” One thing led to another, and basically that’s how a performer became a producer.

What does a producer actually do?

A Producer directs the musical content of an audio project, like the Director of a movie. This includes budgeting, scheduling, selecting where to make the recording, working with sound engineers and the production team, and collaborating with the artists to capture their best possible performance. At the recording sessions I am responsible for making sure that all the musical content is represented to the highest standard expected by the artist and consumer. After the sessions I am responsible for working with the editor, which is usually myself, and artists to create the final performance. It’s like putting together a puzzle, a sound puzzle.

How does your performing influence producing and vice versa?

The two go so hand-in-hand for me and are often hard to separate. Many of the artists that I work with know that I am a performing musician and that gives me a level of credibility with them. As a performer, I know how to talk to musicians, I speak the language that they understand. They know that when I ask them for something specific I come from a place of musicianship first. They don’t have to worry about me knowing what I am doing, they only need to worry about performing. I’ll take care of the rest. As a performer my whole concept of HOW to listen has changed profoundly. I have listened to and edited so many different types of performances, classical-jazz-blues, that it has allowed me, in a way, to be a better musician. I would say my greatest growth as a musician happened after I began working at Telarc. My job as a Producer and Recording Editor has honed my problem solving skills and I take this with me when I play. I am always searching out how to make the performer, and performance, better.

What did you win Grammys for?

I won my first 2 GRAMMYs for a recording I produced with The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Robert Spano conducting. The work was Ralph Vaughan Williams “Sea Symphony.” It won Best Classical Recording, Best Choral Performance, and Best Engineered Recording. The Best Engineered GRAMMY went to my colleague Michael Bishop, the other 2 to me. That was 2002. Then in 2005 I won my third for producing the Turtle Island Quartet’s recording “4 + Four” which took the Best Classical Crossover GRAMMY. That year I had also been nominated as Producer of the Year. Two years later in 2007 I won my fourth GRAMMY for producing the Turtle’s CD “A Love Supreme, The Legacy of John Coltrane.” That won Best Classical Crossover also.

What is a favorite memory of an opera you have performed?

Wow, this is a hard one for me. I think my favorite memory revolves around Anton Coppola, one of my favorite maestros. Music, especially opera, just flowed through his veins. He would sing every single word of the opera during rehearsals, no matter what part, male of female, french or italian or german, in a way that when the singers arrived I expected it to sound just like Coppola sang it. He has such passion. His passion was infectious. He expected only the best from us and we always would do our best to supply our best for him. I remember one rehearsal when I was having a little technical issues with my instrument and he stopped rehearsal and spoke to me about the trouble I was having in a way that only another oboe player would know. All those years I never knew that he was, in fact, an oboe player! Ever since then we had a special bond. The brotherhood of oboists.

Favorite opera to play? Least favorite?

Understand listening and playing are two completely different things. My favorite opera to play might be Aida, or anything Puccini. Least favorite is any bel canto opera. Sorry folks, boring oboe parts.

Is there an opera you wish we would perform?

I wish we could perform more Strauss operas such as Die Frau ohne Shatten, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die liebe der Danae, we did Salome now let’s do Elektra!

Do you perform elsewhere, other than with OC?

I play with many ensembles in Cleveland such as the Cleveland Pops, Trinity Chamber Orchestra, and Play House Square. I have occasionally played with The Cleveland Orchestra as well. Recently I have been invited to play with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York. I’ve really enjoyed playing with Orpheus and being part of a chamber orchestra that performs without a conductor. It’s a whole new experience for me and I like it.

What is favorite thing about Cleveland?

Cleveland is home for me and I love home! I do a fair amount of traveling and am always amazed how lucky I am to have such an ease of life in Cleveland. I live with my partner of 20 years in a beautiful home in a neighborhood that is filled with wonderful friends. I love that I can drive to the country or be in the city in about the same amount of time. I love that it is so affordable to live here and can’t believe that the rest of the country hasn’t figured that out yet. I love the diversity of cultures here. It is hard for me to pick one favorite thing, this is where my life is and where I made it.

What would you like to tell about your new production company?

Five/Four Productions is a full service audio production company that offers anyone who wishes to make a high quality recording the same world class production values once only reserved for Telarc artists. On March 31, 2009, the renowned production department at Telarc will cease operations. After receiving the news of the closing of the Telarc production department, my colleagues Michael Bishop, Robert Friedrich, Bill McKinney, and myself decided to go out on our own and start a new company dedicated to forwarding the legacy of “the Telarc sound.” Collectively we have won fourteen GRAMMY awards. We know how to make world class recordings. Now we are taking those skills on the road and offering to our clients a list of services ranging from audio technical assistance to full service recording which includes producing, engineering, and editing. Five/Four will maintain the commitment to leading-edge recording technology and bring that commitment to everything we do. Our first client was The Cleveland Orchestra. Not a bad start!

What project are you most excited about currently?

The project that I am most excited about now is one I produced with Caroline Goulding, 16 year old violin sensation. I had seen Caroline on the PBS show “From the Top” and was really taken by her personality and musicianship. About a month later I was playing a Cleveland Pops concert and who comes out to play with us but Caroline. She was fantastic, so fresh and lively and a monster player. I worked very hard to get this recording on the books, and now that the recording is done and I am working on the post production, I am so happy I stuck by my guns. This young lady is a super-star, no doubt about it. Every day I go to work on this project I am blown away by her musical soul. You just don’t get to hear something like this every day. I’m lucky.