Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays from Clef Notes and 90.9 WGUC, Cincinnati’s Classical Public Radio!

What will you be listening to today as you spend time with the family and take part in holiday festivities? Do you have any favorite Christmas melodies?

Monday, December 23, 2019

The 20th-Century Symphony and Beyond

The 20th-century brought more changes to the symphony. One major movement that developed is known as neoclassicism. This term refers to the attempt to reach back to older musical forms from the Baroque and Classical periods as a reaction to the dramatic, emotional compositions created during the Romantic period. Many composers used chamber ensembles to perform their symphonies (similar in size to those used during the early classical period) rather than orchestras of 200 musicians. Some used elements including counterpoint and fugue in their work, combining it with modern ideas of tonality. Stravinsky and Hindemith are examples of neo-classical composers.

Still other composers expanded on symphonic ideas by adding quotations from other popular tunes (Ives), simplifying and repeating rhythms through minimalism (Glass), using newly-invented electronic instruments (Messiaen) amongst many other new techniques.

Today I would like to take a closer look at one 20th-century symphony written by William Grant Still: his Afro-American Symphony. Living during a time when African-Americans were excluded from the classical music world, Still made great strides by becoming the first African-American to conduct a symphony orchestra in the U.S. as well as the first to have an opera produced by a major opera company. His symphonic writing incorporated many American idioms within the European symphonic design (four-movements). Several of the uniquely American characteristics Still incorporates include jazz elements and plantation spiritual references.

Listen here to Still’s Afro-American Symphony. Can you hear these distinctly American elements?

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Romantic-Era Symphony

Following Beethoven’s expansion of the symphonic model, composers of the Romantic period (roughly 19th-century) sought to create longer and larger symphonies with heightened passion. The number of composers and symphonies from this period seems endless so we’ll focus on just a few major names in today’s discussion.

At this point in history, it was not uncommon to see an orchestra of over 200 people! Composers began to expand movement lengths and some even added one or even two movements to the standard four-movement model. Some composers used vocalists in their symphonies (Mahler) while some attempted to create national idioms (Borodin, Sibelius, Dvorak). Some created programmatic music that told audiences a story (R. Strauss, Berlioz), while some created what is known as absolute music, sticking to the standard symphonic tradition of music for music’s sake (Brahms, Schumann, Schubert). Some composers even added non-orchestral instruments to their works such as Saint-Saens in his Symphony No. 3 “Organ.”

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 is a great example of a symphony from the Romantic period. The symphony is dedicated to Tchaikovsky’s best friend and patron, Mrs. Nadezhda von Meck, a wealthy widow with whom he passed many letters but never met. It contains a program that assists audiences in following the symphony’s message.

Tchaikovsky describes the first movement of the Symphony No. 4 as having an introductory theme that represents fate. This main theme returns throughout the work. During this movement, Tchaikovsky depicts his desire to escape into daydreams rather than facing the reality of life. The “fate” theme returns, however, reminding him of the truth of his gloomy circumstances that may have included his failed marriage to Antonina Miliukov or even his questions regarding his sexual orientation.

The second movement depicts feelings of melancholy, nostalgia, pain, longing, and reflection on distant memories. The solo oboe at the beginning is meant to portray a lonely person. A march in the middle of the movement takes the listener away from the feelings of isolation exhibited thus far. The longing, lonely melody always returns in various instrumentations.

The third movement contains a series of arabesques that represent strange, unrealistic, unconnected dreams. Many of the themes show-off a particular instrument’s technique (example: piccolo solo).

The fourth movement reflects the joy that comes from surrounding yourself with other people when you are depressed (opening melody). To help depict the sense of community, Tchaikovsky uses the Russian folksong “In the Field a Birch Tree Stood.” The reminder of fate (main theme from first movement) always returns, however, bringing you back to reality and discontentment.

Tchaikovsky considered this his best symphonic work saying, "It seems to me that this is my best work…What lies in store for this symphony? Will it survive long after its author has disappeared from the face of the earth, or straight away plunge into the depths of oblivion? I only know that at this moment I... am blind to any shortcomings in my new offspring. Yet I am sure that, as regards texture and form, it represents a step forward in my development..."

You can listen to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 here. How do you think Tchaikovsky expanded upon the symphonic model built a century earlier?

Monday, December 16, 2019

Beethoven: A Pivotal Figure in History

Ludwig van Beethoven: a pivotal figure in music history. But why? We cannot properly discuss the historical development of the symphony without mentioning Beethoven and his contributions to the music world.

Beethoven lived during a period of change and struggle. The French Revolution, Industrial Revolution, and the Age of Enlightenment are all things that may have influenced the composer and his work. With various changes in society came changes in music. Beethoven’s personal life exhibited its own sense of struggle as he fought deafness. Fighting to overcome this trial, Beethoven reflects this will to overcome in his Symphony No. 3, known as the “Heroic Symphony.”

Beethoven’s symphonic output expanded the length of the symphony as well as the size of the orchestra. His scores often called for piccolo, trombone, and extra percussion and strings in comparison with composers of the classical period.

