Harvard Radio treads where BBC fears to go
WHRB 95.3 FM in Boston is treading where the BBC fears to go with their current Mozart 0rgy, and joy of joys, their upcoming Antal Dorati 0rgy. The Mozart marathon is WHRB's longest-ever project, running continuously, around the clock, from May 8th to 18th. It is the world's only broadcast of the complete works of Mozart, and is available as a webcast. To find out more, On An Overgrown Path went behind the scenes in Boston to get this exclusive interview with Ken Schultz, General Manager of WHRB-FM 95.3 FM, Cambridge.
Pliable - Who compiles and presents WHRB 95.3 FM's programmes?
Ken Schultz - Harvard undergraduates are the staff of the station, and all our station members are volunteers. The team come from all fields of study, and bring their own love of music - we have jazz, underground rock, et al in addition to our highly dynamic and well-known classical programming
Pliable - How do you cover that range - is there one single producer responsible for each project?
Ken Schultz - A producer, or producers, will be responsible for each 0rgy. The big, or "flagship" programs, tends to be based on a major anniversary (as in the Mozart 250). Among our leading programs this year we also have celebrations of Schumann and Shostakovich. We have many other programs, of various durations, in addition to composers, featuring performers, conductors, themes, etc.
As well as anniversaries, interest from our staff of classical music announcers is a major factor in choosing programs. January and May, when our 0rgies are held, are reading and exam periods at Harvard. The famous 0rgy tradition goes back around 60 years; the first was the Beethoven symphonies which only ran for a handful of hours, and was a spontaneous event - follow this link for the full story.
WHRB 95.3 FM also follow the rule that we don't repeat a topic within at least a 5 year range - undergrads of course are here for 4 years. For some of the biggest programs, the time between tends to be a lot more than that, depending on anniversaries and the scale involved. Our last Mozart was in 1991 for that Mozart year, in 1986 before that. 1986 was our first near-complete one, and it was chosen in large part because the producers had just done Bach before in 1985 for that anniversary, and then wanted to do Mozart the next year!
Recently, we've featured complete Vaughan Williams (May 05) and Elgar (Jan 06) 0rgies; hence a vein of interest in British music that continues with some of the 0rgies this May as well. Our topics tend to get more and more diverse as recordings for a lot of works and composers have become more and more available
For the big topics we get more and more ambitious in terms of "completeness", a factor considered in any 0rgy. Trying to get a complete full presentation means our current Mozart 0rgy at 241 hours over 11 days) is the longest in station history, eclipsing the 1991 Mozart 0rgy (220 hours) and recent Bach (2000) and Haydn 0rgies (2002, 176 hrs I believe it was)
After doing RVW and Elgar, which had never been done on the scale of completeness by WHRB before this past year, our producers were excited to continue with more British music. This included one of our most knowledgeable team members, who's a senior, and quipped at a few points that we should do a whole week of various British composers (and maybe French composers, too, which also interest him and he's produced before) this semester. He's one of those behind the Finzi (right) and Britten/Pears 0rgy, as well as a Duparc/Dukas 0rgy. As a senior he'll be here a few days longer with graduation than most others, hence several of those are concentrated around late May and early June.
I am producing the Dorati myself, as a I thought a centenary tribute would be well in order, and chose a selection of enjoyable recordings. Some of our producers are so knowledgeable that you can fill the alloted time for some of the presentations simply by them asking, what would the listener wants to hear, and then putting those "goodies" together
Both the large and more selective smaller 0rgies receive excellent feedback. Our listeners (as your readers) are knowledgeable and want to listen to music in the foreground, and want to learn new things. The Elgar 0rgy in January received a powerful strong feedback, in large part since it's a rare opportunity to hear what you wouldn't hear otherwise. 0rgies allow you to hear all the development, including less well-known but excellent works, and all the music in context - it can be quite an experience and give you significant insights on the composer.
I was hosting the first few hours of the Mozart 0rgy, and to hear music developing from aspects such as galant style and other aspects was quite fascinating. As we speak we're now at the point when Mozart is maturing in some sense, around his age 25 (Idomeneo is playing right now). I remember with the Bartok (left) 0rgy I produced in Jan 2005, the whole first evening sounded as if the music was Richard Strauss, by morning you could hear the influence of Debussy, and so on. A tremendous amounts of research and energy go into the production of our classical programming generally, and 0rgies in particular; you learn quite a bit in the process (as much as for a composer complete, as I did for Bartok), and then the listener gets the chance to experience this when it goes on air
Pliable - Are there any famous past presenters of 0rgies? The last feature I did on WHRB-FM 95.3 0rgies turned up the late Dale Harris, NY Times critic John Rockwell, and opera maven John Francis, and Alex Ross I think. That feature got a big response incidentally.
Ken Schultz - Those are certainly among our well known alums (called "ghosts" in WHRB speak). Newsmen Bruce Morton and Chris Wallace also were active at the station in their underground years - Bruce Morton did some presentation of jazz.
Pliable - Among all that achievement do any of your recent 0rgies stand out as being particularly successful?
Ken Schultz - Schumann and Elgar were both very successful in January; each is a bit off the beat and track for a complete presentation, and they were highly appreciated for the amount listeners were able to gain from what they wouldn't hear otherwise. Our jazz 0rgies are also very well-received, including a Joe Morello 0rgy I produced this past January. Last May a massive (84 hr) Charlie Parker (right) 0rgy that I also produced generated hundreds of appreciative phone calls from listeners -as our most popular 0rgies do. Overall it's a commitment to music and discovery that is really unparalleled - a complete month's worth of marathons twice a year, with new topics every cycle and much excitement and anticipation from both our staff and listeners.
Pliable - Many thanks Ken for taking time out at this incredibly busy time to talk On An Overgrown Path. Personally, I have spent time working both for the BBC and a voluntary radio station, and I know the commitment that is going in at WHRB 95.3 FM. Some really key concepts come over in this interview - respecting your listeners as being knowledgeable and wanting to listen to music in the foreground and to learn new things, and a commitment to music and discovery. Those are values that are in danger of being submerged in the drive for accessibility at BBC Radio 3. Thanks for reminding us of them.
Image credits: Elgar - Birmingham University, Finzi - Compositores Famoso, Bartok - Bayarea.net, Charlie Parker - GI jive, Dorati - iClassics.com. Any copyrighted material on these pages is used in "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Antal Dorati - artist extraordinaire