Monday, October 15, 2018

Dies irae in Music

In light of Halloween coming up later this month, let’s talk about deathly sounds found within the classical music world. Coming up the week of Halloween, check back for  my “Horrifying Music of Halloween” playlist.

Have you heard of the Dies irae? This theme comes from the Mass of the Dead and has been used by composers for hundreds of years as an underlying message or symbol in their own work. Today, I want to share three famous examples of where this Dies irae can be heard in the music of Berlioz, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. First, why not familiarize yourself with this theme with a clip taken from a film that chose to foreshadow death through its soundtrack, The Shining.

During the 19th century, composers were fascinated with anything macabre and sought to incorporate deathly sentiments in their music. One such example is the fifth movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique known as “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath.” Berlioz uses what is known as the idee fixe or “fixed idea” throughout his composition. This fixed idea is a musical theme that comes back in each movement, changing each time it appears in order to match the story the composer seeks to convey through his music. 

During this finale movement, “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath,” Berlioz distorts the idee fixe and combines it with the Dies irae theme in order to depict a dream of his beloved appearing at his own funeral as a witch. As you listen to the excerpt, listen for the distorted sounds of the idee fixe in the E-flat clarinet and the Dies irae theme that Berlioz weaves throughout.
Another example of the Dies irae can be found in Liszt’s Totentanz, a work for piano and orchestra. Many musicologists believe this work was inspired by a fresco Liszt saw while visiting Pisa. Created by Orcagna, the fresco was entitled The Triumph of Death.

Liszt begins this work with the Dies irae theme in the trombones. This theme, along with sudden shifts in dynamics and the use of low registers creates a creepy atmosphere for the listener. Listen here.

Lastly today, let’s listen to Rachmaninoff’s haunting Isle of the Dead. This piece is based off of the painting by Arnold Bocklin that Rachmaninoff first saw a reproduction of in Paris in 1907. The composer felt uneasy as he gazed at the boat holding a coffin as it approached the eerie island.

Reflecting on this as he composed, Rachmaninoff begins his piece with the sounds of oars in water using the dark sounds of low strings accompanied by timpani and harp. The music evokes a lack of direction and a sense of urgency as it progresses, the Dies irae appearing once the boat arrives at the island. This theme seems to win out over any sounds of joy in the piece. Can you hear the Dies irae? Listen here.

In the mood for Halloween yet? Be sure to tune to 90.9 on October 31 at 6pm for our annual Tunes from the Crypt

Monday, October 8, 2018

New Album from Kirill Gerstein

Allow me to introduce you to a new album that’s found its way onto the WGUC music library shelf. It’s the latest release from piano virtuoso Kirill Gerstein featuring some of the most-loved music by George Gershwin – his Rhapsody in Blue and Concerto in F. Most music lovers are familiar with these hits by the iconic American composer. Do not let the fear of it being “just another Gershwin album” tempt you to disregard this release. Gerstein takes this all-too-familiar music to the next level with his jazz and classical-fused flair, adding embellishments and even his own cadenza in the concerto. Also on the album – a few selections from piano legend Earl Wild. Kirill Gerstein talked to WGUC about his new album, including Wild’s “Virtuoso Etudes after Gershwin.”


Gerstein collaborates with vibraphonist Gary Burton on a piece by Oscar Levant. He told us about his longtime friendship with Burton.

Gerstein joins David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra for this live recording. Interested in hearing more from Gerstein? Make you way down to Cincinnati’s Music Hall January 4 and 5 when he will be performing alongside the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Monday, October 1, 2018

History of the May Festival

This month, 90.9 WGUC presents the 2018 May Festival season Sunday evenings at 8pm. 2018 marked the May Festival’s return to Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall following an extensive renovation. It also celebrated the beginning of a new era for the May Festival, under the baton of newly-appointed Principal Conductor Juanjo Mena.

The Cincinnati May Festival was founded in 1873 and is one of the oldest and most prestigious choral festivals in the Western Hemisphere. Their annual festival consists of two weekends of outstanding concerts backed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and internationally-acclaimed guest artists. Highlights from this season include Eun Sun Kim’s May Festival debut leading Verdi’s powerful Requiem, a celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year with performances of Mass and Chichester Psalms, and a collaboration with a Cincinnati community choir in Handel’s iconic Messiah. See below for a complete broadcast schedule.

Did you know that in the mid-1800s, German immigrants who resided in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community had a deep appreciation for the arts? They ended up forming singing groups and invited similar choirs in nearby towns to join them in a song festival. This eventually grew to be an annual gathering that took place in various Midwest cities. In 1870 when it was Cincinnati’s turn to host, it was decided that Saenger Hall would be built as a temporary structure to house the festival. This building was constructed where Music Hall now stands but was not an ideal setting for the festival since it was built with a tin roof!

