Classical Iowa

Classical Iowa showcases classical music - from artists and concerts across the world to local artists and performances here in Iowa. Hosted by Barney Sherman, Jacqueline Halbloom, and Curt Snook, Classical Iowa shares the world of classical music with you. Have a question or a comment? Contact Us.

Pianist Bruce Brubaker, born and raised in Des Moines, is  one of today's most admired pianists - and a renowned collaborator with such major composers as John Cage, Philip Glass, and Meredith Monk. Bruce is in Iowa this week to work with some other major Iowan musicians in a SummerMusic concert centered on Terry Riley.

Marco Borggreve

Join us on Wednesdays at 7PM to hear concerts from the latest Salzburg Festival. Mozart's hometown focuses, naturally, on the music of its great native son, though in coming weeks we'll also hear other great Austrians, but for the opener, it's all Mozart - and what a program! It begins with the ballet from one of his great operas, Idomeneo; then comes what some people regard as his greatest piano concerto, No. 17 in G major (it's almost an opera for instruments).

 “This ain’t no special pleading,” wrote Tom Service when he put Louise Farrenc's Third Symphony into his invaluable guide to the 50 greatest symphonies.

Photo by Nate Ryan / Minnesota Public Radio; used by permission

This May, the Minnesota Orchestra became the first US orchestra to perform in Cuba since the normalization process began. Tonight you can hear the first concert they gave at 7PM when IPR Classical airs SymphonyCast (or you can stream the concert at Minnesota Public Radio).

 For three decades,  Curt Snook shared with Iowa the music he loves, plus a trove of fascinating facts, insights, ideas, and stories. Curt reached retirement on Tuesday, but after his last air shift stayed in the studio a little longer to chat with me (and all of us) about his life and career. What a pleasure it was!  To hear the audio, click on the arrow below.

Barney Sherman

In 2009, Michael Gilbertson - a young man from Dubuque who has become one of America's leading composers - wanted to raise funds for his alma mater, the Northeast Iowa School of Music.

  Where can you find a thriving classical new-music scene playing to capacity audiences that love the premieres even more than the chestnuts? In small Iowa towns - if you realize that "new music" includes not just the challenging fare that wins Pulitzers but also a growing repertory of pieces for chorus. The 21st-century renaissance of new choral music also thrives outside of Iowa, of course - our neighbor to the north, Minnesota, is one of several states to have played key roles, and so are a number of countries, including many near the Baltic and North Seas.

Rachel Barton Pine spoke to me in January about her new Mozart concerto set - and since then it has earned great reviews and been chosen as one of our $15/month pledge premiums. The Telegraph said that Rachel's playing reveals "subtleties alongside the grace and exuberance that render the music endlessly fascinating and appealing"; it also praised the "ever-stylish" Sir Neville Marriner and his Academy of St.

Last week, a suit over a Marvin Gaye song put copyright into the headlines; but last year, the top copyright stories involved classical music. I wrote about one of those stories in a previous post, and now want to tell you about an even more memorable one.

Tony in Devon on Wikimedia commons

Editor's Note (by Barney): In 1951, Dylan Thomas spent some time in Iowa. Two years later, his now-classic play Under Milk Wood premiered in New York City at the 92nd Street YNow, Susan Scheid, who spent some years in Iowa before moving to New York, tells us below about a Welsh composer who recently dared to set Under Milk Wood to music.

Do classical players focus too much on the written notes for the good of the music? Simone Dinnerstein explained why she thinks so when we talked last week.

Rachel Barton Pine, who performed recently in Ames as part of the period-instrument group Trio Settecento, has just released her first recording with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner - and last week, she talked with me about it. The set includes all of Mozart's concertos for violin and it's outstanding. In 0ur interview, she talks about why each concerto is a mini-opera, the value of writing your own cadenzas, the lessons a "modern-instrument" player can learn from playing period instruments (although she uses her modernized Guarneri  on this set), and more.


[UPDATED Jan 18: Expanded to include 36 publications and over 100 critics - yielding some new rankings:] What were the best classical releases of 2014? Don't ask me!- or any one person alone. After all, thousands of releases came out last year, and nobody had the time or money to listen to every contender. Besides, we're more likely to hear about artists from our own necks of the woods. And that neck is defined not only geographically but also musically, since most critics have specialized tastes and expertise. 

Editor's note: it's a pleasure to offer another in our series of classical reviews by IPR's panel of guest experts - this one by Dubuque native, cellist, author, and Boston Public Radio producer Will Roseliep (see below for his bio and links).


Jean Sibelius "created Finnish national identity in music." Asked to characterize their culture, Finns "invariably mention… ‘our Sibelius.’” But


I was working on a post about a fascinating footnote to American cultural history: that half of our popular Christmas songs were written by my people, the Jews.  Before I'd made it through the first draft, I tuned to Iowa Public Radio and discovered that I'd been scooped by Here & Now, to which I can only say, "Phew!" Here is their "A Goyische Christmas to You," about a show done annually by pianist/vocal coach extraordinaire Steven Blier.

Margareta Mitchell

In 2014, two American composers whose name begin with "John" and end with "Adams" were surprised to find themselves in front-page headlines. One of them,  John Luther Adams, says he never imagined that he'd win the Pulitzer Prize - but it was bestowed in April on his orchestral work Become Ocean (here's the All Things Considered story).

 Welcome to IPR's Classical CD Review Page! Check in weekly for new reviews by IPR staff and friends near and far.

public domain/ wikipedia

As promised, the classical Halloween countdown continues - thanks for your input!  Yesterday I posted eight picks; here are five more classical scares to bring my total Web count up to 13. Most of these pieces (and a few others) will get an airing Friday, either during my shift (1-5 pm) or before or after; meanwhile, here are some youtube versions.


It's that time again! If you have any classical-music Halloween favorites, write to us at Tonight I'll post a few possibilities just to get the conversation started; tomorrow night I'll post a few more. Then, on Friday afternoon, tune in to hear what we end up with! To start things off:

When the Folias Duo came to Iowa, the husband-wife pair's first stop was Cedar Falls, where they played a live set in IPR Classical's Studio Two. They'd been on the road for seven hours, but their zest was irresistible. Try it: here's a video of their IPR performance of Cumparsita Vals,  a waltz-time reimagining of the classic tango La Cumparsita by Argentine composer Pablo Aslan:

Iowa's orchestras, choirs, bands, & operas are awesome, but let's not forget our chamber music! Tune in 7AM Saturday or 8PM Sunday to hear two recent highlight from the Ames Town & Gown Chamber Music Association, now in its 65th season.

In what ways could music relate to the human voice without Auto-Tune or even, necessarily, language - or, for that matter, even singing? New classical CDs are exploring a fascinating range of possibilities, and several are either by or about Iowans. In reverse chronological order, here are five standouts:

He would have cranked up his radio louder and louder as his hearing got worse, but there's no doubt that if public radio had existed, Beethoven would have been an addict. And according to Jan Swafford, "People who knew Beethoven said politics was his favorite subject." So in addition to IPR Classical, I'd bet LvB would have had a preset for IPR's News/Talk stream. Do you seriously think this man would have missed an episode of All Things Considered?

In May, Simon Estes came to IPR to talk about his life and work, and one hour seemed way too short! His history is extraordinary: his grandparents were slaves, his father was a miner in Centerville, IA , then a major coal town, and he grew up to become one of the world's greatest opera singers. He broke many color barriers, including becoming the first black man to sing lead roles at the Bayreuth Festival (founded by Richard Wagner to showcase his operas). Dr.

In my post Is Parity Time Here for the Classical Violin? I mention a list I put together of classical solo violinists born after 1970, which I said illustrates my thesis that the field has attained gender parity. I mentioned, however, that the list is provisional - the best I could come up with from my perch in northeast Iowa - and that I welcome your input. Let me know what I missed, but meanwhile, here's the list:

To paraphrase my previous post, if you think women have it bad in classical music, take a look at supposedly contemporary arts like film, literature, rock, jazz, blues, and country

Listen below to a podcast of a live set from our studio Monday featuring four stellar young musicians from ChamberFest Dubuque.  Dubuque native Michael Gilbertson founded the festival in 2009; since then his compositions have won the Israel Prize and major awards from ASCAP and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and have been performed by the Washington National Opera, the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, a

Join us Monday at 7 PM to hear the Quad City Symphony in Beethoven, Brahms, and ... Bancks. In March, the orchestra premiered a work by local composer Jacob Bancks specifically about the Quad Cities.