This Saturday at 11:30 AM
The 2013-2014 season of broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera gets underway this weekend with a revival of the Vegas-style Rigoletto. Of course, in radio it’s more about the music than the neon staging, but this production glows just as brightly with a couple of Chicago favorites: Ryan Opera Center alum and Evanston native Matthew Polenzani, who sings the Duke, and Dmitri Hvorovstovsky who sings the title role.
The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts are a part of the fiber of American life. Whether in Washington, D.C., New York, or now Chicago, I always marvel at the thought of how many men, women, and children have laughed, cried, sung, hummed along, and yes, applauded from their homes to the broadcasts since their beginnings in 1931? Whether or not it’s your weekly ritual, there’s something comforting and assuring to know that these broadcasts endure still. For Rigoletto, the young (36!) year old Spanish conductor from Granada Pablo Heras-Casado leads a stellar cast (Hvorostovsky! Polenzani! Yoncheva!) in creating a world of farce, tragedy, regret, and love.
—Candice Agree, WFMT program host
See a complete listing of the broadcast season.
Flashback to 1982
See a scene from Der Rosenkavalier with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Kurt Moll, Judith Blegen, and Tatiana Troyanos.
YES, it was James Levine on the podium in that 1982 production. Maestro Levine is fully involved in the present season, although Rosenkavalier will be conducted by Edward Gardner on the February 22 broadcast.
Saturday morning with Candice Agree
Starting at 7:00 AM
Nelson Mandela was a passionate classical music lover. As a tribute to this exemplar of humility, perseverance, and forgiveness, throughout the morning we’ll hear works from Handel and Tchaikovsky, two of Mandela’s favorite composers, as well as the voice of “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba.
The 9 o’clock hour will feature Beethoven’s Piano Concerto # 4, a work which helped shaped the course of the growing anti-apartheid movement of the 1950′s. It’s a truly amazing story. Don’t miss it.
Before Chucky, Woody or Buzz, the idea of animating toys captured the imaginations of a number of composers. Victor Herbert wrote the operetta Babes in Toyland, Respighi compiled some Rossini piano pieces for La boutique fantasque, and even Debussy got in on the game with La Boîte à joujoux. Throughout December WFMT is featuring music having to do with children. Monday morning starting at 9:00 AM, Carl Grapentine samples music specifically about toys. Do any others come to mind?
Monday, 9:00 AM
Herbert Babes in Toyland Prelude–Razumovsky Sym/Keith Brion.
Herbert Babes in Toyland: March of the Toys–St Louis Sym/Leonard Slatkin
L Mozart Toy Symphony In G–Stuttgart Chamber Orch/Karl Münchinger
Debussy La Boîte à Joujoux: Le Magasin de Jouets–ORTF National Orch/Jean Martinon
You may remember Disney’s version of Babes in Toyland. Before that there were Laurel and Hardy. Check it out:
Introductions host and producer David Polk is moving up in the world. You’ve probably heard his voice during membership campaigns as well as a number of special features on WFMT. Now his presence will be integral to the off-microphone workings of the station, as program director.
Get to know David as we the staff have known him, for his fresh perspective and enthusiasm for trying the newest, the latest, the greatest. David offered these answers to a Q and A:
What has your time with WFMT meant to you?
One of my first assignments at WFMT was to help Studs Terkel organize his press interviews when one of his last books was published. Can you imagine an assignment like that? And since all of the interviews were done over the phone he had me sit next to him so that he could pretend that he was talking to someone in person. That was surreal. And I’ve had so many special experiences like that over the years. It’s meant a more interesting life, both as a staff member and as a listener.
How would you characterize WFMT within the Chicago community? If you could wave a magic wand, what would WFMT look like in 5 years?
We are part of the glue that connects much of Chicago’s cultural community and all of us here at WFMT aspire to help strengthen that glue even more. As we move forward I hope that we become the gathering place for the arts in Chicago not only on the radio, but wherever and however it is people “tune in.”
Do you think WFMT needs to change? In what way?