In 1873, renowned conductor Theodore Thomas happened to be traveling through Cincinnati on tour with his New York-based orchestra and noticed that the city’s residents had great musical potential. He decided to work with local arts-advocates Maria Longworth Nichols and George Ward Nichols to create a large music festival that wasn’t tied ethnically to the current “Saengerfest” held at Saenger Hall. This was the beginning of the May Festival. It started as a 108-piece orchestra and 800-person choir that came together biannually, and eventually sparked the building of Music Hall in place of Saenger Hall, in order to provide a better facility for the festival. The third May Festival was the first to take place inside the new Music Hall in 1878. At the time, it was the largest concert hall in America.

Since the May Festival’s conception, it has remained one of the nation’s most eminent choral festivals, attracting internationally-acclaimed artists to join them in their annual performances. Be sure to tune to 90.9 Sunday evenings at 8pm all month long to hear Cincinnati’s very own May Festival Chorus.
May Festival 2018 Broadcast Schedule

Sunday, October 7, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 18)
Eun Sun Kim, conductor; Michelle Bradley, soprano; Ekaterina Semenchuk, mezzo-soprano; Bryan Hymel, tenor; May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

VERDI: Requiem Mass

Sunday, October 14, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 19)
Robert Porco, conductor; Kevin Vortmann, celebrant; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Children’s Choir; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra


Sunday, October 21, 8:00 PM (Performance Date: May 25)
Juanjo Mena, conductor; John Holiday, countertenor; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

GABRIELI: Magnificat
BERNSTEIN: Chichester Psalms
RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloé [complete ballet]

Monday, September 24, 2018

Coming Up on Music Cincinnati

Coming up this weekend, it’s a new Music Cincinnati broadcast from 90.9 WGUC. Featuring the Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church Organ Concert Series, this special is sure to delight both aficionados and those new to the power contained within this age-old instrument.

The Opus 3671 organ at Hyde Park Community United Methodist in Cincinnati was built by Casavant Frères in 1990. It has nearly 5,000 pipes and was designed in the French tradition fulfilling the dual role of choir and main organ. The upcoming Music Cincinnati broadcast highlights this organ during the 2017–2018 concert season. This instrument draws talent from across this globe. The 2017–2018 season welcomed organists Jean-Baptiste Robin, Renée Anne Louprette, and Kola Owolabi.

What music can you expect to hear on this broadcast? A variety! You’ll enjoy everything from Baroque-era pieces by Handel, Vivaldi, and Bach, all the way to newer works – even one by one of the organists himself! The organists are some of the world’s best. Jean-Baptiste Robin is organist of the Royal Chapel at the Palace of Versailles and Professor of Organ at the National Conservatory in Versailles. He is considered one of the most accomplished French organists and composers today. Renée Anne Louprette is organist at Rutgers University. She’s also known as a conductor and teacher and is known internationally as a recitalist. Kola Owolabi is Associate Professor of Organ at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He frequently tours North America as a recitalist and has been featured at conventions put on by the American Guild of Organists and the Organ Historical Society.

This Music Cincinnati is one not to be missed! Tune into 90.9 WGUC Sunday, September 20 at 8pm, or listen online at, via the WGUC app, or your smart speaker. Not available at 8pm this Sunday? Never fear! This program will be archived at the week following and you’ll be able to listen to it at your convenience! 

Monday, September 17, 2018

A New Album from Anne Akiko Meyers

Avie Records recently released a new album from violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. Mirror in Mirror is the 37th release from Meyers, who is considered one of today’s leading violinists. She is known for commissioning and performing new music, and her newest album reflects that. For it, Meyers collaborated with some of today’s leading composers to present music either composed or arranged for her. One of those arrangements is by Morten Lauridsen. Meyers told us in a recent interview that she had been asking the composer to write her a work for some time. Having limited time, he was resistant – until he heard her perform.


Jakub Ciupiński wrote his Wreck of the Umbria for her.


While Meyers obviously didn’t collaborate with Ravel for this recording of Tzigane, she decided to do something interesting by recreating Ravel’s original luthéal version. She explains just what exactly that is:


Meyers goes on to explain how her keyboardist accomplished the effect of the luthéal in her new recording.


The album’s title comes from Arvo Pärt’s Mirror in Mirror, which she has recorded before.


Meyers told us that her younger daughter, Andie, has claimed that piece as her own lullaby. A lullaby John Corigliano wrote for her older daughter, Natalie, is also featured on this album.

Mirror in Mirror from Anne Akiko Meyers offers a reflective, spiritual experience for the listener. It encapsulates the deep, pure nature of music and will move your soul. Myers’ performance is, as always, splendid, making this album one of 2018’s best. Interested in hearing this album? Tune to 90.9 WGUC for our Fall Fund Drive beginning September 20 when we will feature Mirror in Mirror. When you call 513-419-7155 or go to with your gift, you can request your own copy of this new gem from Anne Akiko Meyers.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Getting Ready for Autumn

Autumn is quickly approaching. To put us in the mood, I’ve created an Autumn-themed playlist. Check it out here.

Monday, September 3, 2018

John Williams: A Life in Music

Anyone who is a true Star Wars junkie knows that May 4 of each year is International Star Wars Day – “May the fourth be with you!” The London Symphony Orchestra celebrated Star Wars Day this year with the release of their new album, John Williams: A Life in Music. This release marked the LSO’s over forty-year collaboration with John Williams, which all began back in 1977 with the filming of Star Wars. Although this new album doesn’t offer any new works from Williams, it does include the world premiere recording of the Theme from Schindler’s List for solo cello (normally the solo part is played by the violin). The album also contains music from iconic Williams film scores including Star Wars, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, Jaws, Superman, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T.

Although it’s a bit disappointing that Mr. Williams is not the conductor on John Williams: A Life in Music (Gavin Greenaway performs that role), this album does offer the John Williams enthusiast all of the best from this legendary American composer. An added bonus is the beautiful packaging – each page of the liner notes contains commentary from members of the LSO.

Interested in hearing this album? Tune in during the WGUC September Fund Drive when you will not only hear it but can request your own copy! It’s our way of saying “thank you” for supporting the classical music on 90.9.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Music Cincinnati: Music in the Museum

90.9 WGUC looks forward to presenting the next broadcast in its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting the Music in the Museum Organ Concert Series, which is held inside the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. You can tune into 90.9 on August 26 at 8pm for this special, listen online at, via the WGUC app, or your smart speaker.

Union Terminal opened in 1933 and is considered an icon in the transportation industry, being one of the last great train stations ever built. It is designed in the beautiful art deco style and decorated with mosaics that depict various aspects of the industrial age. Union Terminal currently houses the Cincinnati Museum Center and was home to the famous 1929 E.M. Skinner Concert Organ prior to an extensive renovation, which began in 2016. This magnificent instrument contains nearly 5,000 pipes and draws many of the world’s leading organists. The organ series will return to the museum’s rotunda in 2019 after the completion of extensive renovations and repairs.

WGUC’s next Music Cincinnati program features highlights from this organ series’ 2014 and 2015 seasons, including performances by Isabelle Demers, Thomas Murray, Benjamin Sheen, and Jean-Baptiste Robin. They perform works ranging from J.S. Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor, all the way to the music from John Williams’ famous Harry Potter score. If you are an organist, enjoy the sounds of this king of all instruments, or are simply interested in learning more about this powerful instrument, be sure to tune to 90.9 on August 26 at 8pm. If you aren’t available then, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, August 13, 2018

A Tribute to Ralph Vaughan Williams

August 26, 2018 marks the 60th anniversary of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ death. To celebrate his life and work, let’s take a look at some of his lesser-known compositions including his Serenade to Music, Flos Campi, and Five Tudor Portraits. This post was written by WGUC intern, Connor Annable.

Did you know that Vaughan Williams wrote his Serenade to Music for sixteen of the most well-known British singers of his era? He wrote is as a tribute to English conductor Henry Wood, who at the time was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his conducting debut. Serenade to Music uses text from Act V of William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, which evokes the power of music and the music of the spheres.

Flos Campi was composed a little over 15 years before Serenade to Music. It is a work that is sometimes described as a celebration of love (Flos Campi is translated most often in the context of the Hebrew Bible as “Flower of the Field,” evoking the Rose of Sharon as described in the Song of Solomon). Premiered on October 10, 1925, it is cast in six interconnected sections, each using a Latin quote from the Song of Solomon. It is dedicated to the eminent English violist Lionel Tertis. This dedication seems fitting, since the viola has a prominent solo part against a backdrop of wordless chorus and small orchestra. As a result, it could be considered a choral-orchestral work, but the chorus and orchestra are not necessarily on equal footing.

