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Ovation Notation

Published June 14, 2023 at 10:22 AM CDT

Ovation brings you your daily dose of favorite classics… and the best lesser-known music you haven’t heard yet. Host Ken Zahnle has been hand-crafting themed classical music programs for Tri States Public Radio since 1987. Whether he’s featuring a composer for the morning, exploring the musical history of the day’s date, rhapsodizing about rhapsodies, taking requests on Fridays, or just reaching into his Classical Music Grab-Bag, he’s ready to take you on an art music adventure every weekday morning from 8:59 to noon.

Flora is the month's Forte

May Flowers

Posted May 22, 2024 at 12:11 PM CDT
Spring (and music!) is in (and on!) the Air
2rogan -
Spring (and music!) is in (and on!) the Air

Well, you know the old saying--- April eventually becomes May, which brings May flowers. In that spirit, we bring you a botanical park of classical music flora.

England’s Henry VIII was not only a man of the renaissance--- he was a Renaissance Man. King, athlete, huntsman, jouster, biblical scholar, poet--- and musician. Even though this Tudor Rose had a thorny side (ask two of his six wives), he left us the flowery song of pining Whereto should I express, describing ‘The daisy delectable, The violet wan and blo.’

In Leo Delibes’ opera Lakme, the title character and her servant gather a veritable florist’s shop of blooms as they glide along the flowering banks of a river. The famed Flower Duet describes blue lotuses under a canopy of white jasmine.

Giacomo Puccini also wrote an operatic flower duet for his Madame Butterfly--- but it is from his rarely heard instrumental side that we find the elegy Chrysanthemums for string quartet (often played in an expanded arrangement for string orchestra). The little bouquet was written in a single night in 1890 as a heartfelt response to the death of his friend the Count of Savoy.

Joachim Rodrigo’s Per la flor del lliri blau (Flower of the Blue Lily) is an early symphonic poem by the composer of the popular Concierto de Aranjuez. It’s based on a medieval Valencian legend wherein three competitive princes embark on a quest for the titular magical flower, which has the power to revive their dying father.

Here’s a whole flower bed provided by Benjamin Britten in his Five Flower Songs for a cappella chorus. The texts, drawn from three centuries of English poets, feature daffodils, marsh flowers (nightshade & nettle), evening primrose and green broom. The song The Succession of the Four Sweet Months is a miniature suite-within-the-suite, mentioning the flowering of ‘smiling May, In a more rich and sweet array.’

Happy gardening!

p.s. – No apologies to Puccini, here’s Scott Joplin’s ‘Afro-American Intermezzo’ The Chrysanthemum.

p.p.s. – An operatic flower quiz!

Things Happen.


Posted April 23, 2024 at 3:02 PM CDT
If music be the food of love, play on... -
Wisdom from The Bard.

When I put together an episode of Ovation that is related to a date in history, some interesting intersections often occur. Here are two trifectas from the same date in April… April 23rd, to be precise.

The first meeting of minds is a linear chain of events: On April 23rd of 1756, English-born Scotsman-turned-American Alexander Reinagle (one of George Washington’s favorite composers… no joke!) was born. Half-Scots, half Hungarian, the second-generation musician went to London as a lad to train. There, in 1764, he met a young fellow the same age: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (along with Mozart’s father and sister). As it turns out, the Mozarts arrived in London on… April 23rd of that same year. Now back to the subject of the Americas: on April 23rd of 1924 American composer and arranger Arthur Frackenpohl was born. Frackenpohl may be best known among musicians for his many transcriptions of classical works for wind instruments… including many by… Mozart.

Now let’s put three events in once place: a record album. Chandos Records No. 20160, features Irish piano virtuoso Barry Douglas, who was born on April 23rd, 1960. On the album he plays a work by Sergei Prokofiev, who was born on… April 23rd, 1891. The piece he plays? Excerpts from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet, which is based on the play by William Shakespeare, who’s 1616 date of birth is traditionally celebrated on… you guessed it… April 23rd.

If only all coincidences were happy ones!

Every Weekday in March

Classical Music’s History includes Composing… Women!

Posted March 6, 2024 at 2:38 PM CST

You may have noticed that this month we are shining the spotlight on a score-plus-one great composers… one every weekday… who also happen to be women.

If you hadn’t, it’s not too late!

First, you can tune in every weekday during March at 7:19 a.m. during Morning Edition, or at 5:48 p.m. during All Things Considered, as we introduce you to our special composer of the day… and also at 11:00 a.m. during Ovation, our locally-programmed classical music show, when we’ll also feature a substantial work or works by the day’s classical Maestra.

Since we’re travelling along in chronological order you may have missed St. Hildegard von Bingen, who parlayed her religious visions into music, female-led convents, and advising the Pope--- or missed the daughter of a Venetian playwright who lived on the proceeds of publishing 8 volumes of her compositions—- or missed the Viennese girl who was supported by the Austrian Poet Laureate, taught piano by Haydn, and learned composition from the official Court Composer… all in the same apartment house! But never fear, they’re all still waiting for you at our world wide web site. Just visit and click on “Composing Women” and you’ll find every installment so far, in both audio and text. And the episodes are being added daily.

This month… and every month… classical music should be everyone’s birthright.

Black History Month

Classically Black--- Revisited

Posted February 6, 2024 at 2:39 PM CST
Le violon noir
Gecko Studio -
Le violon noir

Here's a repost of sorts, to leave you a backdoor to our 2023 series Classically Black... a 20-part series of 2-minute programs about 20 great composers with African roots. Enjoy!

Classically Black

All the hottest stuff from 1924

That Modern Music!

Posted January 18, 2024 at 12:15 AM CST
black & white & blue all over
black & white & blue all over

As we start the new year, I’ve been ruminating over the new music of ’24… 1924, that is. A century has a way of creeping up on you, and things that were oh-so-modern Twentieth-Century not that long ago are now oh-so-… well… last century. So, let’s raise a glass to 100 years ago in classical music by remembering a few ground-breaking anniversaries.

On February 12, at Aeolian Hall in Manhattan, orchestra leader Paul Whiteman (the so-called ‘King of Jazz”) presented a concert entitled An Experiment in Modern Music. Many a jazzy large band and small vocal ensemble ditty was performed, but the big-ticket item on the bill was a new work for piano and jazz orchestra by none other than the world’s most famous pop song writer… George Gershwin.

Yes, this marks the 100th year of Rhapsody in Blue, though the first performance didn’t sound like what we’re used to hearing: Gershwin, pressed for time, whipped it together out of unused tunes in his notebooks, gave the orchestration duties to composer (and Whiteman Band member) Ferde Grofe, and improvised the solo piano parts on-the-spot that night. He would later write it all down for posterity (and publication), and that score became synonymous with the “Jazz Age.”

March 7 brought the premiere of the 7th… and final… symphony of the musical patron saint of Finland, Jean Sibelius (though he would live for another 34 years!). The 7th was daring in structure… a one-movement continuous stream that remains exclusively in C Major and c minor, relying on a myriad of tempo changes for development. On that first night, Sibelius himself had not even quite decided it was actually a symphony… it was presented as a “Fantasia sinfonica…” but it became a new milestone of the genre for a worshipping younger generation of British and American composers.

Newness was definitely the point of Francis Picabia’s ballet Relache, with music by belle epoque nonconformist Erik Satie. It’s very name reflected its Dadaist influences (“released…” or, when on a theater poster or marquee, “canceled”), and the content made that influence plain… with random dances, a fireman emptying buckets of water into other buckets, and an avant-garde silent film (with live music composed by Satie) as the prologue and the intermission. Some critics railed about the “stupidity of the staging and the inanity of the musical score,” but it certainly was… new. Relache was first performed on December 4 because, due to the illness of its main dancer, the November 29th premiere had to be… canceled!

One more. Ottorino Respighi’s beloved orchestral suite The Pines of Rome would hardly seem to be a controversial or revolutionary work… but controversial and revolutionary it was on December 14th because of one detail: near the end of the third movement, a depiction of the pines along Rome’s Janiculum hill, Respighi introduced a new instrument to the orchestra… the phonograph… playing a recording of the birdsong of a nightingale.

Seasonal Radio!

Posted December 4, 2023 at 12:44 PM CST

Let us humbly gift you our version of door-to-door caroling--- our schedule of holiday music specials for 2023.

Christmas Radio
Verena Matthew/V. J. Matthew -

Monday, December 11

11:00 a.m. – Candles Burning Brightly: A delightful hour for everyone to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights! Lots of music from Jewish communities around the world, plus a hilarious lesson on how to prepare a classic Chanukah dish, and a timeless and touching holiday story that brings light into every home.

Monday, December 18

9:00 a.m. – A Latin American Christmas: One-hour special of warm and sunny holiday music from many latin-american locales

10:00 a.m. – In Winter's Glow: A winter solstice program, with modern classical sounds for the longest night of the year, chosen especially to compliment the chilly, starry nights of the season.

11:00 a.m. – The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays: The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays is an hour-long special devoted to holiday and wintertime movie music. In addition to beloved standards (“White Christmas” from “Holiday Inn” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” from “Meet Me in St. Louis”), Michael shares an eclectic mix of wintry film scores, ranging from “It Happened in Sun Valley” (from “Sun Valley Serenade”) to Alexandre Desplat’s folk-inspired score for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to Bernard Herrmann’s bracing sleigh ride accompaniment composed for the Orson Welles drama “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Bundle up and enjoy The Film Score: Music for the Winter Holidays!

Tuesday, December 19th

9:00 a.m. – Christmas with the Morehouse & Spelman Glee Clubs: One of the great holiday traditions in America, the choirs of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges -- two of the most prestigious historically black institutions in the nation -- get together to present a spine-tingling concert program. This year's program features the best works of the last several years. It's a joyous celebration of the schools' tradition of singing excellence, with their trademark.

10:00 a.m. – Carols At Home with the Imani Winds: Join us for a new Christmas special featuring the Imani Winds.

11:00 a.m. – The Ballad of the Brown King & Other Music for Christmas: Dr. Louise Toppin, a preeminent performer and scholar specializing in the concert repertoire of African American composers, presents the world premiere recording of Margaret Bonds’s The Ballad of the Brown King (Avie Records, 2018). With a libretto by Langston Hughes, this Christmas cantata focuses on Balthazar, the dark-skinned king who journeyed to Bethlehem to witness the birth of Jesus Christ. This gorgeous work is beautifully interpreted by New York City-based The Dessoff Choirs and Orchestra, soloists soprano Laquita Mitchell, mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford, and tenor Noah Stewart with Malcolm J. Merriweather at the podium.

In this special, we are especially honored to share two exclusive world premiere recordings of Margaret Bonds’s arrangements of the spirituals Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow, and Go Tell It on the Mountain. Generously provided by Dr. Toppin, these exceptional performances were recorded earlier this year at the University of Michigan and are presented by soprano Amber Merritt and tenor Tyrese Byrd, with Dr. Toppin at the piano

Wednesday, December 20

9:00 a.m. – Harmonia Early Music: A Medieval Christmas: Tired of jingle bells yet? This time of year, we are surrounded by Christmas music. On this special holiday edition of Harmonia, join us for something a little different, as we explore Christmas music of another age – the medieval! We’ll hear music from the Tallis Scholars, the Boston Camerata, and more

10:00 a.m. – A Handel & Haydn Society Christmas: Celebrate the season with this hour-long special featuring Christmas choral music from America’s oldest continuously performing ensemble, Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society.

11:00 a.m. – All is Bright: All Is Bright, with host Lynne Warfel, offers an hour of gorgeous, contemplative choral music that tells the traditional Christmas story with songs about angels, the star and the manger scene.

Thursday, December 21

9:00 am – Winter Holiday Around the work with Bill McLaughlin: Winter holidays are celebrated around the world, and their music is wonderful to hear, regardless of which tradition you observe. Bill’s spirited selection starts in the 12th century with Nova Stella, medieval Italian Christmas music from Saint Francis of Assisi’s staging of the nativity; jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s classical composition La Fiesta de la Posadaevoking a Mexican Christmas celebration; and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. We will enjoy this time of year in Paris with music from Debussy, then travel to Polynesia for a traditional hymn, Anau Oia Ea. And then ends with an excerpt from Gian Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors from the original television production. Turn on your speakers, pour a cup of tea, cozy up to a warm fire, and enjoy the music!

10:00 a.m. – St. Olaf Christmas Festival: The St. Olaf Christmas Festival has become one of the nation's most cherished holiday celebrations. Started in 1912 by F. Melius Christiansen, founder of the St. Olaf College Music Department, the festival includes hymns, carols, choral works and orchestral selections celebrating the Nativity. It features the St. Olaf Choir, the St. Olaf Orchestra, the St. Olaf Cantorei, the St. Olaf Chapel Choir, the Manitou Singers and the Viking Chorus, performing as individual groups and as a massed ensemble. (2 hours)

Friday, December 22

9:00 a.m. – Ovation: Celebrate Christmas with Ken Zahnle.

Monday, December 25

9:00 a.m. – Welcome Christmas: There’s no better way to welcome Christmas than Welcome Christmas!, the VocalEssence holiday concert. It’s an hour of joyful, classic holiday music from VocalEssence, one of the world’s premiere choral groups, singing traditional carols and new discoveries.

10:00 a.m. – Your Classical Christmas Favorites: Join us this holiday season as we count down the top Christmas songs as voted by you in a two-hour special.

Monday, January 1

9:00 a.m. – The Sounds of Kwanzaa: In this program, Garrett McQueen offers a background on the history of Kwanzaa and its guiding principles, alongside musical selections that highlight the spirit of the celebration. The show features the compositions of Florence Price, Duke Ellington, Sean O’Loughlin, and special performances by Imani Wind.

10:00 a.m. – Minnesota Orchestra’s New Year’s Celebration: Ring in the new year with the Minnesota Orchestra! The program opens with Bernstein’s animated Overture to Candide. Awadagin Pratt performs the Minnesota premiere of Jessie Montgomery’s Rounds for Piano and Orchestra, a work written for him. A New Year’s celebration wouldn’t be complete without adventure and passion, and the Orchestra brings that in multitudes in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s beloved Scheherazade.

2023 edition

Public Radio Music Day!

Posted November 1, 2023 at 11:23 AM CDT
turn it up!
Macrovector -
turn it up!

From NPR News:

“Wednesday, October 25, 2023; Washington, D.C .- The U.S. Senate unanimously passed S. Res. 425, a bipartisan resolution honoring the incomparable service of public radio music stations to American audiences across all 50 states and U.S. territories. The resolution marks October 25, 2023, as Public Radio Music Day, thus recognizing the impact of public radio music stations to local artists, listeners, and communities nationwide. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives also recognized this day through a bipartisan resolution.”

The fourth annual Public Radio Music Day celebrated contributions public radio music stations make to the arts and culture of local communities, including artist discovery and music education.

Here at TSPR, a participating station, we celebrated during our live-hosted morning classical music show Ovation, with a genre-crossing program featuring guest co-host Kedrick Armstrong. Maestro Armstrong is Principal Conductor and Creative Partner of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Orchestra, and we had a great conversation about classical music’s modern role, under-appreciated American composers, and how the contemporary classical music scene is influenced by all the genres of music you hear on TSPR… including Jazz and Folk/Americana.

If you missed it, check out the October 25th episode of Ovation on Ovation on Demand. But hurry… we can only keep it around for you for another week!

You know, it's not JUST for kids!

Kid's Music Day

Posted October 4, 2023 at 4:31 PM CDT
Keep Music Alive

The 8th annual Kid’s Music Day is October 6th. Scheduled on the first Friday of every October, it’s a big partnership with music schools, stores, and other music organizations to help focus attention on the importance of including music as part of children's education.

Over 1,200 locations in all 50 states plus a dozen other countries are holding some sort of tie-in festivity… from free group guitar lessons, to instrument donation drives, to band and orchestra instrument “petting zoos.”

There aren’t any officially registered events happening within an hour and a half of our radio signal’s epicenter this year, but we’re trying to do our part. We’ll be marking this year’s Public Radio Music Day on October 25th with a theme of “Building Community Though Music” (especially music education), and this past Wednesday’s Ovation was a Kid’s Music Day preview, as we played classical masters playing around with music for kids.

Check it out by putting one of our new features to work, “Ovation On Demand!” Just follow the link (or go to and look at the “Music” pull-down menu), and look for “Ovation October 4” (there is a 48-hour delay before each program is available online).

Keep an eye out for a couple of follow-up posts on classical music for children… and classical music by children.

The Numbers Racket

Singing Songs of Six (pence optional)

Posted September 6, 2023 at 11:17 AM CDT

...A few six packs. That's what we've got going today.

fragment of classical guitar, closeup
Oleg Troino/photosaint -
Six Strings.

Since I've brought out the six-string guitar, let's start with a set of six dances that the the first family of the classical guitar, the Romeros, recorded in the late '50's on the sonically ground-breaking Mercury label. The stars must have been aligned... the 16th century dances they chose were by Vincenzo Galilei, none other than the father of ground-breaking astronomer Galileo Galilei.

Epigraphs... those little pithy quotations sometimes used as a subtitle for a chapter in a bookor article. Claude Debussy published a half dozen piano miniatures inspired by the concept, Six épigraphes antiques. Ernst Ansermet made a popular orchestration of them, but you may want to chase down a (nifty) rarer small orchestra version scored by Rudolph Escher.

Another uncommon artistic term... bozzetti. That's plural for a small proof-of-concept sculpture... essentially, an artist's 3-D sketch. Italian romantic composer Antonio Scontrino wrote six tuneful impressions of such figurines in his Sei Bozzetti for clarinet and piano.

Sir Edward Elgar wasn't always Mr. Pomp and Circumstance... he began his professional career as a young twenty-something in his family's music shop in Worcester. Whilst he was peddling violin strings and sheet music, he composed a series of woodwind quintets for just his own little circle of friends (teaching himself the bassoon so he could cover the part). But wait... quintet? Isn't that Five? yes, but one of those pieces was actually a set six quick promenades, with a few quirky titles: Madame Taussaud's (referencing the famed wax museum); Somniferous; and Hell and Tommy !

Welcome to Classical Music Month!

Posted September 1, 2023 at 12:55 PM CDT
September is classical music month. Text over a piano keyboard.
bulgn -
September is Classical Music Month.

SInce 1994, September has contained the pair of fortnights designated to celebrate the ars antiqua and nova, the renaissance, the baroque, the classical, the romantic, the impressionist, the expressionist, the minimalist, and more. Don’t just take MY word for it…. I’ll let our friend Bill explain:

“This month we exalt the many talented composers, conductors, and musicians who bring classical music to our ears. These artists carry on a great tradition of musical achievement, and we are proud of their outstanding accomplishments. Whether in new American works or in the masterpieces of the great composers of old, music is a unifying force in our world, bringing people together across vast cultural and geographical divisions. Classical music speaks both to the mind and to the heart, giving us something to think about as well as to experience.

Now, Therefore, I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September… as Classical Music Month. I urge all Americans to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies and activities.”

So let’s celebrate with psaltery and harp, timbrel and dance, stringed instruments and organs, loud and high-sounding cymbals… and FM Radio (with apologies to King James & Co.).

We can help with that last part: Every weekday at 9:00 a.m. to noon on Ovation, every weeknight at 7:00 p.m. on Performance Today; weeknights at 10:00 p.m. with the Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony, SymphonyCast, and Concierto; Sunday at 11:00 a.m. on Music from the Tri States; and at noon on Sunday Baroque.

Go ahead… make some joyful noise!