We are and have always been — both our staff and our listeners — a group of arts lovers who happen to have a radio station. And that will not change. The fundamentals — that we are devoted to Chicago, that we present the most interesting mix of music and programming about the arts, emphasize live music, never talk down to the listener and don’t air jingles — do not need to change.
We will, however, continue to work on making WFMT accessible however it is that people want to access it, whether it’s on FM radio or online. WFMT has always embraced new technology and we’ll continue to adapt to new technology.
All of our fellow classical and radio institutions are thinking about the same things: How to expand the audience, how to remain relevant and how to adapt to new technology. We’ll continue those conversations and among us (the staff and listeners) we’ll come up with great new ideas.
Have you gained insight from the kids on Introductions that will inform your job as PD?
Yes! First and foremost that it’s not true that young people don’t like classical music. (I find) that people like to be exposed to all kinds of classical music. And that if you’re really nervous before a big presentation you should eat a banana. They help with nerves.
Any sneak peaks into new programs?
We’re debuting an arts reporting project in January, coordinated by Matt DeStefano. But I didn’t have anything to do with that! Every week, we’ll air a new story about the arts in Chicago. We’re very excited about that. There’s much more, too. Stay tuned!
Do you see social media becoming more integrated with the work that your staff does?
Yes, because it’s become integrated with life in general! We’ve been experimenting with social media, mainly Facebook, for a while now, and we’ll continue to experiment with that and other platforms. If it’s going to be a part of the programming though it has to be used in interesting and thoughtful ways. But since we have an interesting and thoughtful audience I’m sure it won’t be hard to find ways.
All of the new technology is great, but the advantage of radio and WFMT is, in fact, that it’s linear. All of our heads are spinning from the media options out there but you can still press one button, sit back and relax and go on with what you want to do and some of the most knowledgeable people about classical music and culture will expose you to great art.
Thursday, December 5, 2013 by Noel Morris
Things You Never Knew about Berlioz
To sit down with the Chicago Symphony’s Gerard McBurney is to reformat the brain and reconsider half-baked factoids while gaining an entirely different awareness of music. It happened recently with a conversation about Berlioz’s Fantastic Symphony.
It should be said that radio people and program annotators LOVE the Symphonie fantastique because it’s got a good story. We can hold court with the toughest crowd, chomping on this delicious tale like a piece of ripe fruit:
Berlioz had barely written anything, let alone a symphony. He goes to the theater to see some Shakespeare and falls in love with Ophelia. He doesn’t even speak the same language as the actress Harriet Smithson, but he’s so heartsick he writes a huge symphony for her.
Then it gets dark.
With the symphony, Berlioz generates a fiction around the excruciating longing he feels for this woman. The music plays out like a drama in which he imagines attempting suicide and murdering the woman who barely knows he’s alive.
Berlioz could get in a lot of trouble for putting musings like that on Facebook.
He does end up marrying her. Not surprisingly the real Harriet Smithson didn’t measure up to the Harriet Smithson in Berlioz’s brain, and the marriage didn’t last.
What makes this affair so unforgettable is the symphony. At 26 years old, Berlioz arguably wrote the greatest first symphony of all time. Today there are nearly 200 recordings of the piece, all with booklets that show the little tune that’s supposed to represent Harriet Smithson. From there, one could spend a whole afternoon examining the intricate tone painting used throughout the symphony. What you wont find in these recordings is information demonstrating that Hector Berlioz had been on the cusp of writing such a singular masterpiece. Compared to any other composer, Berlioz’s musical background is thin. That’s where the intensive research of Gerard McBurney starts to put meat on those bones.
With that research, Mr. McBurney crafts a fascinating, multimedia production, complete with the Chicago Symphony onstage, poised to play excerpts. These programs, called Beyond the Score, always offer the nuts and bolts of a piece on the first half, and a complete performance on the second (performances are this Friday and Sunday). Invariably McBurney’s efforts produce more information than can be written into half a concert. Sometimes the greatest insights are cut from the show, just because they’d take too much time to explain. With that in mind, we asked Gerard to talk about some of the things that will not be part of this weekend’s Beyond the Score:
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Noel Morris
They’re warming up with a little Tomaso da Vittoria, a little Hans Leo Hassler. It’s interesting to watch these guys change places for each piece, putting the right voices together for antiphonal effects, or simply to facilitate the voices that work as one in a particular piece. Their conductor, Jace Wittig, counts them off and then ducks into the control room to listen to the mix. He re-enters a few times to correct a pitch, move someone away from a microphone or correct some diction here and there, but otherwise, these guys are making chamber music. They stay together through breathing and eye contact.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 by Noel Morris
Chanticleer Live, Wednesday at 2:00 PM
Gloating is naughty, but hosting Chanticleer is so nice—they’ve become regulars at WFMT at Christmastime.
Every December this extraordinary a cappella ensemble does its sold-out Christmas tour, and makes a point of filing into the Levin Performance Studio: twelve guys, phenomenally gifted, incurably cheerful. Count on FMT and TTW staff to be peeping over the engineer’s shoulder for iPhone photos; Facebook pages will light up, and all our friends will be jealous. There’s no one quite like them.
Factoid: tenor Gregory Peebles sang in the Lyric Opera Chorus and Chicago Symphony Chorus. He used to entertain his fellow choristers with his ability to sing spot-on with the sopranos. Mr. Peebles now sings soprano for Chanticleer.
Don’t miss Chanticleer live on WFMT’s Impromptu, today at 2:00 PM.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Noel Morris
When Chicago-born Jewish composer Mel Tormé referred to children in his runaway hit “The Christmas Song,” he pretty well nailed it:
“So I’m offering this simple phrase. To kids from one to ninety-two…”
The holidays not only celebrate children, but bring out the inner child (for those who’ve crossed over to the other side (adulthood)). For this reason, WFMT celebrates children and childhood throughout December.
This week’s New Release of the Week comes to us from Marc-Andre Hamelin, a monster of the keyboard. The recording focuses on works by one who had been a child prodigy, Ferruccio Busoni. Busoni was the son of musicians: a pianist and a clarinetist. He performed publicly at age seven and performed his own compositions before he was ten, capturing the attention of Anton Rubinstein, Franz Liszt and Johannes Brahms.
These days, radio people most often associate Busoni with his oft-performed transcriptions; in fact he’s a terribly undervalued composer. His works are positively arresting, as was shown in a performance of his Berceuse élégiaque by the CSO under Riccardo Muti. Muti called it, “a masterpiece.” Yes, Busoni went on to teach people who became more famous: Dimitri Tiomkin, Kurt Weill, Dimitri Mitropoulos, and Edgard Varèse—perhaps that’s part of the problem.
The New Releases host, Lisa Flynn, had this to say:
Most of us know the name Ferruccio Busoni in connection with his famous transcriptions of Bach works. But this new recording shows that his Bach arrangements make up a small portion of Busoni’s output. He was an incredibly prolific composer whose style is hard to peg down. It’s all over the map – from works modeled after Baroque forms to pieces inspired by Native American melodies and virtuosic showpieces that push the limits of the piano. Marc-André Hamelin is known for his ability to take on the toughest challenges, and he introduces us to some late rarities from Busoni, including several world-premiere recordings.
Busoni’s virtuosic abilities are not for the faint of heart. Only the most accomplished technicians of the piano can manage some of this music, but it’s well worth the journey for a player like Hamelin. Busoni’s is a strangely alluring, and haunting voice.
Stay tuned to WFMT throughout the week, and during the midday program with Lisa Flynn to hear selections from this new CD.
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 by Noel Morris
Tristan und Isolde on the Tuesday Night Opera, 8:00 PM
Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde stands as the great pivot point in music: there’s all the music that came before; and everything else. Before Tristan, the building blocks of music had a function that listeners innately understood; the notes were connected to each other like a road map between point A and point B. In Tristan, the road twists and turns as if point B is just around the bend; it’s not. In four and a half hours, there is no resolution, not until the final bars. In Tristan, Wagner creates new harmonies that don’t behave the way the old ones did, blowing open the doors to a new vocabulary for composers.
For a marvelous discussion on “The Tristan Effect” by the Chicago Symphony’s Gerard McBurney, click here.