A work that marks a complete contrast from pure Romanticism for Vaughan Williams is the ‘choral suite’ Five Tudor Portraits, composed in 1935 and premiered at the Norwich Festival on September 25, 1936. Scored for solo alto (or mezzo-soprano), baritone, chorus and orchestra, it sets five poems by the 15th-16th century poet John Skelton, who served as tutor to the young Henry VIII and poet laureate for Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

It is interesting to examine lesser-known music by Ralph Vaughan Williams in order to more fully appreciate him as a composer. He seems to maintain a feeling of immense pride for his home country by incorporating musical and textual sources which are unmistakably English. Because of this and other factors, Ralph Vaughan Williams may be regarded as an undisputed master of English choral-orchestral writing, writing which demands as much attention now as it did when these works premiered over 80-90 years ago.

Serenade to Music:
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian, conductor; Elmer Iseler Singers
 Chandos CHSA5201

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult, conductor; vocal soloists 
EMI Classics 007777640253

Flos Campi:
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian, conductor; Teng Li, solo viola; Elmer Iseler Singers  
Chandos CHSA5201

Bournemouth Sinfonietta & Choir/Norman Del Mar, conductor; Frederick Rittle, viola  
Chandos CHAN8374

Five Tudor Portraits:
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Richard Hickox, conductor; Jean Rigby, alto; John Shirley-Quirk, baritone
Chandos CHAN9593

Friday, August 3, 2018

Happy Birthday, Lenny!

It’s finally here – Leonard Bernstein’s birthday month! August 25th marks this legendary musician’s centennial and WGUC has been counting down since May with a daily spotlight on a performance he either composed, conducted, or performed. We have some special things in store this month and I don’t want you to miss a thing so below, there’s a listing of what’s to come in the next few weeks. Also, check out this Spotify playlist whenever you want a little extra Bernstein in your day.

August 5, 8pm
CSO in Concert Encore (Concert Date: February 23–24)
Juraj Valčuha, conductor; Simone Lamsma, violin
R. STRAUSS: Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks
BERNSTEIN: Serenade, after Plato’s Symposium
KORNGOLD: Suite from Much Ado About Nothing
STRAUSS: Suite from Der Rosenkavalier

August 12, 8pm
CSO in Concert Encore (Concert Date: April 20–21)
Cristian Măcelaru, conductor; Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano
BERNSTEIN: Three Dance Episodes from On the Town
GERSHWIN: Piano Concerto
IVES: Three Places in New England
BERNSTEIN: Divertimento

August 19, 8pm
Leonard Bernstein: A Legacy
90.9 WGUC presents a special broadcast celebrating the centennial of one of America’s greatest musicians. Interviews with musicians who knew Bernstein including Dick Waller, Mark Gibson, and Carmon DeLeone, along with commentary from historians such as Dr. bruce mcclung, Mark Horowitz, and Rick Pender – plus a variety of music including works Bernstein composed, conducted, and performed at the piano. Hosted by Brian O’Donnell.

August 24, 7pm
Leonard Bernstein: America’s Music Teacher: Celebrate Leonard Bernstein's centennial with an exploration of his teaching style. Hosted by Andrea Blain, this new, music-filled two-hour special celebrates Bernstein's devotion to music education, through his Young Person's Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, his Harvard lectures, his CBS Omnibus Television specials, and his many writings about music.    

Monday, July 23, 2018

Leonard Bernstein's Jewish Heritage

We’re celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centennial year this summer on Clef Notes. Bernstein is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. Today, let’s focus our attention on Bernstein as a composer – specifically how his heritage impacted many of his works. This post was written by WGUC intern, Connor Annable. 

Leonard Bernstein was born in 1918 to Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. This heritage would later impact his compositions. We first see an example this in his Symphony #1, written not long after Bernstein graduated from Harvard. He called it “Jeremiah” because it drew from a Hebrew setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah in the Bible, which is sung in the symphony’s final movement by a solo mezzo-soprano. What do you think of this work? Bernstein began work on this piece in the late 1930s, during a time when tensions were rising in Europe under Hitler. Do you think these tensions are reflected in this piece?

It was not until 1965 that Bernstein allowed his Jewish heritage to fully come through in his music. In that year, he composed the Chichester Psalms on a commission from Walter Hussey for performance at that year’s Southern Cathedrals Festival in Chichester, England. The work is a setting of selected texts from the Psalms in Hebrew. Bernstein’s musical structures are firmly rooted in tonality while also being rhythmically adventurous.  Interestingly enough, Bernstein’s melodic roots in Chichester Psalms appear to be centered in American popular music, since most of its themes are based on recycled material from West Side Story.

