Classical Discoveries – 20 Years On The Air on WPRB

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In 1999, 2 years after Classical Discoveries was born I got my own e-mail address on CompuServe.

One of the first listeners contacting me was Linda Holt, which is why I was very excited when she wrote a wonderful post for Philadelphia’s “Broad Street Review”, a bit shorter version of the blog below.

I intended to write this post myself, but considering Linda’s long connection to this program her personal sharing was a great way to commemorate 20 years of Classical Discoveries.

She is the author of The Black Spaniard, a novel about young Beethoven, that she is obsessed with (and yes, the other book is coming soon). She teaches Humanities at Southern New Hampshire University and Thomas Edison State University. Her classical music reviews have appeared in newspapers and online and of course she is one of the long, faithful listeners of Classical Discoveries.

I am adding a few of my comments to this blog since it is focuses on 20 years and many things did happen  during this time.

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Marvin Rosen’s Classical Discoveries celebrates

20 years bringing new music to audiences around the world

by Linda Holt

Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton was sworn in to his second term as President, The English Patient won the best picture Oscar, and Scottish scientists cloned Dolly the Sheep.

But the big news for music lovers was the debut on May 29, 1997, of one of the most unique programs in the international radio community: Classical Discoveries, created, produced, and hosted by Marvin Rosen. Broadcast online and on WPRB 103.3 FM (Princeton University’s independent radio station), Classical Discoveries has no match as a source of seldom-heard music, exciting interviews, and playlists designed to wake up brains stuck in a 19th century groove.

Where else can a listener hear music composed by the daughter of Lucrezia Borgia, a five-hour program dedicated to the art music of Native Americans, the art of Klezmer, music for Kwanzaa, and melodic masterworks from Poland and Estonia? A tune played on an Australian didgeridoo may follow an air composed by King Henry VIII. The program airs each Wednesday from 5:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., with special broadcasts throughout the year. This spring, for example, Marvin’s series, Treasures of Early Music, is broadcast from 5:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Mondays.

“I still have my first playlist,” admitted Marvin recently, with his unflagging enthusiasm for his favorite subject. “It is handwritten, since we didn’t go online until 2001.” While there were works by Bach, Mozart, and Scarlatti on that program, there were also signs of things to come. Marvin featured works by Glass, Yardumian, and even concluded with Lennon-McCartney’s “Eleanor Rigby.”

Two first playlists

Two first playlists

Today attracting diverse audiences including young and old listeners, Classical Discoveries found its niche by November of 1997, responding to listeners who were pleasantly startled to hear new music that unexpectedly met every standard for beauty and interest. Marvin even expanded the definition of new music to include unfamiliar or underplayed compositions, such as selections from the earliest years of the Middle Ages, (forgotten contemporaries of famous Western composers), music from countries and ethnic traditions not well known in Western classical circles, and music by women composers. While not taking any political position, the program also has focused thematically on topics of current interest, such as a recent program devoted to musical depictions of water.

“One of the unexplored areas of women’s music is the work composed by nuns over the centuries,” Marvin observed.

A glance of the program’s playlists, appealingly displayed online with easy-to-access links, reveals some of the variety that listeners can find nowhere else. In recent years, these have included Music of Asia, the annual In Praise of Woman series, Tulpe: a Native American Indians Tribute, Sacred Bridges linking spirituality in music across traditions, Return to Estonia, and Water is Life-For Flint.

Editor’s note: Attached to this article are several of Classical Discoveries’ playlists that show the diversity and originality of the program content.

Impact on listeners and composers

In addition to its impact on listeners, Classical Discoveries provides active composers with a forum to play and explain their works.

“What would we composer do without Marvin Rosen and his amazing show?” asks Robert Moran, a Philadelphia-based composer whose work ranging from chamber music to opera is recognized around the globe. “He presents the most varied of radio events, always exciting and always an adventure.” Moran has appeared in person several times on Classical Discoveries.

Composer Andrew Rudin, heralded by one critical journal as “the grand old man of new music,” agrees. “Marvin Rosen has been uniquely important to living composers of the greater Philadelphia area,” he wrote recently, “not only because he plays our music, but he also invites us into his studio as on-air guests. And in addition, he educates us as well, with his extraordinary knowledge and curiosity about music of living composers in even the most obscure corners of our planet, and in the most marginalized communities. His perceptions, taste, and explorations represent a personal passion that greatly enriches our musical community.”

A labor of love

In addition to teaching full-time at Westminster Conservatory in Princeton, Marvin gets up at 3:30 a.m. to host Classical Discoveries, but he is not alone. His wife, Beata Rzeszodko-Rosen, who shares his musical tastes, is by his side at WPRB’s music studios in Bloomberg Hall on the university campus, creating exquisitely detailed and content-rich playlists and other Web resources for everyone from the musically curious to scholars and researchers of early and new music.

“Beata has been with me right from the start,” beamed Marvin in a recent interview. “She is the person behind the scenes making Classical Discoveries possible.”

The couple even met over an incident involving new music. Beata had gone to the Princeton University Store (where Marvin managed the record department) in search of music by Alan Hovhaness. It just so happened that Marvin’s doctoral dissertation from Teachers College, Columbia University, was on the music of Hovhaness. The two enthusiasts bonded over the Armenian-influenced American composer’s intensely melodic compositions and before long they were married and had the opportunity to meet the composer in person before he passed in 2000.

Another major influence on Marvin’s musical life comes from an unexpected corner of the musical world. “If there is one person whose professionalism most influenced me it’s Jim Nettleton,” he said. “Jim was an ‘oldies’ DJ at WFIL in Philadelphia when I was young. He told me that the most important lesson for broadcasters was to remember that in radio, unpredictability means entertainment. That’s advice I’ve taken to heart over the years.”

Going the distance with new music marathons

Classical Discoveries is also the only new and unfamiliar music program with an annual marathon. Instead of running 26 miles as in the athletic prototype, Marvin hosts a non-stop edition of Classical Discoveries at the end of the year, logging 24 to 25 hours of air time, and taking catnaps on the couch on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

The marathon theme is “Viva 21st century,” with a focus on music composed since 2000. The theme was first explored on the show in 2003, and by 2007 had morphed into the marathon framework. Since then, there have been a dozen marathons, with sub-themes of International Music, American Music, and Music by Women Composers. Two marathons with special themes focused on post-9-11 music and the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alan Hovhaness.

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New music: its time has come

“After World War II, there was a lot of new music that was heavy and difficult for many people to listen to,” Marvin reflected. “Now that has changed. Much of the new music being composed is accessible and can be enjoyed by a wide audience. Think back to the time of Bach and Beethoven: new music is what was being played. The secret is to start out playing some new works that are pleasant for most people to hear, then you can follow up with music that is a little more challenging and build on that.”

Marvin will incorporate elements from the best of Classical Discoveries on his 20th anniversary program 5:00 a.m. to 11 a.m. May 29. Expect to hear the Vivaldi sinfonia (original disk used in 1997) that opened the first program in the series, followed by other works played on the first program as well as some of the most favorite compositions of listeners over the years. “And there will be surprises,” added Marvin, who is looking forward to 20 more years of innovative programming. “It wouldn’t be Classical Discoveries without surprises!”

–Linda Holt

Almost 12 years ago, in early October 2005, I found out that Classical Discoveries was the recipient of the ASCAP Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award.

Here are a couple of pictures taken at the December ceremony!! It was an exciting time for me and was totally unexpected.

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Here are some photos of guests who visited the WPRB studio during the last 20 years: Maya Beiser, Martha Mooke, Marilyn Bliss and Rain Worthington, Katherine Hoover Jennifer Higdon, Jakub Ciupiński, Halim El-Dabh, Danny Dorff, Andrew Rudin, Alexandra Vrebalov, Alex Shapiro, Vivian FungSergio Cervetti, Robert Moran, Randall Woolf and Kathleen Supové, Philip Blackburn and DBRPaul Mealor,

At the end of last year, I was the host of a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio as presented by Choral Arts Philadelphia. Here is a small introduction to the event.

 

 

Here is a list of some other publication honoring 20th anniversary of Classical Discoveries:

May 05, 2017 – Radio SurvivorHAPPY 20TH BIRTHDAY TO CLASSICAL DISCOVERIES – by Matthew Lasar

May 10, 2017 –Town Topics of Princeton NJ20 YEARS OF CLASSICAL DISCOVERIES WITH MARVIN ROSEN ON WPRBby Doug Wallack

May 13, 2017 – Broad Street ReviewTWO DECADES OF DISCOVERIESby Linda Holt

You can follow me on:

Facebook, Twitter, in addition you can join the Classical Discoveries Facebook Group

Marvin Rosen

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Why must we categorize music?

I do not like dividing music into categories.  I do not even like the term classical music.  Music is music and good music is good music!

Through the centuries in every part of the world music was created for religious, spiritual, and personal needs and most importantly for fun, joy and entertainment.  Music is a magical International language, which can be understood by all.  We should try to understand and embrace music from every source and culture. Our Western European classical music is only a small part of that equation.  India has classical music too, as well  many other countries.

We can find much similarity between past and present. Michael Praetorius was a Rock and Roller of his time. Magic Flute was a Broadway Musical. Chopin and Bartok were inspired by folk music and Gregorian Chant could be considered New Age music. There is a great similarity between Bach’s music and jazz, etc.  So, why do we have a problem with the music of our time?

Unfortunately, classical music (in its traditional form) has become music for a small aging élite, with no connection to a wider audience.   This is not what composers would want.

Since music education in the schools is generally almost non-existent it has become very difficult inspire a younger audience to listen to the traditional masterworks of the great composers such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, etc.  Even students who study music privately generally only know the repertoire they are learning on their instrument.  How sad!

I feel that the music of our time is music that young people can relate to and can close the gap between various groups that are intimidated by classical music.   With our increasing population we should have more listeners enjoying the music of our time on the radio and concert halls.  The students in my Music History classes are exposed regularly to new music and they love it.  Many old forms that are found centuries ago can be found in today’s recent music.  In teaching the Concerto Grosso in my Baroque History classes for example I always find it valuable to see how the form is used in the music of our time as well.  After listening to a Concerto Grosso of Corelli, why not listen to a Concerto Grosso of Schnittke for example?  We need to make the experience of Classical music relevant to the experience of our younger students.

It is indeed very sad but many classical stations and orchestras have closed their door forever in recent years. I am really not interested to quote any numbers because this is not important. The fact is that they are closing.

Meanwhile booming New Music scenes in a few big cities around the USA are proving that new music attracts younger people.  Unfortunately all of this excitement is confined to a few cities and to a selected group of people.  We are also lucky now that we have many excellent new music Internet radio programs and stations, but they are confined to the Internet and technologically oriented listeners. This takes out of circulation a whole group of people and sentences them to listening to the warhorses and Muzak.

A sad excuse for continuing stale programming for classical radio is saying that according to the polls: “this is what listeners want.”

From my personal experience, the pollsters are professional statisticians, and often they do not know what questions to ask.  They also tend to bend questions to fit needs and expectation.  They should stick to calculating how many pair of shoes one person can produce in one hour, not how many Mozart’s you should listen to at breakfast and within 12 hours and how many Brahms pieces you should listen to at dinnertime.

How do listeners know what they want if they never heard anything else except what is played on their radio station?  This is like saying “I love bananas (Mozart) and strawberry (Schubert) for breakfast but I hate pomegranates and kiwis (new unknown music).” Did you ever try any out? “No, I never tasted them because they are too exotic for me.”

I get mad when I hear people saying that obscure music is obscure for a reason. Yes there is a reason, but not always because the music is bad. It is because no one takes the time to listen. Why take time? Let us play something that was tested 100 times at 100 stations each day.

Even a professional musician like myself, gets tired of listening to same old stuff and wants change. In fact, I do not attend concerts that have just standard repertoire. I rather listen to one of my CD’s.  Most radio programs are so predictable that it does not make any difference to me which station I tune to. To put it mildly, they are boring!!!  So many stations lack vision and do not look to the future. How sad!!!!

A few years ago I had the opportunity to meet my radio hero, Jim Nettleton who was a rock and roll DJ and had a 50-year career.

He inspired me for many years, and was an incredibly personable man.  I met him few times before his early death of lung cancer at the age of only 69.  I felt I knew him for many years just after talking to him for just 1 minute at our first meeting.  I always think about him before beginning my radio show.  Of course we talked a great deal about radio and he said something that will always stay with me.  Hi said; “Unpredictability is entertainment.” How true this is in everything we do!!!

Please do not take me wrong. I still do love and have respect for Beethoven, Brahms, and countless others, and I remember growing up and being excited about so many works, but I am tired of listening to same works  over and over again.

I do not advocate not playing those composers. I just feel that we should have a good balance of all periods with a major focus on new music from the end of the 20th and the 21st century.  I would rather spend my energy on exposing living composers and little known music of other periods.

We are the only society that lives in the past and considers works written 80 years ago as a new 20th century work. Yes, it was a new work 80 years ago and guess what, it was most likely performed then. The time line for new music froze in 1943, when Rachmaninoff died.

Unfortunately, this applies not only to radio and the concert halls, but also to many institutions teaching future musicians. Just this last statement would take up a whole new blog.  Each century cherished it’s new music and older music was confined to libraries.

I chuckle when I try to imagine how music would develop if our ancestors in earlier centuries would treat new music like we do now. Composers would have to find other jobs, like cleaning barns full of cow manure, working as smiths, or working as horse carriage drivers.  Who would need new music if only Gregorian chants would be required in churches and at official ceremonies at the times of Bach and Handel.  For fun, everyone would dance to the tunes of the pilgrim songs from the “Llibre Vermell de Montserrat”. Hmm, Bach in Gregorian mode? Can you imagine Bach’s Gregorian St John Passion and what about a Gregorian Coronation Mass and a Gregorian Messiah?

It might be funny to imagine, but I am very sad………Do to the variety of music being written today, there is music for everyone from literally all over the world.  I feel  that because of this we are living in one of music’s most exciting times.  Unfortunately, most people who are in the position to help spread the word don’t do so.It is time that we give more support to all of our living composers from all over the world and New Music!!!!
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