Classical Breakdown

Classical WETA

John Banther takes classical music fans behind the scenes with interviews, deep dives, and analysis. Episodes released bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Produced by Classical WETA in Washington, D.C.

All Episodes

Here is what to listen for, know, and appreciate when it comes to West Side Story before you watch the 2021 movie remake! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 30

36 min 44 sec

Known as the Dean of Afro-American Composers, William Grant Still wrote a variety of music, from symphony, opera, ballet, to popular song, and more. Gayle Murchinson, Associate Professor of Music at William and Mary, joins John Banther to discuss Still's life and explore his music across three aesthetics that she describes as Ultramodern, Racial, and Universal.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 16

40 min 2 sec

Composed in his final year, this concerto is one of Mozart's last and most enduring works. Nicole and John explore the origins of the concerto, which was originally for a slightly different and more obscure instrument. They also talk about what to listen for in each movement and even give a little music theory lesson to explore some unintended consequences in the music.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 2

28 min 56 sec

Linda and John uncover details about Rachmaninoff's life, like early influences that stayed with him his entire career, his comeback story after a disastrous symphony premiere, and what led to him emigrating to the United States. Plus, we hear some recordings of Rachmaninoff himself at the piano from the early 1900s. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 19

42 min 19 sec

It's a popular instrument, but how much do you really know about the clarinet? Principal Clarinet of the National Symphony Orchestra, Lin Ma, joins John Banther to talk all about the clarinet. Lin tells us everything, from what it's made of, its predecessor, how it was used over time, and he even plays some of his favorite examples! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 5

34 min 9 sec

This symphony is one of the most popular and triumphant in the repertoire, and for good reason! It takes us on a journey using a simple melody that appears in every movement, transforming from the opening in E minor to the triumphant E Major finale. John and Bill go through Tchaikovsky's personal correspondence during the months he was writing the symphony, show you what to listen for, and teach you a compositional technique used still today.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Sep 21

40 min 33 sec

How much do you really know about one of America's most treasured artists? There is a lot to explore in his early life in Massachusetts, his meteoric rise to fame in New York, and the unique characteristics we find all over his music. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Sep 7

42 min 27 sec

It's been a nice summer break, but we are excited to be back with your favorite classical music podcast! We kick things off on September 7 as Matthew Dayton joins John Banther to explore the life and music of Leonard Bernstein. The following episode, September 21, is all about one of the most popular symphonies, the No. 5 by Tchaikovsky. Bill Bukowski and John Banther explore the symphonies insecure origins and what to listen for in the music. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Aug 31

2 min

We wrap up Season 2 of Classical Breakdown with some recommended recordings for you to explore this summer. These recently released albums feature a diverse range of composers, styles, ensembles, and even world premiere recordings.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 29

19 min 29 sec

The viola is somewhat of an enigma and from a distance can be hard to tell apart from the violin. Daniel Foster explains how composers used the viola over the centuries, what his role as Principal Viola entails, and plays for us some extraordinary parts written for the viola.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 15

42 min 47 sec

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 1

47 min 1 sec

He's considered one of the greatest composers of the 19th century. But can you hum a tune by Brahms? We dive into the life and music of Brahms to better understand what set him apart from others, how his personality affected his music, and how he still appears in popular music and commercials today.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

May 18

37 min 40 sec

Where did the concerto come from and how did it evolve? We explore its origins, development through Haydn and Mozart, some of the most challenging concertos of the 19th century, and a couple of "hidden gems." See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

May 4

34 min 24 sec

This masterpiece, originally for piano, was inspired by the tragic loss of a friend, and Ravel's orchestration is a work of art in itself. While roughly half of the original pictures have been lost, we do have descriptions of the originals that give insight to Mussorgsky's music and Ravel's orchestration. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Apr 20

42 min 2 sec

How does a bassoon make a sound and what is its purpose? Principal Bassoonist of the National Symphony Orchestra Sue Heineman doesn't just tell us; she also plays her favorite moments and discusses how it all fits together in the orchestra.   See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Apr 6

40 min 57 sec

There is so much to discover about this masterpiece, like its collaborative and ballet origins, Copland's inventive use of an unknown folk tune, and even how it got its name.  See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mar 23

36 min 26 sec

Today we know him as one of the greatest and most influential composers, but that wasn’t always the case. Learn how a teenager became responsible for Bach’s revival, how is music changed from job to job, and even how he wound up in jail for nearly a month! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mar 9

48 min 16 sec

Dr. Karen Walwyn discusses the life and music of Florence Price, the first woman African American composer to have a symphony played by a major orchestra in the United States. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Feb 23

50 min 17 sec

There is a lot you may not know about the origins, inspirations and influencers when it comes to this masterpiece by Dvorak. We get into the details and music with examples from the latest recording from the National Symphony Orchestra and Maestro Noseda. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Feb 9

39 min 39 sec

You might not know this concerto by its number, but you're surely familiar with one of its aria-like melodies that has appeared in film and popular music. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jan 26

30 min 34 sec

It's one of the most competitive positions in all of classical music. Learn more about the role of a concertmaster from Nurit Bar-Josef, Concertmaster of the National Symphony Orchestra. She plays her favorite concertmaster solos See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jan 12

30 min 28 sec

His music is celebrated today, especially around New Year's, and his waltzes are bound to put a smile on your face. Learn about Strauss Jr.'s life, his music, and a surprising answer he gave a New York reporter about his visit to Boston. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2020

30 min 16 sec

This holiday classic has helped define the "Christmas" sound for generations, but there's more to the music than you think. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2020

44 min 37 sec

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 was revolutionary, but if all you know is the "Ode to Joy" you are missing out! From it's opening notes to the final crescendo, join Bill Bukowski and John Banther for a musical deep dive into Beethoven's final symphony. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2020

52 min 58 sec

Is it the ultimate test for a composer? Discover its origins and how this genre evolved over centuries with James Jacobs and John Banther. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 2020

1 hr 2 min

There's a lot about this masterpiece you may not know. Nicole LaCroix joins John Banther to explore its premiere and unique musical moments. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 2020

46 min 10 sec

From his humble beginnings to becoming one of the greatest composers, explore the life and music of Tchaikovsky. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 2020

44 min 58 sec

Is an Overture defined by the kind of music it contains or simply where it appears in a concert? The answer can change throughout history, and with musical examples, John and Nicole get into the details of this "bite-size music." See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 2020

40 min 45 sec

Discover the musical details and backstory of a work that's captivated listeners for over a century. John Banther and Linda Carducci discuss its origins and use their imagination to fill in the musical gaps. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Sep 2020

45 min 19 sec

Discover the life and works of one classical music's greatest composers! His life was full of groundbreaking music, but it was also tragic as he dealt with family problems and hearing loss. We explore the details of his life and listen to samples of his music, from his first composition to his final Symphony No. 9. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Sep 2020

1 hr 8 min

Expand your musical palate with music found in an attic in 2009, new interpretations of Beethoven and Franck, and an instrument you've probably never heard before. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 2020

10 min 53 sec

Brownlee talks about equality in classical music, his experience as a black man in the world of opera, and what we can do to encourage positive change towards a more diverse future in classical music. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 2020

24 min

Haydn's 1st cello concerto was lost for 200 years and is now considered one of the greatest cello concertos of the 18th century. Dr. Greenwald tells us how music can go missing, we examine musical examples that set this concerto apart, and we enjoy a full performance! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jun 2020

1 hr 4 min

When was the flute invented, how did it evolve, what does a bass flute sound like? Learn all this and more with Principal Flute of the National Symphony Orchestra, Aaron Goldman. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

May 2020

51 min 9 sec

Debussy's La Mer is as imaginative and playful as it was in 1905, and while the original audience wasn't as receptive, it's become an orchestra staple over the last century. The final movement is called "Dialogue du vent et de la mer" (Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea) and features a theme originating in the oboe. We'll hear from Nicholas Stovall, Principal Oboe of the National Symphony Orchestra, on what this passage means to him and why he had to play it during Principal Flute auditions. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

May 2020

17 min 52 sec

The trumpet shines through in Jeux de Vagues, (Play of the Waves), the second movement of Debussy's La mer. This is part 2 of our 3 part series on Debussy's enchanting orchestral work, La Mer. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Apr 2020

12 min 51 sec

An orchestral staple today, this work about "the sea" wasn't well received at it's premiere. Audiences may have expected a Strauss-esque symphonic poem to bring the sea to life, but Debussy was more interested in the abstract. This is part 1 of our 3 part series on Debussy's enchanting orchestral work, La Mer. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Apr 2020

20 min 24 sec

The Arts community is severely affected by the current situation involving COVID-19. Artist Relief Tree was created by Morgan Brophy to give direct support to artists and musicians. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mar 2020

12 min 39 sec

She was America's first woman composer to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra and the first American composer fully educated in the United States. She was praised and recognized but her journey to success was an uphill battle with obstacles and challenges. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mar 2020

26 min 1 sec

Let's go on a musical deep dive of Haydn's final symphony. With musical examples we can breakdown Sonata Form, hear influences of other composers, and folk song! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Feb 2020

51 min 2 sec

Beethoven changed all ideas and expectations about the Symphony. Bill Bukowski joins me as we figure out what happened to the symphony after Beethoven through the 21st century. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Feb 2020

50 min 40 sec

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's life was kind of complicated. His childhood as a musical prodigy was filled with practicing, writing music, and performing for royalty throughout Europe. He later struggled at times finding suitable employment and wanted to find his own path. It was a life lived under the watchful eye of his father, Leopold Mozart, and cut short at the age of 35. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jan 2020

1 hr 2 min

Discover music by Holst that was inspired by the gods our planets are named after in our solar system. This seven-movement orchestral suite includes the terrifying sounds of war, the comfort of peace, jollity, and so much more. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Jan 2020

26 min 58 sec

Get into the new year with a work that has music for every month! Tchaikovsky's The Seasons also includes poetry and gives us a glimpse into Russian life, month by month in 1876. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2019

27 min 51 sec

Waving a baton is just a small part of being a conductor. Michelle Merrill tells what it's like to prepare a concert with an orchestra, from the year before to the downbeat of the concert. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2019

57 min 51 sec

Here's everything you wanted to know about Handel's Messiah but were afraid to ask. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Dec 2019

1 hr 13 min

Discover one of the more colorful genres of classical music, the Symphonic Poem, which can depict animals, landscape, literature, and even football players! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 2019

20 min 7 sec

Liz demonstrates musical terms on the violin, we talk about bringing sheet music to life and a special guest joins for an experiment with foreign language. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Nov 2019

27 min 46 sec

The Abeo Quartet performs Moonshot, a new work by Alistair Coleman. Alistair talks about the inspiration for this piece, and after the performance, we talk with the quartet about putting this piece together, new playing techniques, and space travel! See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 2019

37 min 23 sec

Kian talks about bringing people together in music, changing tempos, karate, and more. He is one of today's most celebrated young cellists and has risen the ranks as one of today's great cello soloists. His collaboration with conductor Daniel Barenboim has taken him around the world, he's performed with some of the worlds greatest orchestras. and records for Deutsche Grammophon. See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Oct 2019

32 min 7 sec