At roughly the same time, Bernstein had completed his Symphony No. 3 “Kaddish,” composed to honor the memory of John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated in 1963. This work sets the traditional Kaddish prayer for the dead, juxtaposed against an English text written by Bernstein himself and read by a solo speaker. Bernstein manages to retain some of his distinctly American flare by writing mainly tonal harmonies with frequent use of mixed meters.

One of Bernstein’s lesser-known works is a “nocturne” for flute and orchestra titled Halil. This work is a prominent example from the later part of Bernstein’s career showing his Jewish heritage. Bernstein dedicated Halil to the memory of an Israeli flute student named Yadin Tannenbaum who was killed fighting in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

Because 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, it is important to understand how much of an impact his music has had on audiences today, while never underestimating the importance of religious themes or overtones.


Symphony No. 1:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Christa Ludwig, mezzo-soprano Deutsche Grammophon 00028945775722

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano 
Naxos  8.559790

Chichester Psalms:
Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Soloist from Wiener Sängerknaben 
Deutsche Grammophon  00028945775722

Symphony No. 3:
New York Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jennie Tourel, soprano; Felicia Montealegre, narrator; Camerata Singers; Columbus Boychoir 
Sony Classical  074646059524

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Montserrat Caballé, soprano; Michael Wager, narrator; Wiener Jeunesse Chor; Wiener Sängerknaben
Deutsche Grammophon 00028944795424 or 00028946982921

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Marin Alsop, conductor; Kelly Nassief, soprano; Claire Bloom, narrator; Washington Chorus; Maryland State Boychoir 
Naxos  8.559742
Sao Paolo Symphony Orchestra/John Neschling, conductor; Sharon Bezaly, flute
BIS  BIS-CD-1650

Israel Philharmonic/Leonard Bernstein, conductor; Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute
Deutsche Grammophon 00028946982921

Monday, July 16, 2018

What's coming up on Music Cincinnati?

Coming up this Sunday, July 22 at 8pm, 90.9 WGUC presents its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble. Just what exactly is the VAE and what can listeners expect to hear on this special from 90.9?

Since they were founded in 1979, the Vocal Arts Ensemble has sought to present passionate performances for diverse audiences. The chamber choir is currently led by Grammy Award-winning conductor Craig Hella Johnson, who is recognized as one of the nation’s leading choral conductors. Through a variety of innovative performances, the VAE seeks to increase the public’s appreciation of choral music. They often collaborate with other local ensembles in repertoire ranging from the classics to world premieres.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature the VAE performing alongside the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Cincinnati Children’s Choir. The concert was recorded November 12, 2017 inside Memorial Hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community. This concert celebrated the VAE making the newly-restored Memorial Hall their new home. Three works appear on the program – two classics and one world premiere written specifically for this concert. Craig Hella Johnson commissioned Dominick Di’Orio’s A World Aglow for the occasion. The piece takes its text from Amy Lowell’s The Congressional Library and revolves around themes of inclusivity and equality. Haven’t heard of Dominick Di’Orio? He is an award-winning young composer and conductor whose music is widely performed and recorded. At the age of 31, he became the youngest-ever tenured conducting professor at Indiana University.

What else is on the program? For those who love the classics, you’ll be happy to know that both J.S. Bach and Mozart appear on the program. Bach’s Ascension Oratorio rounds out the first half with Mozart’s Requiem following a brief intermission.

Like what you hear? This program is available on air, online at, and through our free mobile app July 22nd at 8pm! If you aren’t available when it airs, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Album from Simone Dinnerstein

Orange Mountain Music recently released a new album from pianist Simone Dinnerstein. The disc includes the familiar Keyboard Concerto #7 in G minor, BWV 1058 by Johann Sebastian Bach along with a new work written specifically for Dinnerstein by one of today’s top composer’s, Philip Glass. Dinnerstein performs both the Bach concerto and the Third Piano Concerto from Glass in collaboration with the Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry. WGUC had the opportunity to chat with Simone Dinnerstein about her latest album. Here’s what she had to say about first meeting Philip Glass, which eventually led to him writing a concerto for her:


She’s collaborated with A Far Cry Before:


Dinnerstein was overwhelmed upon receiving the score to Glass’s Third Piano Concerto:


The Piano Concerto #3 is iconic Philip Glass and certainly one that minimalism fans will want to check out. This new album provides a solid performance from Simone Dinnerstein and A Far Cry, connecting two prolific composers from opposite ends of history.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Music for the 4th!

Happy Independence Day from 90.9 WGUC! In honor of the holiday, enjoy this playlist created by WGUC intern Connor Annable.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Leonard Bernstein: A Celebrated Teacher

August 25th of this year marks the centennial of a great American. Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. To celebrate his legacy, WGUC is in the middle of 100 Days of Bernstein during which at least one piece he either composed, conducted, or performed will be aired each day for the 100 days leading up to his birth. The celebration will culminate in August with Bernstein being featured as the Classics for Kids composer of the month, two special encore broadcasts from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra featuring Bernstein’s music, and a special radio program from WGUC. Clef Notes is also taking part in the festivities by including a Bernstein-related post once a month now thru August.

Last month we looked at Bernstein’s life as a conductor and the famous story about how he got his start. Today let’s focus on the area of his life for which Bernstein was most proud – his life as an educator.

Bernstein had a passion for learning and devoted much of his life to absorbing knowledge on all subjects he found fascinating, including music. He would then take his acquired knowledge and share it with others. One of the ways he did this was thru television, which had recently become popular. During the early 1950s, Bernstein created several music segments for the educational show Omnibus, hosted by Alistair Cooke. Eventually, he convinced CBS to carry his Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. These concerts aimed to teach children about music-related topics in a fun and relatable way. Bernstein created over 50 programs that aired between 1958 and 1972. These concerts are what sparked many children of the mid-twentieth century to become today’s leading musicians. Mark Gibson is Director of Orchestral Studies at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. He studied with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood but before that, attended a Young People’s Concert in New York City when he was just a boy. Listen to Gibson describe the impact Bernstein’s teaching had on him at this concert:

Hear more from Mark Gibson and others who were impacted by Bernstein on an upcoming special from WGUC that will air August 19 at 8pm – Leonard Bernstein: A Legacy.

Did you ever see Leonard Bernstein on television? What program did you see and what did he teach you about music? Let me know in the comments below and check back next month as we explore how Bernstein’s Jewish heritage impacted his life as a composer.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Music Cincinnati: Linton Chamber Music Series

Coming up this Sunday, June 24 at 8pm, 90.9 WGUC presents its Music Cincinnati series, this month spotlighting the Linton Chamber Music Series. Just what exactly is Linton and what can listeners expect to hear on this special from 90.9?

Linton Chamber Music Series was founded nearly 40 years ago by former Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Principal Clarinetist Dick Waller, who once described his vision for the series to create a format for “music-making among friends.” Under the artistic leadership of Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo, Linton promotes community interest in chamber music, bringing Cincinnati world-class musicians to perform in intimate settings. The series takes place Sunday afternoons at the First Unitarian Church on Linton Street (the series’ namesake) and then an encore performance on Mondays at Congregation Beth Adam in Loveland. The series often highlights musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a chamber music setting, as well as world-renown artists including the Ehnes Quartet and Peter Serkin – both featured on this month’s Music Cincinnati program.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature three works that appeared during Linton’s 2017-2018 season. Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major is performed by the Ehnes Quartet with Stephen Williamson of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on clarinet from their concert on October 30, 2017. Following that, it’s Three Romances by Clara Schumann, some of her last compositions ever written! These are performed by up-and-coming artists Elena Urioste and Tom Poster who made their Linton debut February 11, 2018. Finally, it’s the Quintet for Piano and Strings in F minor by Johannes Brahms. This was featured on Linton’s 2017 season opener and featured legendary pianist Peter Serkin, along with Linton Artistic Directors Jaime Laredo and Sharon Robinson. Audience favorite Bella Hristova returns for this concert along with New York Philharmonic violist Cynthia Phelps.

Like what you hear? You can access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived hereAlso be sure to check out Linton’s 2018-2019 series, which celebrates their 40th anniversary! 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Charles Gounod Turns 200!

June 17, 2018 marks 200 years since Charles Gounod’s birth. Many associate Gounod with one of his more famous works, the Funeral March of a Marionette or perhaps his setting of Ave Maria. Want to hear more from Gounod? Check out this Spotify playlist assembled by WGUC intern Connor Annable and help us celebrate this composer’s birthday!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Sibelius' Kullervo

Clef Notes would like to welcome its newest contributor! Xavier University music student and WGUC intern Connor Annable shares his thoughts on Kullervo by Jean Sibelius this week:

The “choral symphony” Kullervo, completed in 1892, was the first major orchestral work Jean Sibelius composed following the end of his formal music studies in his native Finland and with Albert Becker in Vienna. Scored for solo baritone and mezzo-soprano, male chorus and an orchestra of Romantic-era proportions (including a percussion section that is not unduly large, with cymbals and triangle complementing timpani), it is based on the character Kullervo from the Kalevala, widely recognized as the national epic of Finland. 

