Classical Music in the Afternoon

Weekdays at 1 p.m. on IPR Classical

Could ours be a golden age of classical music? Around the world and around our state, people are writing music that goes straight to the heart, and performing older masterworks with the fluency of people speaking a native tongue. Barney's mission is to make it easy for you to connect to this new era of classical excellence, while providing you with musical companionship you can count on every afternoon.

NOTE: When searching for a particular date's playlist, please set your date parameters one date newer than the day you want to review. For example, if you would like to view a playlist from the 12th, set your search date as the 13th.

Ways to Connect

Randy Darst

 How often in 2016 do you read a genuinely civil online disagreement between smart, informed people? Even better, about your own profession? This week, two notable composers,  Kurt Knecht  and Daniel Gilliam, had exactly that kind of exchange about classical radio. I regard composers as having inside knowledge of music, so I’m relieved to find that I agree with most of what they say.

Simon Estes Foundation

  In the 1970s, Simon Estes - the son of an Iowa coal miner and grandson of slaves - was triumphing in Europe's most legendary opera houses. He starred at La Scala, Covent Garden, Salzburg, Glyndebourne, and the  Bayreuth Festival (where he was the first male of African descent to sing lead roles).  But here in his home country, top opera companies ignored him, and the reason was obvious: race. That slight could have embittered almost anyone, but not Estes. What saw him through was guidance from his mother - advice she had first given him when he was a child in Centerville, Iowa.

Phil Mauss

Red Cedar Chamber Music is marking its 20th anniversary with a first-ever passing of the baton. The founders of this unique cultural resource, Jan Boland and John Dowdall, will retire -  but only after they searched carefully for the right successors. They eventually settled on another husband/wife team, cellist Carey Bostian and violinist Meira Kim, and happily, the Iowa City couple accepted the offer.

When critics chose their favorite classical disks of 2015, they mentioned hundreds of albums at least once, several more than once, and a select few way more than that.  To get the details, my annual "mega-meta-list" tallied 67 best-of-year lists, which included over 160 writers from around the world.

Today's output of classical albums is (pardon me while I scribble on the back of an envelope) something like triple what it was a generation ago.

Every day, IPR’s sound-engineer extraordinaire Phil Maass solves knotty problems that demand thinking outside the box. So it's not surprising that when I was trying to whittle down my list of classical releases for Charity Nebbe’s year-end show, it was Phil who came up with the fix. Why, he asked, does it need to be the Top 10? Why not 15 or 17 or whatever number it comes out to? [UPDATE: I stopped at 21... see below.]

"Gallen-Kallela Symposium" by Akseli Gallen-Kallela - Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -

  Jean Sibelius was a father figure not only for Finnish music but for Finland's emergence as an independent nation. His music, with its references to Finnish lore and its awe at the power of nature, was considered old-fashioned by some in the mid 20th century - but today sounds especially relevant to many of our leading composer (and music lovers!).

Barney Sherman

Violinist Sarah Plum won a gold medal at the International Stulberg Competion (other medalists have included Joshua Bell and Jennifer Koh) and went on to become a great violinist - but less renowned than she deserves to be, because she usually focuses on new music, including a CD this year of two concertos composed for her.  But she also can play Vivaldi and Beethoven like a god, as she's de

Sunday, Suzanne Bona - host of Sunday Baroque - will join Barney Sherman on IPR Classical for a year-end pledge special. Suzanne will be heard as usual from 8AM; Barney will take over at 11; then the two of them join together from noon-2PM. (Barney will remain until 4pm). And from 11Am to 4PM, a special thank-you gift will be available at a reduced price: Stile Antico's beautiful new "Wondrous Mystery" CD.

George Kobreek at

Nicholas Roth - a professor of piano at Drake and a renowned recording artist - is performing Monday at 7:30PM at Sheslow Auditorium in Des Moines. You should definitely take the opportunity to hear this Yamaha Artist live! Meanwhile, you can hear his recent interview with Barney Sherman (and some samples of his playing) by clicking on the arrow below. The Monday-night recital is part of Drake's "Keys to Excellence" series; be there if you're nearby, but meanwhile, tune in to sample Roth's art!

Two renowned musicians - violinist Sarah Plum of Drake and pianist Francine Kay of Princeton - are giving a series of concerts in Iowa this week. You can hear them live in Des Moines Wednesday at noon at St. John's Lutheran Church and at 7:30 at Sheslow Auditorium at Drake - but you can get a live preview at 1 PM on IPR! Barney will host them live, as they perform Beethoven's Violin Sonata no. 10 and Bartok's Violin Sonata no. 2.

  The 2015 Black Hawk Chamber Music Festival culminates Monday night at 7:30 with a Renaissance / Baroque concert at Iowa City's Congregational United Church of Christ. Last Thursday, the soloists - flutist Jeffrey Cohan and plucked-string master Oleg Timofeyev - came into our Iowa City studio t0 give Iowa a live preview. They were interviewed by Barney, who hosted from Cedar Falls. (Listen by clicking the arrow below!)

Jim Poynter

A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR (Barney Sherman): Hebrew was in ancient times a living language. Then, like Latin, it “died” – it ceased to be a native tongue for everyday speech, and was instead used only in liturgy, scholarship, and literature. But in the 20th century it was brought back to life as a daily language. The revival of spoken Hebrew had no precedent and has been challenging to duplicate. Would a similar revival be just as unlikely, then, in music?

A woman in 19th-century France equaled her male peers in composing music. What can we learn from her career about how to close the gender gap today?

 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.

Red Cedar Chamber Music

A century ago, a couple named the Brintons from Washington, Iowa, assembled one of the world's great collections of silent films. (Sussie Ahlburg)

   It's International Women's Day - and you can hear some great women musicians on IPR this afternoon! On my show until 4PM I'm focusing on music by women composers (with three exceptions: Bach, Mozart, and Brahms conducted by women in performances that can't be surpassed). Tune in - I guarantee you'll discover at least one new favorite piece! Meanwhile, on The Folk Tree, Karen Impola is focusing on female folk performers. 

Here are links to a couple of posts I wrote last year about women in classical 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. 


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.

 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. [Updated Oct. 2015: 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 Here are a few possibilities just to get the conversation started; tomorrow I'll post a few more.  To start things off: