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Meet Erica Brenner, Producer Behind Grammy Nominated ‘Songs of Orpheus’

Northeast Ohio will be represented at this year’s Grammy Awards.

Songs of Orpheus,” nominated for best classical solo vocal album, features Cleveland’s Apollo’s Fire and vocalist Karim Sulayman. It was produced locally by Erica Brenner of Shaker Heights.

Brenner said she screamed with excitement when she saw the nominations included “Songs of Orpheus.”

Baroque orchestra Apollo's Fire with director Jeannette Sorrell and soloist Karim Sulayman [Erica Brenner]

While she may not have been able to predict such recognition, she said this album benefited from prior recording experiences inside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights. 

“There was a lot of stuff that we didn’t have to do for the first time,” she said. “I have been Apollo’s Fire’s record producer for about 17 years, so this was ‘just another cd or just another recording on my schedule.''' 

Equipment setup for "Songs of Orpheus" recording process [Erica Brenner]

Brenner’s recording process working with Apollo’s Fire usually takes three or four days.

“You’ve gotta, you know, figure out what you want it to sound like first,” she said. “You work through each piece to… ultimately have the tools to craft the best performance you can for delivery in a recorded medium.”

Working notes from the recording process of "Songs of Orpheus" [Erica Brenner]

Brenner has been a part of Grammy nominated albums before, but this is the first one while working as an independent audio producer. Before striking out on her own, she worked for many years at Telarc, a Beachwood-based recording company known for its classical and jazz recordings, before it was sold to Concord Music in 2005.

Brenner credits local colleagues for shaping her career in audio production. While playing in the Canton Symphony Orchestra in the 80s, she developed a friendship with fellow musician Elaine Martone, who also worked at Telarc. Brenner left Northeast Ohio to go to graduate school at Yale, but she said Martone told her to contact her if she ever came back to Cleveland looking for work, because there might be an opening in the audio department at Telarc.

She did return and ended up getting a job at Telarc. Another colleague she worked with there, the late Tom Knab, connected her with Apollo’s Fire. Brenner said she would like to pay tribute to Knab, who died in 2016, with this nomination.

Erica Brenner working with the late Tom Knab [Erica Brenner]

“I feel like he kind of helped train me,” she said. “He was so good at just sort of relaying information and sharing it.”

If “Songs of Orpheus” wins the Grammy, Brenner said she gets a statue, too. She plans to travel to Los Angeles with Jeannette Sorrell, director of Apollo’s Fire, for the Grammy Awards on Feb. 10.

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