Although typically described as a symphony, Kullervo is actually a series of five interconnected tone poems which serve as musical guides to the story of the title character, the only one considered tragic in all of Finnish mythology. Interestingly enough, the work was very positively received when it was premiered on April 28, 1892 in Helsinki. After this personal triumph, however, Sibelius essentially disowned what he had written, rescinding its planned publication and instead forming a plan to revise the score which never came to fruition. As a result, Kullervo was not performed again in its complete form until 1958, only 1 year after Sibelius’s death in 1957. A performance edition of the complete work, consequently, was not published until 1961. The entire work will typically take around 70-80 minutes to perform, making Kullervo on the same level as a Mahler symphony, although not quite as sweeping and Romantic-sounding.

The first movement introduces the brooding and dark landscape in which Kullervo will eventually find himself. Kullervo’s Youth is considered by some scholars as an extension of the first movement, or perhaps a lullaby of some sort. But I would take this as an exploration of how Kullervo’s personality developed even before he was born. The clan or tribe in which he had been raised, excluding his mother, has all been murdered by his uncle Untamo. Kullervo’s desire for revenge initially leads to him being sold as a slave, then as a herdsman to the smith Ilmarinen. After he is implicated in the death of Ilmarinen’s wife, Kullervo flees and reunites with his mother.

The third movement, Kullervo and His Sister, introduces the chorus and vocal soloists for the first time in the piece. The male chorus serves a similar function to a Greek chorus, mainly commenting on the metaphysical actions which are unfolding on stage. They also sing primarily in unison, only rarely splitting into four-part harmony (this applies to the 5th movement as well). This is also the symphony’s longest movement, clocking in at about 25 minutes long. At this point in the story, Kullervo is delivering taxes and comes across two women who swiftly reject his advances. The third young girl he comes across and supposedly engages with on a physical level is later discovered to be his long-lost sister. Upon discovering this, the sister proceeds to kill herself by drowning in a nearby stream. Kullervo is represented by a solo baritone, while the sister is represented by a solo mezzo-soprano (some recordings use a solo soprano in place of a mezzo). In the fourth movement, Kullervo Goes to War, a constant march-like tempo represents Kullervo fighting against his uncle with a new sword given him by Ukko, the chief of the gods. With it, he kills Untamo’s entire tribe. Sibelius seems to augment this sense of triumph and heroism musically through the repeated use of percussion and trumpet fanfares against full chords in the rest of the orchestra, while also appearing to suggest the wind-swept Nordic landscape Kullervo finds himself fighting in. In the final movement, Kullervo’s Death, the chorus returns to describe how Kullervo returned to the place where he seduced his sister in the forest, and how feelings of guilt compel him to die by falling on his own sword. In short, Jean Sibelius’s Kullervo is the finest example of how his stylistic trappings came to be set in stone through the ensuing decades of composing. It is also a tragically underrated masterpiece of choral-orchestral music that deserves to be played and recorded more often than it has.

Lahti Symphony Orchestra/Osmo Vänska, conductor; Lili Passikivvi, mezzo-soprano; Raimo Laukka, baritone; YL Male Voice Choir; BIS  BIS-1215
Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam, conductor; Soile Isokoski, soprano; Tommi Hakala, baritone; YL Male Voice Choir; Ondine    ODE1122-5
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Paavo Järvi, conductor; Peter Mattei, baritone; Randi Stene, mezzo-soprano; Estonian National Male Choir; Virgin Classics (reissued on Erato through Warner Classics); VC 5  45292 2 

Like what Connor has to share? Stay tuned for more from Connor in coming weeks!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bernstein's Mass

Deutsche Grammophon recently released their first-ever recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass - an appropriate choice marking the composer’s centennial year. While many music lovers may be quick to recognize Bernstein hits such as themes from West Side Story or the overture to Candide, not everyone is acquainted with Mass. I myself have never seen the piece performed, and am thrilled that Cincinnati’s May Festival Chorus will perform it as part of their 2018 Festival on May 19. WGUC will also broadcast this performance on October 14 at 8pm.

Bernstein’s Mass was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for the inauguration of the Kennedy Center in 1971. In it, the composer fuses together religious and secular elements. Don’t be fooled by its title – Mass is certainly not traditional. Bernstein uses a rock band, marching band, several choirs, and more making it quite the spectacle. This album features a performance from Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra and is an essential addition to the library of any true Bernstein devotee.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Leonard Bernstein: The Beginning

August 25th of this year marks the centennial of a great American. Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) is remembered for his work as a composer, conductor, pianist, educator, and so much more. To celebrate his legacy, WGUC is embarking on a 100 Days of Bernstein during which at least one piece he either composed, conducted, or performed will be aired each day for the 100 days leading up to his birth. The celebration will culminate in August with Bernstein being featured as the Classics for Kids composer of the month, two special encore broadcasts from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra featuring Bernstein’s music, a special radio program from WGUC, and even a birthday party we are throwing (learn more about how you can attend our party coming up during our spring fund drive!) Clef Notes is also taking part in the festivities by including a Bernstein-related post once a month now thru August.