His most triumphant and influential work is the Symphony No. 9. Using a chorus in the final movement, Beethoven used Schiller’s Ode to Joy as the text. The grandeur, emotional complexity, and innovativeness of this piece are what make it memorable. Nothing like the Symphony No. 9 had ever been created and, in my opinion, nothing like it has been created since. Beethoven raised the bar high for symphonic composers who followed him, making it difficult to expand on his accomplishment.

You can listen to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 here. It’s a long one so hang tight! After you finish listening, let me know your thoughts. Can you see how this piece is known as a pivotal point in music history?

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Mozart's Symphonies

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was another prominent composer working during the latter part of the 18th-century. Though younger than Haydn, people became accustomed to his name earlier because he toured as a child prodigy along with his father and sister.

While Mozart’s early symphonies followed the early-classical model containing a three-movement structure, his later symphonies fell into the four-movement format. Mozart’s compositional style stretched performers by creating ambitious parts for (now common) wind sections. Sometimes, he would even tag on a slow introduction to the opening fast movement. These introductions are typically written in the style of a French overture and may create suspense for audiences who have no idea what Mozart intends next. Mozart’s orchestra size was similar to that of Haydn, much smaller in number than what we are used to seeing in concert halls today.

Mozart was also known to combine his classical-era style with idioms from the Baroque period. His Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter,” for instance, draws on the Baroque fugue in its final movement.

Listen to Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony here. Written for a concert in that city, it is certainly one of Mozart’s great works that exhibits the symphonic style of the late classical era. How does it compare with the Haydn symphony you heard last time?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Haydn's Symphonies

This month, we are exploring the development of the symphony throughout history. Entering the latter half of the 18th-century, we have prominent composers such as Haydn and Mozart who added their own individual marks to this ever-evolving orchestral genre.

Known as the “father of the symphony,” Joseph Haydn spent the greater portion of his life working for the royal Hungarian Esterházy family. This explains Haydn’s extensive output as he was expected to compose a variety of works at any given moment for court entertainment.

Following Stamitz’s model, Haydn typically employed the four-movement structure in his symphonies. He was known to create various themes that he would then develop and vary throughout the rest of the work. He also sought to create tuneful, expressive compositions. His orchestra, though perhaps a bit larger than those earlier in the century, still had no more than twenty-five to thirty-five members compared to up to one hundred found on stages today.

Haydn was known as a jokester, this quality exhibiting itself throughout many of his works. His Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” was written as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!

Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Listen here and let me know what you think!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Stamitz and his Mannheim Orchestra

We cannot discuss the early development of the symphony without mentioning Mannheim. The Mannheim court was known to have an excellent music scene, the orchestra led by composer Johann Stamitz. The orchestra at Mannheim was known for its excellent dynamic control, particularly the sudden crescendos (growth from soft to loud). As a composer, Stamitz was known to use this “Mannheim Crescendo” in his work.

Significant to the development of the symphony, Stamitz was the first composer to consistently use a four-movement structure when composing rather than the three-movement plan that was standard at the time. Adding a minuet and trio movement between the slow movement and the final fast movement became standard with many prominent composers to follow later in the era.

Another significant change to the symphony within the Mannheim court was the addition of wind instruments including oboe, horn, and even an occasional clarinet!

Listen to Stamitz’s Sinfonia in E-flat major here.

What new features do you notice about this symphony in comparison with the Sammartini symphony we looked at last time?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Early Symphony

Giovanni Battista Sammartini was one of the early classical composers who worked on writing symphonies. As mentioned last time, I often find it easy to mistake an early symphony score for a string quartet.

Scored for four-part strings with a possible harpsichord, Sammartini’s Symphony No. 32 in F major has the standard three-movement structure of that time. Unlike standard symphonies of today, this work takes less than ten minutes to perform with a much smaller orchestra than what we’re used to seeing on stages today.

Here is a recording of Sammartini’s symphony. 

What are your initial impressions based on your modern-day experience with symphonies?

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Origin of the Symphony

Listening to WGUC each day, you may notice the ample amount of symphonies played. You may also notice the extensive variety among the various symphonies, many differing from one another based on the time period during which they were composed. This month, let’s explore the history of the symphony, mapping out a timeline that will show just how the symphony developed throughout history.

The symphony is a large orchestral work that developed in the mid-eighteenth century. Divided into a specified number of movements, we will soon see that the standard number of movements changed over time. The early symphony was thought to have its roots in the Italian opera overture (known as sinfonia), which typically used a three-movement format:

Movement 1: Fast tempo
Movement 2: Slow tempo
Movement 3: Fast tempo

The symphony also was thought to resemble a classical sonata, only written for an entire orchestra rather than a solo instrument with possible accompaniment.

Looking at a musical score, I find that often it’s easy to mistake a string quartet for an early classical symphony. Why? Most early symphonies were scored for four-part strings, just like a string quartet. It wasn’t until a bit later that various wind instruments began to enter the orchestral scene.

