Here’s an announcement I didn’t expect to make: the CDA podcast is BACK.
Today the long-dormant podcast returns as a one-off reboot and — here’s the catch — I had nothing to do with the production. In the interceding years technology has advanced so quickly these things can literally make themselves. All I had to do was plug in data from a bunch of classical podcasts and let the AI do the rest. I mean, it’s even got its own AI hosts!
The early nineties were a magical time to be online. You could never predict what you’d come across: dancing text, indecipherable fonts, busted links, page elements all the colors of the rainbow, and grainy photos loading pixel by painstaking pixel. That is, if you were able to get there at all. After the agonizing desktop start-up ritual — a procession of clicks and whirs, the labored whining of vent fans and spinning disk drives, mysterious bloops and beeps — you’d mash the internet icon with too many clicks, await the inimitable sound of a dial-up modem as it called down the line, and then, no small miracle, you’d be online.
Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 as a way to formalize gathering places, websites, on the internet. But what began as a charming haven for coders and explorers morphed into a commercial feeding frenzy for brands and hucksters. The web was particularly well-suited for classical music fans, but like other pursuits it worked even better for marketing and sales. While diehard collectors traded bits of classical ephemera on message boards, every big classical music outfit jumped online to flog tickets, subscriptions, and CDs.
Below you’ll see the first forays onto the web for the so-called “Big Five” US orchestras: the first websites for the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. These are maybe not the very first images of their sites — the majority come from 1996 onward, and certainly none exist from the web’s inception in 1989. However, they are the oldest remaining snapshots available on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. They are artifacts that remind us, at least from the commercial side, how this all began.
The newest installment in our ongoing playlist series is here, and it’s called Out in Orbit. It’s chockablock with good-ass releases mostly from this year or last. It features throat singer Tanya Tagaq, Schoenberg, Bartók, Caroline Shaw, Brian Eno, and many more.
Here are not one but two previous installments in the series in case you want more. We all want more.
Classical Dark Arts recently embarked on a junket that swung through Genova, Italy in pursuit of rare and singular sites. The following photos show our particularly impressive finds.
Cristoforo Colombo was born in Genova. For a time the city-state counted among its inhabitants some of the world’s wealthiest merchants. These days tourists dodge scooters and amble down labyrinthine pathways to peek inside the mansions that remain as monuments to bygone glory days. These palazzi double as museums for art and curious artifacts left behind.
We went searching for a gilded set of artifacts housed at the Palazzo Doria Tursi: the personal effects of violinist, sorcerer and Genova native son Niccolò Paganini. Somehow the museum has managed to corral two unbelievable treasures among their collection, Paganini’s Guarneri del Gesù Cannon violin from 1743, and the 1834 copy of the Cannon by Jean-Baptiste Vuillame, called the Sivori.
Here’s your list of GRAMMY nominees and winners. Most of these are classical music categories, but I’m also including fields where classical artists beat non-classical (how nice). For the full list head to the official GRAMMY site.
Let’s face it: we’re all just biding time until Nadia Sirota’s Meet the Composer pod — the apex predator in the classical jungle — roars back to life. I’ve been skulking in MtC message boards. I played every episode backwards searching for hidden messages. I keep refreshing iTunes in case the next episode drops. There’s gotta be a better way to entertain ourselves, right?
Say hello to The CoffeeHouse Classical podcast. It’s brought to you by hosts Allison and Asa. Each installment looks at one movement from a well-known piece. It’s got terrific potential. I asked Asa and Allison a few questions via reddit. Here are their lightly-edited responses.
Let’s start with the basics. Who are you, and why did you decide to do a podcast? You two have a very easy chemistry, I take it that was developed on a previous project, right?
Allison: Together at Colorado State University we hosted a weekly radio show, also called the Coffee House, that we started almost as a joke. We thought it would be funny to play two hours of Gregorian Chant on the radio every Friday night, but then we actually followed through and created our Sunday morning classical and jazz show. I was graduating from CSU and moving out of state just when we were really starting to feel comfortable on the air and our show was taking off, so we thought, Why not keep this up in a format that will work long-distance? Asa: Allison and I have known each other for four years during our music degree programs at Colorado State. In that time, we have collaborated on projects from our own nationally-performing quartet, to organizing local events to, of course, our radio show on CSU’s own KCSU radio station. After the success and knowledge gained from my own Star Wars podcast (Back to Dials), we decided to continue our radio show in a format that would be both workable for long distance and attractive for listeners of all levels of classical knowledge!
So far the emphasis has been on single movements — “Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets, the third movement from Beethoven 7, etc. It’s refreshing because the listener doesn’t get overwhelmed right out of the gate. Is the plan to continue like this?
Allison: We do want to keep our shows on the shorter side to hopefully be more enjoyable for the listener. However, we do want to give a really good in-depth discussion of the pieces, so often single movements work best to get the length we’re looking for. We do have some “holiday specials” in the works that will go into much longer works over a few episodes! Asa: Classical music, especially the “canon” works, can get very lengthy. Although each and every second of the works we choose is special, a listener can buy a CD of Holst if they want to listen to the entire Planets suite. In my mind, the show’s length is based roughly around my average morning commute – roughly 20 minutes. By selecting only certain movements, we can go into the depth we want to about the composer and the piece itself, while still allowing for a significant amount of unedited music to be played. I feel like this balance is crucial to achieving a palatable podcast for an audience that enjoys the classical genre, and trying to cram more in would be counterproductive.
Most of the episodes have been about “canon” works so far, and you have ably dug into the history behind the pieces and the composers. Will you be looking at works by living composers for future episodes?
Allison: We are looking at doing some more recent works, however the availability of information on these works does seem to be harder to find. One work that I’m particularly interested in for the show is Rainbow Body by Christopher Theofanidis.
Asa: Allison mentioned the availability of information – to clarify, we like to familiarize ourselves with the work by looking at an and analyzing the scores, and public domain works available on IMSLP make that easy. However, we both have access to our various university libraries (Colorado State and Michigan State) which can help us so much when doing our score research! I personally would love to have a living composer on the show to talk about their own music.
You guys bring a kind of eager, nerdy energy to the show, and you don’t shy away from theoretical and technical musical details. Was that a conscious decision, or are you just staying true to your inner musical nerds?
Allison: We actually modeled our format on an old NPR classical podcast What Makes It Great, that had a really vivacious zing to it. I personally really love music theory and analysis, and when I listen to music it’s the little details that thrill me and I really wanted our listeners to experience these things that might heighten their listening enjoyment! So, I guess it was really a conscious decision to stay true to ourselves!
Asa: I think if you don’t let your own excitement show on an informational program, you can’t infuse your audience with any sort of enthusiasm either! So for me, anyway, it was definitely a conscious decision based on our radio experience as well as my other podcast — at least, the decision to let my enthusiasm show through to create an upbeat show that, I hope, is fun to listen to! When it comes to music, I am a performer moreso than I am enthralled by the technical aspects, as Allison is, and my excitement comes from finding out why the composer might have done what they did and how their own passion is written into the page. And then, of course, from sharing my love of music! The two of us together, I think, make a fantastic team when we allow that excitement on the air.
Who do you see as some of your classical music podcasting peers, and are there any shows (e.g. Nadia Sirota’s Meet the Composer, Bill McGlaughlin’s Exploring Music) you’ve modeled your approach after? What can listeners expect in the immediate future?
Allison: As I mentioned before, we were trying to hash out a format we liked and came across the What Makes It Great show. What I really loved about that show was the use of musical examples during the analysis of pieces. What I’m thinking of as our show progresses is to have even more music included in the show as background while we’re speaking, to make it sound more like a complete production!
Asa:What Makes it Great was what we modeled most of our “sound” off of, however, the nuts and bolts (history and more in-depth discussion) was inspired by the Naxos Classical Music Spotlight podcast as well as the American Public Media production Composer’s Datebook, which I listen to every day! I can’t say that I have listened to either of the shows that you mentioned, but we take inspiration from wherever we can! In the immediate future, at least, we want to be able to feature the music as much as possible, as Allison mentioned. We’ll do our best to stick to an every-other-Sunday release schedule, and choose works that we both can get excited about!
A while back a CDA reader recommended I read Blair Tindall’s book Mozart in the Jungle for a look at the seedier side of classical music. I never got around to it, unfortunately. The book was turned into an Amazon TV series, nabbed Bernadette Peters & Gael García Bernal to star, and turned into a hit for Amazon TV.
But wait — the show’s won a couple Golden Globes, and classical stars like Lang Lang & Gustavo Dudamel have made MitJ cameos? Okay, I’m paying attention. Should I be watching this?
I highly recommend reading violinist Hilary Hahn’s Slate piece about her two favorite music teachers — Klara Berkovich & Jascha Brodsky.
When Mr. Brodsky fell ill at 89, I visited him at a care center. Two nurses brought him to a large room, and he sat at a conference table. I assumed we were only there to chat, but I had my violin with me just in case. Sure enough, one of his first questions was, “Sweetheart, what did you bring to play for me today?” I reminded him of the repertoire I was working on, and he proceeded to give me a two-hour lesson. He leaned forward in his chair, singing examples, shaping my phrasing with interpretive gestures, and interrupting me to offer suggestions and corrections. For Mr. Brodsky, teaching was an unstoppable impulse.