Leonard Bernstein was quite talented and the number of topics we could address related to his life seems endless so I’ve chosen just a few areas to highlight in the coming months. First, let’s look at his life as a conductor and the famous story about how he got his start.

On November 14, 1943, Leonard Bernstein became a sensation overnight when he was called upon last minute to step in for Bruno Walter and conduct the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. At the time, twenty-five-year-old Bernstein was Assistant Conductor of the New York Philharmonic. This particular concert was broadcast nationally on the radio and resulted in immediate fame for Bernstein, who began receiving requests to guest conduct other major orchestras. In 1945, he became Music Director of the New York City Symphony Orchestra, and then later worked in the conducting arena at Tanglewood. Below is a picture of Bernstein during his time at Tanglewood. He’s pictured jamming with Dick Waller, former principal clarinet with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Bernstein was appointed Music Director of the New York Philharmonic in 1958 and later received the lifetime title of Laureate Conductor. He frequently recorded with the New York Philharmonic, and also is remembered for leading them in his famous Young People’s Concerts (more about that next month!)

Leonard Bernstein was not only respected in America, but across the globe. He frequently collaborated with the world’s best ensembles, including the Vienna Philharmonic. He championed the work of American composers, but also was praised for his interpretations of Gustav Mahler.

Bernstein wasn’t just an accomplished conductor, but also a pianist, composer, and educator. Next time, we’ll learn more about his role as an educator.

Friday, May 4, 2018

May the Fourth Be With You

For all the Star Wars fans of the world, May 4th is an unofficial holiday. To honor Star Wars composer John Williams, I’ve put together a playlist with some of my top picks from his film scores.

Most people’s minds automatically go to John Williams when asked to name a film-music composer. Williams’ output of cinematic scores is outstanding with major blockbuster hits including Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan.

What is your favorite film that uses a John Williams score? If it’s not on my playlist, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add it to our list.

May the fourth be with you!

Monday, April 16, 2018

An Interview with Jesus Lopez Cobos

On March 2 of this year, the world lost a great conductor and Cincinnati lost a friend. Maestro Jesús López Cobos served as Music Director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1986–2001, bringing the orchestra into the world’s view as a top-tier group of musicians. In memory of Maestro López Cobos, I’ve pulled selections from an interview he gave with WGUC back in April of 2001, just before completing his tenure as Music Director here in Cincinnati. 

 Segment 1: Thoughts on leaving Cincinnati and the CSO

 Segment 2: How orchestra members feel about his departure

 Segment 3: Memories from his 15-year tenure

Monday, April 9, 2018

Paddle to the Sea from Third Coast Percussion

One of 2018’s top classical releases thus far is Paddle to the Sea from Third Coast Percussion. Cedille released the album in February from the Grammy Award-winning, Chicago-based percussion ensemble. This dynamic quartet of Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore is one that those seeking a good “beat” must get to know. Their use of a wide array of pitched and non-pitched percussion and ability to seamlessly blend with one another is superb, not to mention they are a blast to watch perform if you ever have the opportunity!

Paddle to the Sea gets its name from the album’s centerpiece, which is based off the 1941 children’s book of the same name by Holling C. Holling. The story tells of a small wooden figure in a canoe that travels through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, highlighting its encounters along the way. Third Coast Percussion wrote a piece to perform with the 1966 film adaptation of the book. The remainder of the album shares the water theme, containing music by others who have influenced the quartet over the years.

Personally, I find the four selections from Philip Glass’s Aguas da Amazonia to be a stand out. These pieces are named after four rivers and come from a group of twelve that Glass originally wrote for piano and then was adapted for custom built instruments by the Brazilian group, Uakti. Third Coast Percussion makes the music their own by arranging it for their ensemble. The four pieces are Madeira River, Xingu River, Amazon River, and Japura River (check out the video of Third Coast Percussion performing Japura River in that last link – you can’t help but move as you watch them work those wine bottles!)

Like what you hear? You’re in luck. 90.9 WGUC is offering this incredible album as a way to thank YOU for your donation during our spring fund drive in May. Make your donation online at and ask about how you can add this new release from Third Coast Percussion to your library.