Tuesday, December 1, 2009


The waiting is over, and now 99.5, Boston's All Classical station is off the pad and soaring. Time to settle in an enjoy the view and what's possible from a listener supported 24/7 classical radio station in one of the great classical music cities of the world. It's something we've been looking forward to for a long time, and the excitement around the studios has been palpable the last few days.

And remember, if you're having trouble picking up 99.5FM, look into internet and HD radios. Our broadcast on 99.5 will be carried on the All Classical WGBH internet stream as well as on 89.7-HD2. In fact, a listener called me in the studio today after I mentioned HD radio on the air. He wasn't aware of HD radio, so after we talked it through for a few minutes, he got pretty excited. He lives in an area 99.5 doesn't reach and doesn't have an internet connection at home. It wasn't long before I got another call from him, in which I learned that he had tracked down an HD radio at a local Radio Shack and was on his way to pick it up.

And by the way, be sure to listen throughout December for the Music That Made You Love Music. These are the pieces and stories we asked you to send us earlier this fall, and there are some incredible stories to hear. A perfect way to connect listeners at our new home at All Classical 99.5.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Get ready for a launch. It won't be as visually spectacular as Apollo 11 (above), but I think you'll enjoy how it sounds. On Tuesday, Dec. 1, classical music from WGBH will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 99.5FM and at 995allclassical.org. It's a big moment for us here, with all kinds of exciting possibilities, so join us. Full schedule details available here, and just to spice up the whole thing, we're giving away a bunch of spectacular Tivoli internet radios.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What would Don Draper listen to?

A few of us here at WGBH were talking today about Mad Men, the show on AMC, and what a brilliant piece of work it is. Yeah, sure, the sets and clothes are oh-so-authentic to the period, and the characters are etched as if with diamonds, giving us all someone to relate to and to loathe. (And it's amazing, by the way, how often I've related to and loathed ... the same character...) Anyway, another reason the show is so compelling is that, to put it simply, we already know what's going to happen. Maybe not to each individual character, but we know enough about the way events unfold in the big picture from the early 60's through the next years and decades that we're riveted by seeing how Don Draper's world stumbled into all of those events and how he, Betty, Peggy, Roger, Pete, and each of the other characters deal with them. (And let's all take a special moment for Sally, heaven help her.) As viewers, we get to be there with them while having the luxury of historical knowledge.

Classical music gives us that same chance. Hearing and really listening to music takes us to a certain age, a particular time, a way of thinking unique in the course of events. And we usually have that luxury of knowing how things turned out. (The exception being new and recently written music, which offers the fascination of seeing the world around us as it is.)

So the next time you flip on the radio, and the music pours forth, use the next several moments. Stop, listen, and allow yourself to go to the place the music came from. Revel in it and soak it up, drinking in every detail just as you do the fabulous mid-century modernist furniture and decor of the Sterling Cooper offices on Mad Men. Allow yourself to be in that space with the music. Then, once the piece concludes, look around and breathe in the present. And, since it's radio, get ready. The next destination is only a couple of minutes away.

Friday, October 23, 2009

It's all about the hall ... or not

What's a concert hall worth? Not in $, but in sound. We don't tend to think too much about this question in Boston because the two busiest halls in town are not only excellent, they're legendary. Symphony Hall and Jordan Hall, just down Huntington Ave. at the New England Conservatory, are such terrific venues that they allow audiences to focus on the performance, without thinking about the room it's taking place in. Easy to forget, then, that many (most?) other major cities are involved in seemingly never-ending discussions about the shortcomings of their major concert halls and the effects, ill and otherwise, on the groups who use them.

Anne Midgette of the Washington Post recently wrote a short piece wondering about how much effect a hall can have on its primary resident ensembles. In particular, she was writing about the National Symphony Orchestra and Kennedy Center. But, more broadly, it's something of a chicken and egg question, and one worth considering and returning to, even in a place, like ours, where the quality of the local band's hall is a settled question. The fact is, Symphony Hall is very much a part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra's sound, as are the concert halls in Cleveland, Vienna, and Berlin. Of course conductors and musicians and their attendant skills and artistic visions play just as important a part, but if the hall is great, there's no getting in the way of that vision. If the hall isn't great, well, it's just one more thing to overcome.

And there are examples of overcoming those weaknesses to such a degree that greatness results. I remember a concert I heard in Lousville, KY, when the Philadelphia Orchestra played there on tour. Now, the Louisville Orchestra is a fine ensemble with its own tradition (honorably built around new music), but it's not the Philadelphia Orchestra, so I don't mean to make an unfair comparison. But the fact is, the band from Philly absolutely made the hall sound great, and, to me (having heard Philly at their old home hall, the Academy of Music), it was because they knew how to compensate for a weak hall.

Another classic example is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who, playing in the less than ideal Orchestra Hall, a very vertical space, took advantage of that characteristic and built a sound on the strength of its knife-edged string sections and burly brass. The result is a very City-of-Broad-Shoulders, visceral, bracing punch to the ears with tremendous volume and impact. It's thrilling in its way, even if it's not everyone's cup of tea. And there's no way that orchestra would have developed like that in a hall like Symphony Hall.

So the next time you hear the BSO at Symphony Hall or any of the several groups that call Jordan Hall their home, take a moment to remind yourself that a big part of Boston's stellar musical ecology owes itself to those gorgeous spaces.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Friday, October 2, 2009

Now that you have that smartphone ...

... you've no doubt been scanning all the options for apps to load on it. Go ahead and get all those geo-locators, games, organizers, and social networking apps, just to see what all the fuss is about. Then go get something you'll REALLY use. Like radio. Yes, I'm glad I can use my iPhone to find decent restaurants in places I've never been just by flicking my wrist, and I definitely spend too much time honing my solitaire skills. But it's the radio apps that are mostly responsible for all that data streaming I see on my cell phone bill each month (fortunately unlimited!).

Not to get too poetic here, but think about that classic American experience of driving for hours across the countryside, picking up radio stations in different locales, especially at night when the combination of FCC regulations and atmospheric conditions make it possible to pick up stations from hundreds of miles away. It's tougher and tougher to have that experience these days because of what's gone on in the radio business.

Now, though, you don't even need to work around those fluky sun spot cycles to pick up radio from hundreds and even thousands of miles away. Load up a few radio apps on the smartphone, plug it into the car stereo or a set of speakers at home, and you're suddenly in the hall for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, or Walt Disney Hall in LA.

Among the options, I'll start with the shameless plug, but there's a good reason for it. The All-Classical WGBH app is something we put together a few months ago to get our own stuff out there. Couple of good reasons to use this to get started: it's FREE, and it's simple. Just launch it, and the music starts. Because it's a pretty basic app, it takes virtually no time to get up and running, and, as we've been doing since we started the All-Classical WGBH, it comes through a high bandwidth stream that offers just about the best sound quality you can get on the net. And did I mention that it's free?

Another nice radio app is WunderRadio, which costs a few bucks but has some really nice features. First of all, it pulls in lots of stations from around the world that some of the other all-purpose radio apps don't seem to locate. So the BBC and Deutschlandradio are right there for you, along with a ton of others. WunderRadio also has a built in web browser, so if you're on an iPhone, where only one app can run at a time, you can still surf while listening. Cool.

More on other smartphone radio apps in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chameleons in the house

One of the groups that enlivens the Boston concert scene each year is the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, and once you take a look at their programs (the first of their new season come up this weekend), you can probably figure out the origin of that name. Deborah Boldin, the group's founder and artistic director, has a true knack for taking different strains of chamber music from across the ages and across cultures and throwing them together in illuminating ways, an approach that has brought the group national attention. The Chameleons will be in our Fraser Performance Studio tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11am for a live performance, and true to form, they're bringing along a set of pieces with a kaleidoscope of colors from Mozart, Debussy, and Takemitsu. And remember, the show comes up again at 6pm on All-Classical WGBH, on both 89.7-HD2 and the All-Classical internet stream. (photo: Susan Wilson)