The Chicago taping in late July of her “Soundstage” performance (premiering at 8 p.m. Thursday on WTTW-Channel 11) was a truly special experience for singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.
“It was the very first thing I did after I had recorded my new album [“Remember Us to Life”]. So just think of it. This was the first live thing for me. Welcome to playing those songs live for the first time — for both everybody on PBS, and a live audience in Chicago!” said Spektor, phoning from her home in New York.
Performing lead single “Bleeding Heart” and the album’s other tracks in the intimate studio at WTTW was exciting for another reason as well: “I was so thrilled about the very large string section they gave me. That was so special. I love orchestras and string music — everything from chamber music to philharmonic orchestrations to operas to ballets.
“But I had never before had the chance to play much with strings in a live performance.”
Spektor wrote the song “The Call” for the 2008 film “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” featured prominently in the movie’s final sequence. While strings play a big part in that song, “the only time I actually performed live with a string section was for one performance we did, which was for the crew [at the wrap party] after the filming was completed.
“I remember thinking at the time, ‘This is such a good feeling. I hope this is not the last time I get to play with such a great strings section, because it’s such a beautiful feeling to see something you wrote given that kind of musical support.’ ”
Even when she records a song with strings, they are inserted afterward. “Because I sing and play at the same time — and do the source arranging myself — I don’t actually get to play it live with them.
“So, that’s why the ‘Soundstage’ experience was so special for me.”
Though she had performed frequently in Chicago, the taping for Thursday’s “Soundstage” represented the longest period of time she had spent in Our Town. “We came and lived there for a little bit more than two weeks — to have a lot of rehearsals, to meet the other orchestra players and to get the special all figured out,” she said.
Spektor and her team remained in town for a few extra days in order for her to record a video for “Black and White.”
“That song will be forever Chicago for me,” she said. “We got to film it at the Uptown Theatre, which in my opinion may be even more magnificent than Radio City! It’s a magical place.”
Thinking about being on PBS made Spektor quite reflective, thinking back to back to 1989, when she and her family moved from Russia to New York City.
“PBS is my home on television,” she said. “When we came to America when I was 9, we had basic channels and never had any more the entire time while I was growing up. So, basically when I watched TV, I lived on PBS. That’s where I got to see classical music, ‘Masterpiece Theatre,’ all the mysteries, cool plays, ‘Great Performances,’ ‘Sesame Street,’ Mr. Rogers and ‘Arthur.’
“If someone told me that I could have a day off tomorrow, I could watch ‘Arthur’ all day!”
Another filmed concert means another chance for Spektor to see her own style of performing with all its quirks — like lightly rubbing the piano keys between notes.
“Honestly, that is so strange,” she said. “I never realized I did that until I saw myself being filmed. I think the first time I noticed it was when I filmed [the 2010 concert] ‘Live in London,’ when I was looking back at the footage. I asked myself, ‘What am I doing!?’
“So much of the time my eyes are closed, and when I’m playing I’m in my own world. I guess I unconsciously rub the keys like that when I’m in my zone. But after watching my ‘Soundstage’ performance I saw that again, plus felt like telling myself, ‘Come on girl! Open your eyes a little bit!’ “