The Tuesday Night Opera’s host, Peter van de Graaff answers some questions about Tristan und Isolde:
What separates Tristan from Wagner’s other works, as well as from the rest of music?
Tristan is one of the truly great and revolutionary works in music history. From the enigmatic and unsettling opening chord, all of 20th century music can be heard in the distance.
You’ve chosen a recording that goes back a couple generations, why?
I have selected this recording because it captures two of the greatest proponents of the title roles at the height of their careers (Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad).
If Tristan is such a watershed work, why don’t radio stations broadcast it in its entirety more often?
It’s too long to broadcast regularly!! Most stations shy away from opera anyway, but when you put on a 4 ½ hour Wagnerian marathon, well, that’s just too much. Not for WFMT, though!
Wagner saves the most powerful music for the very end when Isolde sings her Liebestod. She’s already been onstage for nearly four hours. Was this wise?
I don’t think that Wagner ever thought in terms of “wise” when writing his music (much as with Beethoven). He had a sound in his ear and, whether the singers were up to the demands or not, whether they knew how to reserve something for the end or not, that’s how he heard it and that’s how the few singers who have the vocal stamina and technique will have to deal with it!
Monday, December 2, 2013 by Noel Morris
For many families, the holidays are when people come home. Over a holiday meal, we notice how much a child has grown, or that the baby is toddling. There is no time like the holidays for giving us pause to strengthen family ties. It is a time when generations gather to share love, giving, joy, and music. Celebrate the season’s glorious musical traditions with WFMT throughout the month of December.
Wednesday, December 4, 2:00 PM
Chanticleer—a LIVE WFMT Impromptu hosted by Lisa Flynn
Sunday, December 8, 5:00 PM
Leroy Anderson Christmas Special—Anderson enthusiast Leonard Slatkin conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra in December favorites the composer arranged for string orchestra, for winds, and for brass. From the WFMT Radio Network.
Sunday, December 8, 6:00 PM
Advent Voices—This one-hour broadcast showcases contemplative music for the pre-Christmas season of spiritual preparation known as Advent.
Music of the Baroque Brass & Choral Holiday Concert—This year’s broadcast of a longtime Chicago holiday tradition combines music from the Renaissance and Baroque eras with modern-day works for the season. William Jon Gray conducts and Kerry Frumkin hosts. “The [diverse] stories the pieces in this program tell,” reflects MOB, “are nonetheless similar in their message….Although the Christian celebration of the birth of Christ is the dominant theme, it isn’t the only one at work; different nationalities, perspectives, and styles are reconciled through the power of music, and glorious harmony is clearly the result. What better way to celebrate the holiday season?” An offering from the WFMT Radio Network.
Friday, December 20, 2:00 PM
Welcome Christmas—Based in Minneapolis, the VocalEssence Choir is led by organist-conductor Philip Brunelle in its annual presentation of music for the season.
Friday, December 20, 8:00 PM
St Olaf Christmas Festival—A years-long tradition in Minnesota and nationwide, the December performance by singers and instrumentalists of St Olaf College brings us the cheer and the wonder of the holidays.
Monday, December 23, 8:00 PM
Valparaiso University Christmas Concert—The Valpo musicians celebrate Christmas with traditional and contemporary music. Carl Grapentine will host the broadcast that features the Valparaiso University Chorale, women’s choir, men’s choir, orchestra, and concert band. From the WFMT Radio Network.
Tuesday, December 24, 9:00 AM
A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols—The King’s College Choir of England’s Cambridge University performs its annual service of readings and music, coming to us live via American Public Media. Michael Barone hosts.
Tuesday, December 24, 6:00 PM
A Chanticleer Christmas—The renowned male-voice chamber choir performs holiday music as we head into Christmas Eve.
Tuesday, December 31, 4:00 PM
New Philharmonic Viennese Pops—Live from the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Kirk Muspratt conducts the New Philharmonic in what he calls “a New Year’s Eve celebration with an international twist.” Soprano Emily Birsan from Lyric’s Ryan Opera Center will perform Adele’s Laughing Song from Die Fledermaus plus other favorites.