Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Charting a new course away from the charts

There's a big controversy brewing in the UK. BBC Radio 3, which is their classical music channel, will start a weekly Top 20 countdown of the country's top-selling classical releases. The charts will be compiled using both CD sales and downloads, so it will accurately reflect buying trends, but that's not the controversy. The larger question is simply whether or not there's any point to having classical music ape the trappings of popular music in order to attract listeners.

As Rupert Christiansen wrote in his Telegraph article, Radio 3's Classical Top 20 will be very dull indeed,
Why must classical music jump up and down and pretend to be what it isn’t?

What depresses me is the way that classical music is constantly chasing after techniques of the pop sector, and ending up, like a paunchy middle-aged man squeezing himself into a pair of tight blue jeans, looking a bit silly and terminally uncool. The interesting kids I know today with open musical minds aren’t the slightest bit interested in the charts: they have the confidence to listen to what they like and explore without reference to such crude and naff indicators as “the Top 20.”

Why can’t [classical music] stand aside from hype and ephemera and the silly business of judging success by numbers, and instead focus on its deepest strength - feeding a deep and serious appetite for art in which quality isn’t judged by its place in a weekly sales list?
 Well, we agree. And that's why WTJU plays the kind of classical music it does. Granted, for some people it can be tough listening. We don't program our classical music to be an upscale substitute for Muzak -- lots of lush, orchestral music with a smattering of pleasing piano renderings for your background listening pleasure..

I doubt most of what we air would show up on a Top 20 chart, but that's OK. Safe to say all of our announcers have "a deep and serious appetite for art" and program their shows accordingly. Do you have the confidence to listen to what you like and explore outside the tried-and-true? (although we do play a fair amount of that as well)

Well then. Turn your radio dial to 91.1fm, or connect to our Internet feed and let's go!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Organ Concert Old Cabell Hall Thursday 29 April 2010

Have you ever heard the pipe organ in Old Cabell Hall on the grounds of the University?

Are you one of the many fans of organ music who can’t get enough of Widor’s famous Toccata?

Here’s your chance to accomplish both feats in one sitting.

On Thursday, April 29, 2010 at 8pm, the McIntire Department of Music will present organist alumna Ginny Chilton and soprano faculty member Lily Hsieh in a program of music from late 19th- and early 20th-century France.

The featured organ work will be Charles Marie Widor’s Symphony No. 5, concluding with its famous Toccata. Vocal works to be accompanied by Ms. Chilton at the organ will include the “Pie Jesu” from the Fauré Requiem, a little-known Ave Maria by Widor himself, Gounod’s Ave Maria based on Bach’s C-major Prelude, Franck’s La Processione, and other pieces.


Old Cabell Hall on the Central Grounds of the University Virginia boasts one of the earliest organs by famed American builder E. M. Skinner, and one of the few of his organs that survive in original condition and in its original site. The three keyboard (or manuals) instrument was installed in 1906, less than a decade after the construction of Cabell Hall, and was given a thorough renovation by the Thompson-Allen firm of New Haven, Connecticut, in 1983.

Watch this blog for more information about the organ and the man whose name is attached to the McIntire Department of Music, Paul Goodloe McIntire; 2010 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth.

The complete program of the upcoming recital is:


Featuring the  E.M. SKINNER ORGAN (1906)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

8:00 p.m.

Old Cabell Hall Auditorium

Pastorale 1868
  César Franck (1822-1890)

Ave Maria
  J. S. Bach/Charles Gounod (1818-1893)

Ave Maria, Op. 24
  Charles Marie Widor (1844-1937)

Alleluia (Exultate, jubilate)
  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Agnus Dei
  Georges Bizet (1838-1875)

Pie Jesu (Requiem, 1877)
  Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

En prière 1890
  Gabriel Fauré

La procession 1888
  César Franck

  Eva dell’Aqua (1856-1930)

Symphonie No. 5 in F Minor 1887
Charles-Marie Widor

Back to Bach Cantatas

Now that the spring rock and folk marathon has concluded, I'll be back this Sunday, 25 April, at 6 am on Classical Sunrise to bring you two Bach sacred cantatas. We'll be hearing cantatas for the Third Sunday after Easter (Jubilate)(25 April) and for the Fourth Sunday after Easter (Cantate)(2 May).
I've chosen BWV 103 for the Third Sunday, Ihr werdet weinen und heulen (You shall weep and lament . . . but the world shall rejoice), and BWV 108 for the Fourth Sunday, Es ist euch gut, das ich hingehe (It is good for you that I go away). Bach composed BWV 103 for Sunday 22 April 1725; BWV 108 was first performed the following Sunday of that same year. Both cantatas are based on text by Christiane Mariane von Ziegler.
The opening chorus in BWV 103 starts out in a sorrowful mood, lamenting the death of Jesus, but then becomes joyful with the promise of salvation. In a similar vein, BWV 108 opens with Jesus Christ explaining why he is leaving but with the promise to send the Holy Spirit.

This community recently had the good fortune to hear Bach's B minor Mass performed. When I asked a friend whether she had attended the performance, she said no, that she did not like "religious" music. I was somewhat taken aback: Bach certainly composed his sacred works for "the glory of God," but in my view the universality and great glory of Bach's music transcends any religion. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alt-Classical Aston

The interface between popular and classical music always holds the promise of innovation -- a promise not often realized. Brahms wrote waltzes, the popular dance form of the day. Leroy Anderson created short orchestral bonbons that spoke the vernacular of tin pan alley. Gershwin easily moved between the opera house and Broadway, and so on.

A group of music students in Australia bring their classical training (and chops) to the world of pop. And the result (I think) might possibly be considered alt-classical. While covering current Top 40 hits, Aston doesn't simply play a note-for-note recreation. Rather, the original song is merely the starting point.

Aston features an unusual line up that's more in line with a contemporary chamber ensemble rather than a pop group. And that results in a neo-classical sound that's not out of line with contemporary classical music.

So give it a listen. The less familiar you are with the original, the more "classical" this may sound. Alt-classical, indeed.

Here's the original of Lady Gaga's "Telephone" for comparison.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where's the classical? Well, where's the pledge?

"Where's the classical music?" That's the question that listeners often ask WTJU announcers (and perhaps each other) this time of year. It's gone -- but only temporarily. WTJU features four genres of music in its weekly line-up: classical, jazz, rock, and folk/world music.

Being a community radio station, we're expected to raise the funds to cover approximately half our operating budget from our listeners, which means we hold two fund drives each year. In the fall, the classical and jazz departments take over the station, giving our volunteer announcers to create all kinds of special programs to celebrate these two genres in all their diversity.

In the spring, the rock and folk departments get their turn, and do the same thing. If you've tuned in recently expecting to hear classical music and heard something else, that's the reason. Don't worry -- everything goes back to normal soon. But there's a few things we hope you do during the Spring Rock and Folk Fund-Raising Marathon.

1) If you tune in, stick around. Our rock and folk volunteer DJs are just as knowledgeable about the music they play as our classical and jazz announcers. You can expect top quality programming that really digs into the repertoire regardless of when you tune in. And you might be surprised at what you discover.

2) Whether you stay tuned or not, make a pledge. This station, like many other non-commercial stations, depends on listener support. And the more budgets are tightened from other funding sources (including underwriting), the more important your pledge becomes.

So take a moment and give that person on the air a call. 434-924-3959 is the number, and make a pledge to support your favorite radio station. And don't think in terms of tip-jar amounts, either! Our expenses may be small compared to other stations, but they're not non-existent. If every one of our listeners called in with a $100 pledge, the fund-raising part of the drive would be over before it started (although we'd still do all the great special programs we planned, anyway).

And remember you can also pledge (and listen) online. is the address, and Donate Now the button to click.

Regardless of what your favorite type of music is, please consider pledging. Because your $100 (or larger) contribution helps keep WTJU on the air. So that when this fund drive is over, you can turn on the radio and hear the music you love -- instead of static.

Friday, April 9, 2010

More on Encores

Ralph's comments about encores raise interesting questions. At one time they were almost mandatory, but today half the audience is on the way out the door when an encore is about to be played. In a recent Berlin concert, the Vienna Philharmonic under Loren Maazel after an ecstatically received performance of music by Beethoven, Debussy, and Ravel played as an encore Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #5, which was a perfect choice. Quite often orchestral encores are often routine, but what could be better than Maazel's recalling a great orchestra's home city?

There was a time when a the public at the opera would demand that a favorite singer encore a particularly showy aria. "Bis! Bis!" would be heard echoing from the rafters after the prima donna or primo uomo completed a show-stopper. Up to the time of Verdi and Wagner, singers would often play fast and loose with the composer's music, so a reprise of a favorite aria by a beloved singer was to be expected. Now the bis is rarely heard in the opera house.

At the Metropolitan Opera last season the fine young lyric tenor Juan Diego Florez let it be known that he might be disposed to reprise "O mes amis" from Donizetti's "La fille du régiment," with its cascade of high Cs. Naturally the audience clamored for it, and he delivered an encore of the aria in style. But that is rare these days. We have taken to heart Toscanini's directive, "Come il scritto!" ("as it's written").

Encores usually are short, popular pieces aimed at sending the audience home happy and with a warm feeling toward the artist. Horowitz rarely would let the audience leave without hearing him play one of his beloved technical showpieces. Few who heard him earlier in his career would ever forget his own fantasy arrangement of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Encores were intended to reward an audience that received the performer's artistry especially warmly.

Today, when even the dreariest and most routine performance is received with the perfunctory standing ovation, the encore seems to have lost its significance. Still, we concertgoers seem to love encores. The only person in the house who dreads them is the house manager, who is thinking about paying all that overtime!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Encores and the unfiltered expectation

Anne Midgette wrote a piece recently on encores (which itself has been encored throughout the classical music world). In light of the revelation that program notes can get in the way of audience enjoyment, I found one of her observations particularly interesting.

As you may recall, an article in the journal Psychology of Music by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis came to this conclusion:
Results showed a significant negative effect of description, suggesting that prefacing an excerpt with a text description reduces enjoyment of the music. Conceptualizing listening by connecting it to linguistically named correlates (a practice fundamental to music training) may have more multifarious (and not always straightforwardly beneficial) effects on musical experience than commonly assumed.
Now keep in mind as you read Midgette's observation:
Departing from the printed program, [the encore] gets listeners to sit up and take notice, speculating on what’s to come, trying to figure out what they’ve heard. In a way, it puts the audience into a more active role. I’m struck by how many people want to possess the encore, rather than the body of the recital; many people write after a concert to say they want to buy the music they last heard. I think there may be a sense of ownership involved in hearing music without intermediary, working to identify it.
What's your experience with encores? Is it the best part of the concert? Something special? Or does it serve another purpose for you?