Join me next time as I explore one of the earliest symphonic composers, Giovanni Battista Sammartini.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Thanksgiving Programming on 90.9 WGUC

Thanksgiving is this Thursday and WGUC is offering a few special programs filled with beautiful music to accompany the holiday. Turn your radios to 90.9 while cooking dinner or visiting with family and friends. You can also listen online at, via the WGUC app or your smart speaker. Here’s a list of what to expect:

Wednesday, November 27, 7 p.m.
Every Good Thing: This Thanksgiving, host Andrea Blain and classical music fans from around the country take time to give thanks and celebrate one of life's most meaningful gifts: music. Audiences will hear listeners from across the U.S. share stories about their favorite classical music pieces.

Thursday, November 28, 10 a.m.
Feast for the Ears: Traditional music and American composers take center stage as host Mark Perzel presents a warm, heartfelt celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s the perfect accompaniment for your Thanksgiving morning activities.

Thursday, November 28, 6 p.m.
Giving Thanks: Great American writers will grace us this Thanksgiving, 2019. Giving Thanks remembers poet Mary Oliver as she reads poems of gratitude and nature. Walt Whitman stops by to celebrate Thanksgiving and his 200th birthday, and we'll set a place at the table for New Yorker writer, best-selling author, humorist, and turkey aficionado Adam Gopnik. Hosted by John Birge.

What’s your favorite music for this season? Do you prefer something folksy like Stephen Foster’s Old Folks at Home or perhaps a jubilant march like John Philip Sousa’s  Stars and Stripes Forever. Maybe you’re an Aaron Copland fan or perhaps Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. Whatever your taste, we hope you’ll join us in counting blessings and sharing in our country’s rich musical history.

Monday, November 11, 2019

A Lovely Chat with JoAnn Falletta

JoAnn Falletta has quite the discography, between her work conducting both the Virginia Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic. That’s why you’ve likely heard many recordings with Ms. Falletta at the podium on 90.9. If you haven’t yet checked out her new recording with the Buffalo Philharmonic featuring Fabio Bidini as soloist for Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto along with selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, then you’re missing out! Not long after the album’s release, I had the privilege of chatting with Ms. Falletta, who just happens to be one of today’s finest conductors. She told me the story behind how this album came about:

She went on to explain how they selected the repertoire.

She has had some amazing opportunities to conduct the world’s leading orchestras. I asked if she has a favorite memory or a certain moment in her career that stands out.

She has been with the Buffalo Philharmonic for 20 years! When she became their Music Director back in 1999, she was the first woman to lead a major American Orchestra!

I asked if she’s ever run into and challenges being a woman in her field. She has a great attitude that I’m sure has contributed to her success.

She told me how she decided she wanted to become a conductor.

When not on the podium, she has quite a few hobbies.

Be sure to check out more from JoAnn Falletta when you listen to 90.9 WGUC! You can also listen online at, via the free WGUC app, or your smart speaker.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

90.9 WGUC Presents Cincinnati Opera!

This November 90.9 WGUC presents the 2019 Cincinnati Opera broadcast series. Here’s a listing of what you can expect to hear Sunday evenings at 8 p.m.:

Sunday, November 3, 8:00 p.m. (Performance Dates: June 13 & 15)
MOZART: The Marriage of Figaro

Sunday, November 10, 8:00 p.m. (Performance Dates: June 27 & 29)
GOUNOD: Romeo and Juliet

Sunday, November 17, 8:00 p.m. (Performance Dates: July 6, 11, 13 & 14)
R. STRAUSS: Ariadne auf Naxos

Sunday, November 24, 8:00 p.m. (Performance Dates: July 22, 23, 24, 26 & 27)

Cincinnati Opera was founded in 1920, making it the second oldest opera company in the United States. They celebrate their centennial in 2020 and are already gearing up for it with a special weekly radio feature for the 100 weeks leading up to their anniversary. During this segment on 90.9, Evans Mirageas, the Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director, spotlights some of his favorite operatic moments from the past 100 years. He includes recordings of many of the great artists who have sung with Cincinnati Opera over the years along with memories from both Music Hall performances and appearances at their first home – the Cincinnati Zoo. Tune to 90.9 or Friday evenings just after the 6 o’clock symphony for more! And be sure not to miss the 2019 Cincinnati Opera broadcasts on WGUC. Please note that we do not have the rights to broadcast Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

Monday, October 28, 2019

Halloween is Upon Us!

Happy Halloween from 90.9 WGUC! Don’t forget to tune in Thursday at 6:00 ET for Tunes from the Crypt with Mark Perzel. If you’re looking for additional music to enhance your eerie day, check out our archive of Tunes from the Crypt episodes here

Monday, October 21, 2019

Meet Sharon Isbin!

If you’re a frequent listener to 90.9 WGUC, then you’ve likely heard performances by Grammy award-winning classical guitarist, Sharon Isbin. Sharon recently released a new album in collaboration with the Pacifica Quartet and I had the pleasure of chatting with her about how this came to be.

She went on to explain how they chose the repertoire for this album.

The guitar can be a difficult instrument to write for.

She has a personal favorite on this new release.

The story about how she first came to play guitar is quite interesting.

She told me about what’s next on her schedule.

Sharon lives a very interesting life. When not playing guitar, she has many other interests as well!

Listen to 90.9 WGUC for more from Sharon Isbin. And be sure to be on the lookout for more of her releases in 2020.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Meet Donald Nally and The Crossing!

If you’re a regular listener to 90.9 WGUC’s New at Noon, then you’ve likely heard a few selections recently from Donald Nally and The Crossing. Donald Nally is the former Music Director of Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble and a CCM graduate. He now leads the Grammy award-winning ensemble The Crossing. Based out of Philadelphia, The Crossing is a professional chamber choir known for commissioning and performing new music. With the recent release of their performance of Kile Smith’s The Arc in the Sky, I had the opportunity to chat with Donald about how this collaboration came about.

He went on to explain what audiences should listen for in The Arc in the Sky.

It is interesting how The Crossing first came to be.

They have a full schedule this season.

Free time is hard to come by for Donald.

If you haven’t already, check out The Crossing – especially if you enjoy newly-composed choral music!

Saturday, October 5, 2019

90.9 WGUC Presents the May Festival

Each October 90.9 WGUC broadcasts the most recent season from the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus on Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. Were you able to attend any of their performances this past spring? If not, be sure to join us each Sunday this month for outstanding performances of Bach, Brahms, Mahler, and more. If you were able to attend, this is your chance to relive the experience!

October 6 (Concert Date: May 17, 2019)
Juanjo Mena, conductor; Roomful of Teeth; Rod Gilfry, baritone; May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

BRAHMS: Schicksalslied
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Toward the Unknown Region
MARK SIMPSON: The Immortal

October 13 (Concert Date: May 18, 2019)
Sir James MacMillan, conductor; Lauren Michelle, soprano; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

JAMES MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross

October 20 (Concert Date: May 24, 2019)
James Conlon, conductor; Morris Robinson, bass; Sarah Vautour, soprano; Taylor Raven, mezzo-soprano; Richard Trey Smagur, tenor; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone; Michael Young, baritone; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Cincinnati Youth Choir

MAHLER: Das klagende Lied
BOITO: Prologue from Mefistofele
MUSSORGSKY: Prologue and Farewell from Boris Godunov

October 27 (Concert Date: May 25, 2019)
Juanjo Mena, conductor; Berit Norbakken Solset, soprano; Carlos Mena, countertenor; Werner Güra, tenor; Ben Bliss, tenor; James Newby, baritone; Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass-baritone; May Festival Chorus and Youth Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

BACH: St. Matthew Passion

Monday, September 30, 2019

Get to Know New York Polyphony

Two-time Grammy-nominated male vocal quartet New York Polyphony released their latest album on September 6. You may have heard it featured on 90.9 WGUC’s New at Noon! Whether you think you enjoy Renaissance vocal music or not, you must give this album a listen. It features music by a few composers you’ve likely never heard of, but should get to know – Francisco de Peñalosa, Francisco Guerrero, and Pedro de Escobar. Just days before the release, I had the opportunity to chat with the group’s bass singer, Craig Phillips. He told me how this album came about:

He went on to explain why the composers on this album are frequently overlooked:

I asked him how New York Polyphony attempts to gain interest among the younger generation in this less-than-mainstream music.

The origins of New York Polyphony sort of happened by accident:

The group has a few favorite composers to perform:

You may be wondering what’s next on the agenda for New York Polyphony. They have a busy and exciting year ahead!

If you frequently read Clef Notes, you may recall that I enjoy asking the people I interview what they like to do in their free time. I must say that Craig Phillips has the best answer so far!

Be sure to tune to 90.9 WGUC for more from New York Polyphony!

Monday, September 23, 2019

On the Next 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. Brenda Portman is resident organist and executive director of the organ concert series, and Neal Hamlin is the director of music.

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 2018–2019 concert season. This instrument draws talent from across this globe. This past season welcomed organists Thomas Heywood, Eric Plutz, and Bálint Karosi.

What music can you expect to hear on this broadcast? A variety! You’ll enjoy everything from a Passacaglia and Fugue by Bach, through the nineteenth century with Louis Vierne, Felix-Alexandre Guilmant, and Debussy, and the twentieth century with Dale Wood, Ernest MacMillan, and William Walton. The organists are some of the world’s best. Thomas Heywood is known as the first Australian to make his living as a professional concert organist. He teaches at the University of Melbourne and is organist and director of music at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Brighton. He is known for his transcriptions, and this program features his arrangement of Debussy’s Clair de lune. Eric Plutz teaches organ at Princeton University. He has recently become known for learning the complete organ symphonies of Louis Vierne in anticipation of the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2020. He performed Vierne’s Sixth Symphony at Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church as part of that project, of which the first movement is featured on WGUC’s Music Cincinnati. Bálint Karosi is known as an organist, composer, conductor, and harpsichordist. He currently serves as director of music at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan. He’s recorded several Bach albums and is known for his interpretations of Bach’s work, including the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 featured on this month’s Music Cincinnati.

This Music Cincinnati is one not to be missed! Tune into 90.9 WGUC Sunday, September 29 at 8 p.m., or listen online at, via the WGUC app, or your smart speaker. Not available at 8 p.m. 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 16, 2019

Meet Andy Ellis!

If you’re a regular listener to 90.9 WGUC, it’s likely you’ve heard a new voice weekdays from 4 to 9 p.m. Andy Ellis returned to the WGUC staff in August, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to have him on our on-air team. You may wonder why I say that he “returned.” Listen to a recent interview Andy did with Brian O’Donnell to find out more about Andy, and his history with 90.9. And if you haven’t already, tune in to hear Andy and help us welcome him back to Cincinnati!

Monday, September 9, 2019

Meet Nicola Benedetti!

Did you hear Wynton Marsalis’ new violin concerto that he wrote for Nicola Benedetti recently on New at Noon? If not, you’ll want to be sure to check it out! I recently had the opportunity to chat with Nicola about how her collaboration with Wynton for this CD project came about:

She went on to talk about her initial impressions after first performing the piece:

I commented that it sure sounds like a fun piece to play!

To me, even though this piece is a violin concerto, it sounds much different that what we often here in some of the standard repertoire. I asked Nicola how it’s similar or different to more traditional repertoire that she’s played:

She got an early start in life playing the violin:

When she’s not practicing or performing, she has a favorite pastime:

Be sure to tune to 90.9 WGUC weekdays at noon for the latest tunes from the classical music world.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Music to Help You Get Out of the Door in the Morning

If you’re anything like me, getting out the door in the morning is no easy task. Between getting my toddler up and dressed, my husband’s lunch packed, and taking the dog out, it’s a wonder I have time to get my own self ready and get to work on time. I find myself setting the alarm earlier and earlier to make sure I can get everything done in the morning! Having my kitchen radio set to 90.9 WGUC as I rush around certainly helps calm my nerves and it also helps give me a little “kick” as I clear my head and start the day. What do you listen to in order to help you get out the door in the morning? Check out this playlist of a few of my favorites, beginning with a few to delicately wake me up, followed by a few to really kickstart my day!

Monday, August 26, 2019

What's new at WGUC?

If you regularly listen to 90.9 WGUC, you may be aware of a few new features we’ve introduced this year. Listen weekdays for New at Noon when we’ll feature something new at the top of the hour. You may hear a brand-new recording, an up-and-coming performer, or maybe something that’s been in our library for awhile that we’ve never aired. WGUC is constantly receiving new recordings and this is a great opportunity for us to bring the latest and greatest to your attention!

The second new feature is something we call Your Classical Choice. As the Music Director for 90.9, I’ve frequently received requests from listeners and love hearing your feedback! Your Classical Choice gives you an opportunity to share what you want to hear on WGUC. If selected, your request will be featured in the 3 p.m. hour on Thursday. We’ll let you know ahead of time, so you can be sure to listen! 

What else is new at WGUC? We’re excited to welcome Andy Ellis back to airwaves as our late afternoon/evening host. You will enjoy hearing Andy weekdays from 4–9 p.m. Learn more here.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Voyager: The Golden Record

This month marks the 42nd anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2. It also marks the 7th anniversary of Voyager 1’s entry into interstellar space. How does this relate to classical music? NASA placed a type of time capsule aboard Voyager 1 and 2 that they hoped would communicate to any extraterrestrials the story of Earth and mankind. This time capsule is in the form of a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk that contains both sounds and images carefully selected to portray this story. Many of the sounds are those made by nature – thunder, wind, water, various animals. They also included greetings spoken by people of 55 different languages. The music it contains includes world music and tunes from various eras, including a large portion of classical music. Composers such as J.S. Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Beethoven are featured. Why do you think this music was selected? How would extraterrestrials interpret the items on this record? If you are interested in learning more about this Golden Record and what all in contains, I highly recommend checking out the Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast. Their episode #65 “Voyager Golden Record” beautifully walks through the album, with interesting interviews from folks involved in the project. Check it out and leave your thoughts about their selections in the comments below!

Monday, August 5, 2019

Meet Anna Shelest!

Sorel Classics recently released a new album from pianist Anna Shelest. We frequently feature Anna and her husband Dmitri on WGUC, and we’re always excited to receive their latest recordings. Anna performs solo repertoire for this album, which includes music by women composers. I had the privilege of chatting with her not long after the album’s release and she told me how the idea for this disc first came about.

She enjoyed the process of narrowing down the repertoire to include on the album.

Anna went on to explain the significance of the album’s title, Donna Voce.

She finds inspiration from women musicians of the past.

It’s certainly easier being a woman musician in 2019 than in the nineteenth century!

I was curious how she first came to play the piano.

And of course, I had to ask what she enjoys doing when she’s not playing the piano (my favorite question!)

