John Banther takes classical music fans behind the scenes with interviews, deep dives, and analysis. Episodes released bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Produced by Classical WETA in Washington, D.C.
Here's the Latest Episode from Classical Breakdown:
The Planets is for better or worse, the most well-known work of English composer Gustav Holst. Over seven movements, Holst builds a world of different characters, the gods our planets are named after in our solar system, contrary to the idea he wrote about the physical planets themselves. We explore this masterpiece with a recording that is rather legendary, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and conductor William Steinberg.
Get into the new year with a work that has music for every month! Tchaikovsky's The Seasons also includes poetry and gives us a glimpse into Russian life, month by month in 1876.
It takes a lot of work to be a conductor, the planning process for a concert can start years in advance, there are scores to read, and musical decisions to be made. Michelle Merrill tells us all about the process, her role as a conductor, and her journey as a musician. There might also be a rapid-fire question round at the end.
Handel's Messiah is one of the more common pieces you'll hear in concert halls during the holiday season. But did you know it was meant for an entirely different holiday? James Jacobs joins me as we explore Messiah, from it's origins to modern day performances with musical examples.
It’s more than an overture, it breaks the rules of a symphony, and can have musical depictions to the extreme. The Symphonic Poem was popular in the mid-1800s to the 1930s and brought to life in grand romantic gestures, the world around us. In this episode, we talk about its humble origins to the master of the genre, Richard Strauss, and it’s eventual decline in popularity.
Sheet music can look confusing to the non-musician with all the notes, squiggles and instructions in different languages. Reading this sheet music becomes second nature with practice. But, just playing what’s written on the page is only a fraction of what musicians do to bring the music to life. Liz talks about how these written instructions are similar to other things in our lives. A special guest joins in for an acting game involving a foreign language, and Liz demonstrates on the violin her process of making a phrase come alive.
Alistair Coleman was inspired by paintings of On Kawara on display at the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, MD. The artwork is a series of "date paintings" that were created on the days of the Apollo 11 launch, moon landing, and return journey. In this episode, the Abeo Quartet performs this new work by Coleman, Moonshot, commissioned by the Glenstone Museum. After the performance we talk about how the quartet put this piece together, new performance techniques required, and who would dare to go to space.
Kian has toured extensively around the world as a soloist and chamber musician with conductor Daniel Barenboim. He talks about his experience with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an ensemble that brings together Isreali, Palestinian, and other Arab musicians to work together in music. In his experience with Maestro Barenboim, Kian has learned to adapt a concerts tempo to the acoustic characteristics of the concert hall. He also talks about his experience with Karate, his solo CD "Home," and a pretty intense moment on stage.
From its humble origins of occupying a small part of operas, to hour long works that can feature hundreds of musicians, the symphony can be hard to define. Bill Bukowski joins me as we explore its development up to Beethoven. Along the way we find elements of Jazz, fireworks, jokes, and more.
Poetry, falling on the ice, and summer storms, there is so much to hear and discover in Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece, The Four Seasons. In this episode, we get into the details on how Vivaldi uses strings to depict animals likes gnats and a barking dog, a crackling fire, and even chattering teeth. Listening to this work at times is also like watching a play, as Vivaldi depicts entire scenes with the musicians as actors. There are also different ways this music is performed, turning the music into something completely different. Classical WETA evening host James Jacobs joins me as we explore this centuries-old masterpiece with a legendary recording and the accompanying sonnets.
Chamber music is exploding in the United States, and one musician at the forefront is pianist Wu Han. She’s an internationally recognized musician and cultural entrepreneur. She also might be the busiest musician in the United States. I sat down with her and talked about how she runs multiple music programs here and abroad, maintains an intense performance schedule, and manages a record label all at the same time. Wu Han also tells us about her early inspirations in Taiwan, how the aftermath of 9/11 changed her perspective, where chamber music is headed, and even how to fix your wardrobe with a stapler.
Alistair Coleman is an award-winning and internationally recognized young composer from Washington, DC. Still a student at Juilliard, he is the youngest composer published by Schirmer, and his music is performed by renowned artists and orchestras like Zuill Bailey, and musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In this episode, I sit down with Alistair and talk about how composers write music. We discuss how geniuses like Mozart and Beethoven had such different writing processes, Stravinsky using headstands to "clear the mind" and Tchaikovsky walking for hours. He also shares some of his own music and how he composes.
A glimpse at our first 3 episodes launching September 10.