Classic Mornings

Ready, Set… Ready, Set… Ready, Set…


It’s fun to hear a real life classical music story that sounds like a cartoon, especially when there are so few cartoons related to classical music. And indeed, one is told by Detmar Huchting in the notes to a new recording. At the premiere of a famous composer’s quintet for piano and winds the composer/pianist did a little improvising.  It was a bit more than the other performers had been prepared for. So the wind players kept putting the instruments to their lips, only to put them down again. Those who were in the audience were amused while the players were not. By the way, the musicians on the new recording didn’t attempt to recreate the performance featuring Ludwig van Beethoven as it was heard in 1797. That could have been rather entertaining. Nevertheless, I’m sure that just the mention of the story might spark a playful imagination.

The suggestion of famous ”Igors” probably brings a smile to many – thanks to Marty Feldman’s portrayal of the character in the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein. So I had to specify that it was one of the famous “classical music Igors” when I celebrated the 125th anniversary of the first performance of Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor on November 4th. (I had been thinking of composer Igor Stravinsky, violinist Igor Oistrakh and harpsichordist Igor Kipnis of the “Igor” category).

The best known tune from Prince Igor - one of the Polovtsian Dances - became known as Stranger in Paradise when Borodin’s music was used as source material for the Broadway musical Kismet in 1953. I’m not sure that the name “Igor” is ever associated with that show. “Tony” - as in Bennett - certainly is. He actually had a hit single of the song before the show even opened.

Prince Igor was left unfinished by Borodin. It was Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Glazunov who completed it. I understand that they left quite a bit of Borodin’s material out of the opera. Given that, I hope somebody has explored the outtakes very carefully in search of other “hit” tunes while Tony’s still around.

Elgar is still around – one of 2 famous musical Elgars. No, it isn’t Sir Edward Elgar. He died in 1934. English trumpeter, composer and arranger Elgar Howarth celebrated his 80th birthday on November 4th. The obvious question that came to mind in anticipating listener questions was: Did Elgar Howarth ever conduct music by Edward Elgar? Indeed he did. We heard the one-time member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble lead the group in a performance of the famous Pomp & Circumstance March no. 1 by Sir Edward.

Given the potential confusion with names and terms being heard on the air, I had to be careful to say that Malcolm Bilson specializes in playing the 18th century keyboards known as fortepianos, not forty pianos. Still, the thought of him running around among 40 instruments was rather fun. He too celebrated an 80th birthday – on October 23rd. We heard him featured on only one fortepiano in the finale of a concerto by Mozart.

I introduced Katherine Bryan as the “Lone Arranger” on a new recording. Katherine Bryan wears the cape of principal flute of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. That makes her a musical superhero of sorts. Her new CD with that orchestra features her flute and orchestra arrangements of works written for violin and orchestra. So, do the arrangements “fly?” Indeed, beginning with The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams, which opens the recording (Linn 520)

Recent recordings were the focus on my second appearance on NPR’s Here and Now.  I was honored to be asked back on the program for one of the “DJ Sessions.” I looked back almost to the beginning of the year and noticed several releases that stood out.  As I’ve mentioned before, I try to listen to those with the ears of both new and longtime listeners.

All 4 of the recordings had been featured on Classic Morning Preludes. I had writen about them in earlier blogs too. It was just a coincidence that they featured performers who are in their 30s. That seemed to be of particular interest to the folks at Here and Now. I was asked to select a piece from each CD. That was tough given that each of them has so much to offer.

Co-host Jeremy Hobson interviewed me about the recordings and played a sample from each. Knowing that the audience would hear only about :30 or so of each piece, I tried to choose excerpts that would sum up musically what I might not have enough time to say in the interview. The performers say it so much better in their playing anyway. If you didn’t get the chance to hear the interview, here’s a link to it at the Here and Now website.

Once again I was excited to be able to share with listeners around the country just a taste of what I present daily on WILL-FM. In other words, there’s so much more where that came from. Join me for Classic Mornings Monday through Friday from 9-noon, with the Classic Morning Prelude just before at 8:50 on FM 90.9 and online at