Tune to 90.9 WGUC to hear the latest from Anna Shelest, including her Donna Voce album.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Interview with Anthony McGill

Many of you may remember Anthony McGill from when he served as Associate Principal Clarinetist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra back in the early 2000s. You also may have seen him perform at President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. He currently holds the Principal Clarinet position with the New York Philharmonic and appears frequently as a soloist with North America’s top orchestras. Mr. McGill was kind enough to carve a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with me about his latest release on the Cedille label that he recorded alongside his brother Demarre
McGill, Principal Flutist with the Seattle Symphony. He told me how this new album came about.

He went on to talk about how he and his brother first came to play music.

This album contains two world premiere recordings that were both written for the McGill brothers.

I asked him to share a few interesting tidbits about these new works.

Of course, I had to ask if he was a fan of WGUC during his time living in Cincinnati!

While living in Cincinnati, he came to discover his favorite pastime (besides clarinet, of course!)

Be sure to tune to 90.9 WGUC for the latest from Anthony McGill! You won’t be disappointed.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Meet Stephen Baum

Over the past several months, we’ve taken the time to meet several of WGUC’s on-air hosts. There is quite a bit involved with running a radio station beyond the personalities you hear each day. For instance, Cincinnati Public Radio has a full-time Master Recording Engineer whose job it is to record local performances to be used on air. Have you ever heard a broadcast on 90.9 from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra? Or what about the May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Opera, Linton Music Series, or the Vocal Arts Ensemble? You owe the recording and production credit for these outstanding broadcasts to Stephen Baum. Learn a little more about Stephen below, in an interview I had with him back in 2018.

Monday, July 15, 2019

New Release from Yolanda Kondonassis and Ward Stare

Azica Records recently released an album titled American Rapture from Ward Stare and the Rochester Philharmonic. The release contains three American works from three different generations of composers, one being Grammy-winning Jennifer Higdon. Her new Harp Concerto, written for and performed by Yolanda Kondonassis, is a delightful addition to the harp repertoire and one, I believe, will be performed for years to come. You may have recently heard an excerpt from this concerto on WGUC’s New at Noon. Not long after the album’s release, I had the pleasure of chatting with both Stare and Kondonassis about this project. Kondonassis explained to me how the idea for a Higdon Harp Concerto first came about.


She went on to talk about collaborating with Ward Stare and the Rochester Philharmonic to make the recording.


Writing for the harp isn’t exactly easy.


Even though Kondonassis gave Jennifer Higdon a wish list for her concerto, she didn’t want to
interfere too much with the compositional process.

She added a fun Cincinnati connection to the Higdon Concerto.


I next turned my attention to Maestro Stare, who told me about the other two works on this new album.


And of course, my favorite way to end an interview is to ask what folks like to do in their free time! At first, I got a laugh because “free time” is hard to come by. But then they obliged.


Monday, July 8, 2019

Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals Concert

After a series of competitions at the district, regional, and national levels, a panel of judges has named five young singers the winners of the 2019 National Council Auditions. Each winner, who performed two arias onstage at the Metropolitan Opera with conductor Carlo Rizzi and the Met’s orchestra, received a cash prize and the prestige and exposure that come with winning a competition that has launched the careers of many of opera’s biggest stars. This year’s Grand Finals Concert was hosted by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and featured a performance by guest bass-baritone Christian Van Horn. One of this year’s winners is Elena Villalón, a student at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Just what exactly is the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions? It is the nation’s most prestigious vocal competition that is designed to find young, talented opera singers, and to help them launch a successful career. The Auditions take place throughout the United States and Canada. If you’re interested in the history of the Auditions and more about how they are run, check out the MET’s website for a great video!

This year’s final concert will air on WGUC Sunday, July 14 at 8 p.m. Be sure to tune into 90.9, listen online at, or via our free mobile app!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Monday, June 24, 2019

The VAE on WGUC's Music Cincinnati

Coming up this Sunday, June 30 at 8 p.m., 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 for choral music.

What can you expect to hear this Sunday? The Music Cincinnati broadcast will feature the VAE performing twentieth-century choral repertoire conducted by the director of the May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco. The concert was recorded March 10, 2019 inside Memorial Hall in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine community. You’ll enjoy music including Arvo Pärt’s Psalm 117 and Doxology, Three Shakespeare Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and John Tavener’s moving Song for Athene. Followed by that, it’s daffodils, primroses, marsh flowers and more with Benjamin Britten’s Five Flower Songs. We’ll also hear the Night of Snow by Francis Poulenc. On the second half of the program, Maestro Porco leads the choir in Henryk Gorecki’s Totus Tuus and Four Motets on Gregorian Themes by Maurice Durufle. They conclude their program with selections from Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs.

This certainly is a program you won’t want to miss! It will be available on air, online at, and through our free mobile app June 30th at 8 p.m.! If you aren’t available when it airs, you can also access WGUC’s Music Cincinnati series archived at

Monday, June 17, 2019

Offenbach turns 200!

June 20, 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of Jacques Offenbach’s birth! To celebrate, I’ve selected a few favorites from his compositions and created a playlist for your enjoyment this week. What other Offenbach works do you enjoy?

Monday, June 10, 2019

Meet Jason Vieaux!

Grammy-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux can frequently be heard on 90.9 WGUC. He recently was featured on a new release from Naxos that contains music by Jonathan Leshnoff, including his Guitar Concerto. Jason recorded the piece alongside Giancarlo Guerrero and the Nashville Symphony – his first time with this orchestra. In a recent interview I had with Jason, he told me about how he prepared for this performance.

When I first heard this concerto, the second movement really stood out to me as something special. It’s meant to reflect the Jewish concept of Hod, or humility and features a very stripped-down orchestra so that the guitar soloist can really shine. Jason talked about working closely with the composer while rehearsing this movement in particular.

When I listened to the third movement, I was reminded of music by Joaquin Rodrigo. I asked if Rodrigo provided any inspiration for the piece.

The guitar is known to be difficult to compose for.

We talked about some of his favorites from the traditional guitar repertoire.    

He first came to play the guitar at a very young age.


Of course, I always love hearing the scoop on what these famous artists enjoying doing in their free time. Jason had a terrific answer.


Jonathan Leshnoff’s Guitar Concerto featuring Jason Vieaux was recently heard on WGUC’s New at Noon. If you missed it, don’t worry. It’s sure to become a regular in the rotation!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Meet Lara Downes!

Pianist Lara Downes released a new album titled Holes in the Sky earlier this year. It arrived to the WGUC music library just in time for us to feature it for Women’s History Month in March! This exciting new album from Sony Music Entertainment delves into music by women composers who have perhaps gotten lost in the shadows of the male giants throughout history. Ms. Downes presents this album alongside other female artists including Judy Collins, Simone Dinnerstein, Rachel Barton Pine, and more. But instead of listening to me ramble on about it – let’s hear from the artist herself. I had the privilege of chatting with Lara recently, and she told me how her new album came about.

There are quite a few women who have inspired her.

She talked about narrowing down the repertoire to include on the album.

She collaborated with Judy Collins.

I asked her if she’s ever found challenges to being a woman musician.

Lara will be the featured host on From the Top this week! Tune to 90.9 WGUC at 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 8. You can also listen at or from our free mobile app!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Playlist for a Picnic

It’s Memorial Day Weekend. For many, this holiday marks the unofficial start of summer. Across the country, people are barbequing with friends and family, enjoying the warmer weather and time outdoors. I thought it would be fun to add a little music to your weekend plans. Here’s the perfect playlist to accompany a picnic. Enjoy!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Meet Naomi Lewin!

WGUC has the pleasure of welcoming Naomi Lewin back to the studio this week. While she’s in town, let’s get to know her. How did she first come to WGUC? How does she go about constructing Classics for Kids? What’s her guilty pleasure? Find out when you listen to this interview she did with Suzanne Bona back in 2018. And be sure to listen to 90.9 this week to hear Naomi pitch during WGUC’s spring fund drive!

Monday, May 13, 2019

It's May Festival Season!

May Festival season is upon us here in Cincinnati. This historic, annual 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. This year, they even throw in a few extra concerts (see below for the full schedule of what to expect!)

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. So what are you waiting for? Get your tickets now at Not able to attend? WGUC is recording the Friday and Saturday performances and will broadcast them on Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. in October!

2019 May Festival Concert Schedule

Friday, May 17, 8 p.m., Music Hall
Juanjo Meno, conductor; Roomful of Teeth; Rod Gilfry, baritone; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

BRAHMS: Schicksalslied
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Toward the Unknown Region
MARK SIMPSON: The Immortal (U.S. Premiere)

Saturday, May 18, 8 p.m., Music Hall
Sir James MacMillan, conductor; Lauren Michelle, soprano; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

JAMES MACMILLAN: Seven Last Words from the Cross

Friday, May 24, 8 p.m., Music Hall
James Conlon, conductor; Morris Robinson, bass; Sarah Vautour, soprano; Taylor Raven, mezzo-soprano; Richard Trey Smagur, tenor; Donnie Ray Albert, baritone; May Festival Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra; Cincinnati Youth Choir

MAHLER: Das klagende Lied
BOITO: Prologue from Mefistofele
MUSSORGSKY: Prologue and Farewell Scene from Boris Godunov

Saturday, May 25, 7 p.m., Music Hall
Juanjo Mena, conductor; Berit Norbakken Solset, soprano; Carlos Mena, countertenor; Werner Güra, tenor; James Newby, baritone; Hanno Müller-Brachmann, bass-baritone; May Festival Chorus and Youth Chorus; Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

BACH: St. Matthew Passion

Extra Concerts:

Wednesday, May 15, 7 p.m., Woodward Theater
Roomful of Teeth

Sunday, May 19, 7 p.m., Music Hall
Juanjo Mena, conductor; Sir James MacMillan, conductor; May Festival Chorus

Thursday, May 23, 7 p.m., Patricia Corbett Theater – University of Cincinnati
Craig Hella Johnson, conductor; Vocal Arts Ensemble

CRAIG HELLA JOHNSON: Considering Matthew Shepard

Saturday, May 4, 2019

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 22, 2019

A New Release from Colin Currie

Colin Currie appeared as soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra earlier this month, performing a percussion concerto that Finnish composer Kalevi Aho wrote specifically for him. It just so happens that the same weekend Currie was here in town, his new album was released on his own record label, Colin Currie Records. This album was done in collaboration with composer Steve Reich. While he was here, we asked him to drop by our studios and tell us a little more about how this album came about.

He went on to explain how he first met Steve Reich.

Many of the pieces he performs require both physical and mental stamina. He told me how he prepares for these types of performances.

Of course, I always enjoy hearing about what first drew these great artists towards their instrument.

Whether you were able to see Colin Currie perform at Music Hall or not, I highly recommend checking out this album. There is a reason why he’s considered one of today’s leading percussionists.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Franz von Suppé Turns 200

April 18th marks the 200th birthday of Austrian composer and conductor Franz von Suppé. We’re celebrating this week with an all-Suppé playlist! Not too familiar with Suppé? That’s okay! Give his music a listen and let us know your favorite!

Monday, April 8, 2019

Meet Elaine Diehl

Ever wonder what the radio personalities you listen to on WGUC each day do when they are not in the radio studio? Or how did they first came to work in classical radio? Learn more about your friends at 90.9 as we “Meet the Host” here in Clef Notes! This month we feature an interview Brian O’Donnell did with Elaine Diehl back in 2017.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fools!

April Fools’ Day (also known as All Fools’ Day) has been around for several hundred years. Although it’s not clear exactly where and how the tradition began, many historians believe the fun all started back in the sixteenth century when France switched from using the Julian calendar that observed New Year’s Day on April 1st, to the Gregorian calendar, which recognized January 1st as the start of the new year. Many folks apparently missed the memo on this change, so they became victims of practical jokes. The rest is history.

When many people think of classical music, they think of something very high-brow and serious – not true! Let’s have some fun with a few of our favorite composers who enjoyed a little humor.

Let’s start with Mozart. Did you know he wrote a piece that he called “A Musical Joke”? That’s right – the musical genius of the eighteenth century decided to have a little fun with his Divertimento for two horns and string quartet, K. 522. In it, it seems Mozart is making fun of less-adept composers of his time. He pokes fun at the rules of composition strictly adhered to during the classical era by using odd instrumentation, horrible counterpoint, and writing in a way that makes the performers sound as if they are messing up. If you only listen to part of the piece, skip to the final measures – yikes! Polytonality was NOT a common compositional device during Mozart’s time!

What about the Academic Festival Overture by Brahms? He wrote it at the request of the University of Breslau after they gave him an honorary doctorate in 1880. They asked for a symphony, and he responded with an arrangement of student drinking songs. Now that’s funny!

If I had to choose one composer who stands out as the best practical jokester, it would by Haydn. Where to begin in talking about the humor he slips into many of his works? Well let’s start with his String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 33/#2, also known as “The Joke.” During the final movement of the quartet, Haydn leads the listener into believing the piece has finished. He does this several times until the audience has no idea when to applaud! Finally, he concludes with a final appearance of the opening phrase of the main theme. You can’t help but giggle when you listen to “The Joke”!

Have you heard Haydn’s Farewell Symphony? He wrote his Symphony #45 as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!

Haydn’s Symphony #94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Give it a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below!

What other funny classical pieces do you enjoy? Let us know! And be sure to check out WGUC’s April Fools content on our website, posted in memory host Frank Johnson, who passed away in March 2019.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Meet Hee-Young Lim

If it isn’t already, the name Hee-Young Lim is one you should have on your radar. This young, South Korean cellist is quickly establishing herself as one of the leading musicians of this generation. Her passion for music is evident when you listen to her play. She has a tremendous command over her instrument and her virtuosity and musicality shine through in her debut recording that was released in November 2018 with Scott Yoo and the London Symphony Orchestra. Following the release of her album, I had the privilege of getting to know Hee-Young and learning a little more about why she chose exclusively French repertoire for this new release.

The concertos on Hee-Young’s album with the London Symphony are less commonly recorded than something like the Dvorak Cello Concerto.

The Saint-Saëns and Lalo concertos are some of the first pieces Hee-Young learned as a child. She told me what it was like to revisit them as an adult.

Hee-Young does not come from a musical family and the story about how she came to play the cello is somewhat amusing.

And the rest is history! During her recording session with the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road studios, Hee-Young encountered a freak accident with her bow.

Hee-Young Lim’s album with the LSO includes cello concertos by Saint-Saëns, Lalo, and Milhaud, in addition to Offenbach’s “Les larmes de Jacqueline” and the famous Meditation from Thais by Massenet. We’re loving this new hit in the WGUC library and hope you do, too!