The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why am I turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more often? Too many second-rate composers and works? Too much harp music? Too many ads and promos? What do you think? Plus, UW baritone Paul Rowe sings Baroque cantatas this Sunday afternoon.

September 20, 2013
21 Comments

REMINDER: In a FREE concert this Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mills Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison baritone Paul Rowe (below) will perform a promising and appealing concert of cantatas for solo voice and instruments composed between 1600 and 1720. Performers include John Chappell Stowe, harpsichordist and organist; Eric Miller, cellist and viola da gambist; and Alice Bartsch and Madlen Horsch Breckbill, violinists.

The program includes: Small Sacred Concertos by: Ludovico da Viadana (1564-1645) “Salve, Regina” and “Cantemus Domino” from Cento concerti ecclesiastici (1602); Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), “Ich liege und schlafe,” SWV 310 from “Kleine Geistliche Konzerte,” Op.9 (1639); Secular Cantatas by: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764): “Thetis” (1718); George Frideric Handel (1685-1759): “Cuopre tal volta il cielo” (circa 1708); and J. S. Bach (1685-1750): “Amore traditore,: BWV 203 (circa 1720).

Paul Rowe

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s a Friday morning as I am writing this.

And I just turned off “Morning Classics” on Wisconsin Public Radio.

Again.

WPR Logo

That saddens and disappoints me because I have long loved and listened to WPR, and I almost always write as a close friend rather than a critic. The WPR people I know and have met, from director Mike Crane to many of the show hosts, are all fine, intelligent and sensitive people.

But lately I find myself turning off Wisconsin Public Radio more than I ever have before.

Why is that? I began to wonder.

Some of it has to do with recent schedule changes.

Today is Friday and since a few weeks ago that means the 9-11 a.m. Morning Classics slot will feature the weekly Classics By Request show.

Alas!

Requests used to be on Saturday morning. That was a great slot in which smaller excerpts of usually well-known works set up the longer, often lesser well-known opera broadcasts. It also allowed children and students to listen to snippets of tried-and-true masterpieces.

True, the morning show’s new host Ruthanne Bessman (below) still seeks out requests from kids. But does anyone want to bet that most of the children are in school when the requests get played on Friday from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.?

Sorry, like some other good and loyal WPR friends I know, I turn it off.

Ruthanne Bessman WPR

Then too I find that WPR is programming too much harp music these days, mostly in the morning but not exclusively. I mean, I like the harp probably as much as anyone — excepting harp players of course. But I the harp in its place, which is usually as an ensemble instrument with an orchestra or smaller chamber group, where it can add a distinctive texture and tone.

But I am hearing too many solo works for harp and too many goofy and thoroughy forgettable harp pieces, especially arrangements. One recent offering was J.S. Bach’s keyboard “Italian Concerto” arranged for Harp Ensemble. That is misusing such a fine member of the family of “brunch instruments.” Kind of like an arrangement I recently heard of Tomaso Albinoni’s famous Adagio for Strings and Organ that used the flute, played by the famous James Galway, to suck all the pathos out of the piece.

It turned the profound into the pleasant.

So once again I turned the radio off.

Harp

Maybe audience surveys and focus groups tell WPR executives that the public likes the harp and other members of the “brunch instrument” family that much. But I don’t. Do you?

It all makes me miss the former morning host Anders Yocom (below top), who used to play what he called “The Minimum Daily Requirement” of Bach (below bottom) every morning. And who else but Bach – serious Bach – can meet that daily requirement? Yocom also usually featured big and beefy concertos and symphonies and sublime chamber music .

I mean the kind of music I want to hear mostly is the kind of music you don’t want to live without.

It is the kind of music that led the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche to proclaim” “Life without music would be a mistake.”

anders yocom studio  head shot cr Jim Gill

Bach1

WPR also seems to be airing more ads and acknowledgements, more teasers and promos, more fundraising appeals and mentions of corporate sponsors, than it used to. I suppose it needs to. But it seems to becoming more like the same mainstream commercial networks that it was originally designed to be an alternative to.

I realize that it is not easy being in public radio these days, when conservatives refuse to recognize their outstanding merits and want to defund PBS and NPR, and when competition for money is so fierce.

But still.

It also doesn’t help that some of the programmers and hosts seem more interested in airing rarities than in disseminating great and inspiring music that gets the pulse going and proves compelling or irresistible. Maybe these programmers know the masterpieces too well, but the rest of us like to hear great and music – not just obscure pieces and neglected composers that interest more than inspire.

So I would urge programmers and hosts to alternate the great and the obscure, and to keep the non-specialist listeners in mind. Some Bax is fine; but lots more Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to say say nothing of lots more Handel and Vivaldi and Haydn and Mozart and Schubert and Chopin and Schumann and Dvorak and Tchaikovksy and Debussy and Ravel and Stravinsky and Prokofiev and Shostakovich and on and on — is even better.

But then again maybe all this carping comes back to me — to my own taste or personal preferences. So I want to know:

Does anyone out there share my concerns about Wisconsin Public Radio? Or do you think I am totally off-base?

the ear

While you consider the question, I think I’ll go to my library to pick out a CD to play instead of listening to the Classics By Request show.

Then I will try turning WPR back on again – and hope I don’t end up once again turning it off until the news comes on.

What do you think of Wisconsin Public Radio, and of its new schedules changes and the music it plays?

Leave something in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,211 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,099,991 hits
%d bloggers like this: