BSO radio series: not live but lively

October 31, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Some things you won't hear on today's "Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Broadcast" at 11 a.m. on WJHU-FM, 88.1:

* BSO conductor David Zinman stumbling several times over the pronunciation of the featured work, Joaquin Roderigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," as performed by guitarist Manuel Barrueco.

* Co-host Lisa Simeone nailing the pronunciation minutes later, and Mr. Zinman asking, "Why can't I say that?" And Ms. Simeone saying, "Because I'm Spanish!"

* Ms. Simeone succumbing to the same mistake on a later take, and Mr. Zinman crying, "Ha, ha, you missed it."

Banter like this, along with re-phrasings and missed cues, is doomed to banishment by editing.

What you will hear is a radio concert of classical music that comes wrapped in an unusually lively and informal package.

At its heart beats the music, this time a lush performance of the 20th-century Spanish composer's best-known work for guitar and orchestra, a rare full rendition of Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid" ballet, and the "Carmen Suite" of Georges Bizet.

But in addition, there's the talk: Mr. Zinman characterizes Mr. Barrueco's passion for his instrument by asking his guest, "You were a guitar junkie, weren't you?"

"I don't even remember deciding about it. There was no question about it," the guitarist replies.

And in discussion with Ms. Simeone, the BSO music director reveals that while Copland's "Billy the Kid" ballet reigns as a quintessential American work, many of its cowboy melodies came from traditional Scottish and Irish folk tunes.

In short, you hear a lot about the music and its performers.

"We're looking for a lot more intimacy than the traditional symphony show," says Judith Schonbach, producer of the 13-program radio series that launched its eighth season earlier this month and continues through December. "David and Lisa provide that connection of colleagues just talking."

Developed and marketed as a change in the way radio presents classical music, "without patronizing or compromising the music itself," the series airs on nearly 140 American Public Radio stations nationwide.

"When we began, we all sat in a room and said, 'Let's not do what everybody else does,' " says BSO executive director John Gidwitz.

"The way they used to do symphony broadcasts -- [that's] what we're trying not to do," explains Ms. Schonbach during a recent taping session. As an example of the old way, she cues up a big reel-to-reel recorder, and the familiar, weighty voice of Robert Conrad, longtime announcer of broadcasts by the Cleveland Symphony, fills the recording studio, intoning the biography of Beethoven.

"These are the people we grew up with. They love numbers -- you know, 'They were born, they died,' " says Mr. Zinman of the traditional radio symphony show.

The conductor has arrived at the WJHU studios on Charles Street wearing an outfit far removed from his usual podium attire: blue jeans, a denim shirt, khaki photographer's vest and running shoes.

Ms. Simeone makes herself even more at home. She slips an old red bathrobe over her street clothes as the co-hosts enter a soundproof booth notorious for its chill.

The announcers sit at a table bearing a pair of microphones, separated from Ms. Schonbach by a glass partition. In the control room, Ms. Schonbach sits astride a rolling chair and hunches over the console as the co-hosts begin reading a scripted introduction to one program. Ms. Schonbach writes the scripts and, like Mr. Zinman and Ms. Simeone, has been doing the BSO broadcasts since their inception.

Through two hours of taping, Ms. Schonbach conducts the two radio hosts in their discussion-performance as if she were Mr. Zinman leading an orchestra. She uses hand gestures through the studio window to get more emphasis here, less there, and claps in praise when a sequence has been completed.

At one point she stops the WJHU announcer in mid-sentence.

"Lisa, we need that smile in your voice. Try it again."

At several points during the morning's taping, Ms. Schonbach propels herself a dozen feet backward across the control room ** on her rolling chair to cue one of the numerous interviews Mr. Zinman has recorded earlier.

After this session, she will cut and splice hours' worth of tape into the introductions, interviews and discussion segments that wrap the music in each two-hour broadcast. "I like to edit tape -- which I guess I'd better," she says.

(Most of the music in the current radio season was recorded during concerts last season, under the direction of engineer Paul Blakemore.)

In between taping sessions, Mr. Zinman keeps Ms. Simeone laughing with occasionally scandalous asides -- among others, revealing the news that composer Anton Bruckner attended exhumations for amusement.

Preparing to talk about pianist Micha Dichter, he complains, "Why did it have to be Dichter and not Sharon Stone? Why do I always have to have all these pianists? Why can't I have actresses?"

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