The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Longtime NPR host Robert Siegel brought his love of classical music to “All Things Considered.” Here are 10 interviews and some background to mark his recent retirement

January 8, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

If you are a fan of “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio – and The Ear certainly is – you probably already know not to listen for veteran host Robert Siegel (below) on this afternoon’s broadcast.

Or any other ATC broadcast in the future.

That is because last Friday afternoon Siegel had his last sign-off. He retired after spending 41 years with NPR – the first 10 as a reporter, including as a London correspondent, and the last 31 as a host of the prize-winning afternoon news and features magazine “All Things Considered,” which, by the way, was created by Jack Mitchell, who later came to teach Mass Communications at the UW-Madison.

There will be much to miss about Siegel. His qualities included a calming voice, a ready laugh, fairness and objectivity, a convivial studio presence and sharp but respectful interviewing skills.

One of the things that The Ear hopes will survive Siegel’s departure is the much-needed public attention he brought to classical music, which he loved and which the other media today so often ignore.

The mark his retirement, NPR classical music blogger Tom Huizenga compiled a list of 10 important interviews that Siegel conducted over the years. Then he put links to those interviews on an NPR blog.

Huizenga also got Siegel to open up about the formative influences that sparked his love for classical music. They included his young love for the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73, by Ludwig van Beethoven — the so-called “Emperor” Concerto, which you can hear played by Alfred Brendel in the YouTube video at the bottom.

Siegel went on to cover big stars like superstar soprano Renee Fleming; medium stars like violinist Gil Shaham (below), who performs with the Madison Symphony Orchestra this month; and smaller and new stars like the iconoclast harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani.

He also covered a U.S. Army rifleman who performed a violin recital for Churchill and Truman, and the role that music by Beethoven played in Communist China.

And there are many, many more, for which classical music and we listeners owe a debt to Siegel.

Check it out and enjoy! Here is a link to that posting on the Deceptive Cadence blog:

Classical music: Why is opera composer Giuseppe Verdi so important on his 200th birthday? Ask NPR.

October 12, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

This past Thursday marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, the great 19th-century Italian opera composer (below, in a photo).

Verdi Giuseppe

During this bicentennial year, you will probably get to hear and read many different evaluations of Verdi and why his contributions to opera, and to classical music and drama in general, remain so important after two centuries.

But I don’t think I have ever come across better or more accessible and convincing explanations than I found – and heard – this week on NPR’s terrific blog “Deceptive Cadence.”

Below are various links plus, at the bottom, a long and popular YouTube of highlights from Verdi’s enormous body of work.

Here is a link to a story about how Verdi managed to incorporate controversial and socially problematic plots – such as his sympathetic treatment of a prostitute in”La Traviata” — into his operas, and how brave it was of him to do so. Acclaimed conductor John Mauceri spoke with “All Things Considered” co-host Robert Siegel.

verdi drawing

Here is another link to a story about how Verdi’s subject matter still touches on human nature today and our contemporary psyche. It uses “Rigoletto” as an example:

And finally, here is a quiz with which you can test your own knowledge about Verdi:

verdi caricature

What do you think is Verdi’s most enduring legacy?

Which is your favorite Verdi opera and why?

The Ear wants to hear.

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