For the past eight years, Graham Parker has been the Executive Director of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Now, he’s going to work for New York’s classical music radio station.
It was announced today that Parker will be the new Vice President of Classical WQXR 105.9 FM and WQXR online. It appears that he’s been tasked with helping the station to develop its brand identity. For those who aren’t “New Yawkers,” this may require some explanation.
In 2009, New York’s National Public Radio Station WNYC acquired WQXR from the New York Times. WQXR’s frequency, 96.3 FM, was in turn traded to Univision’s WCAA, moving the classical station further up the bandwidth to 105.9. For those of us out in the ‘burbs, this has made it more difficult in many areas to get the station. Coverage routinely goes in and out on my commute down to Princeton as I get further from the city.
While signal weakness has been a concern for many listeners, there have been other growing pains associated with the move as well. Some of the music programming previously on WNYC, which was considered the station for more cutting edge fare, has been moved over to WQXR. Some longtime DJs from WQXR were kept on; others were let go to make room for their counterparts on WNYC. As a public radio station, WQXR also jettisoned commercials and religious programs.
The marriage of mainstream classical and public radio’s eclecticism has been a challenging balance to negotiate. The station’s 2009-’10 programming doubtless left a number of longtime WQXR listeners unhappy at the increased incorporation of new music into its mainstream broadcasts. WNYC listeners who hoped for the eclectic and innovative types of music heard on programs such as Soundcheck and New Sounds to be writ large on the rest of the schedule have probably been bummed out too. They’ve been subjected to far more Vivaldi and Telemann than they consider healthy!
A bright spot has been the station’s online new music programing at Q2. This week, they’re spotlighting the music of Xenakis. While one understands that this probably isn’t their best bet for “drive-time” fare, its too bad that more of Q2 hasn’t infiltrated the airwaves.
One hopes that enlisting Mr. Parker helps the station to find its footing and reassert the importance of classical radio – contemporary music and repertory favorites alike – in New York.
So, Sequenza 21 readers, its your turn. What should Parker focus on to make WQXR a better station?
A) Better signal quality/range/accessibility.
B) A more coherent vision for music programming.
C) Local identity and live events.
D) Limiting the amount of Vivaldi bassoon concerti played during any given four-hour period to no more than three.
E) More Nadia Sirota, all the time.
Brooklynite singer/songwriter Elizabeth Ziman is probably best known for her work with the indie pop band Elizabeth and the Catapult. But Ziman, a trained pianist who studied film scoring, was recently involved in composing music for a crossover “art song” project. The commission was premiered last Thursday at New Sounds Live, a concert hosted by John Schaefer at Merkin Hall in New York City. Elizabeth and the Catapult,Gabriel Kahane, and Ed Pastorini all appeared, performing new works that demonstrated their own particular takes on the ‘art song’ concept. After the gig, Elizabeth was kind enough to share some thoughts about creating crossover art songs at the behest of WNYC.
CC: How did you get involved with the New Sounds Live project? Have you been on the show in the past?
EZ: I first met John Schaefer when I was commissioned to write a piece for the Young People’s Choir of NYC about 5 years ago, and ever since he’s been really super supportive of all Elizabeth and The Catapult ventures- he’s featured us on Soundcheck a number of times. But this was our first appearance on New Sounds. We were all very excited.
CC: Tell us about the commissioned work that premiered at the Merkin Hall event.
EZ: Around the time John gave me the assignment to write the song cycle, I was reading a book of poems Leonard Cohen wrote while spending time in a Zen monastery in California: ”Leonard Cohen’s Book of Longing”.The general theme of these poems are not so much about religion/sex/depression/politics as is per usual with him, but more personal- mostly about being human and flawed and trying to succumb to it. He’s constantly searches for peace but when he can’t reach it, he laughs at himself. So there’s a good dark humor to the poems. Something about this really struck a chord with me and ended up writing my own poems mirroring this sentiment. Musically speaking, it was just the normal setup plus string quartet.
CC: Merkin Hall is generally known as a classical and jazz venue. Has Elizabeth and the Catapult performed in similar halls in the past?
EZ: We performed at Carnegie Hall two years ago; otherwise the closest thing to Merkin Hall we’ve played is probably a club like Joe’s Pub in the Village. But we welcome all theatre/art spaces- they usually sound the best anyway.
CC: The concept for this New Sounds program was showing how ‘art songs’ – songs in the concert music tradition – are being affected by influences of pop, jazz, and other kinds of music. How did you respond to this?
EZ: I really just tried to do exactly what I do – but because there was some kind of budget I was lucky enough to be able to hire a string quartet for the occasion as well.
CC: A lot of indie pop artists seem increasingly interested in incorporating classical influences into their work. Conversely, classical artists are blending pop influences into their compositions. Can you comment on this trend and how, if at all, it affects your songwriting and arranging?
EZ: I went to school for film scoring- so I’ve always been very interested in arranging cinematically, and using a broader scope of instruments- but I feel like bands like Sufjan, The Dirty Projectors, David Byrne, St Vincent and Antony and the Johnsons(to name a few) have been really pushing the envelope with their arrangements in a very hip way.
CC: How did your approach the ‘art song’ compared to the other artists > on the show – Gabriel Kahane and Ed Pastorini? Was there any communication about the music you were composing ahead of time?
EZ: I love Gabe, I actually wrote one of the songs for the cycle on his piano at his house while he was on tour and I was house-sitting! But no, the night was pretty much a happy surprise for all of us.
CC: Is this type of project something you’d like to explore further with Elizabeth and the Catapult?
EZ: Sure, it was an absolute honor to perform in such a beautiful venue for such a great program. I’m always psyched to be involved in new random projects, especially those being sponsored by NPR.
CC: What’s next for Elizabeth and the Catapult? Are you touring/recording this summer?
EZ: We’re recording this summer and hopefully touring very, very soon!
Those interested in hearing the Merkin Hall concert, stay tuned! It will be broadcast as part of a future New Sounds program on WNYC.
This in from Nadia Sirota and the gang at WQXR’s Q2:
Listen in to Q2 now through Sunday to JacobTV on the Radio: a 5-day celebration of the omnivorous creative world of the game-changing Dutch composer, JacobTV. Festival features include:
- JacobTV as DJ, introducing many of his seminal works (full archival versions to 20+ pieces available on-demand)
- Full on-demand concert audio from Ethel Plays JacobTV: a recent New Sounds Live performance from Merkin Concert Hall with the string quartet Ethel
- Hours of rare, never-before-heard recordings from live concerts and private recordings
- Videos from upcoming pieces, recent collaborations, documentaries, and live performances
- A limited time download of his break-through Grab it! inspired by the documentary Scared Straight!
Q2 | www.q2live.org
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