As I write this, it’s 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 8, and I’m listening to WNYC radio host Terrance McKnight count down the last 30 minutes before New York City’s all-classical WQXR becomes part of the WNYC public radio family. The change to a new radio frequency is being celebrated with a live broadcast of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra’s Carnegie Hall concert, which features Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks,” Webern’s Fuga from Bach’s Musical Offering, the Beethoven Violin Concerto, and the world premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’s Concerto with Echoes. In a few minutes I will move my Bose radio pre-sets so that there is a reserved spot at 105.9 instead of 96.3, and here’s hoping the signal makes it over the airwaves to where I live. The is the main worry that traditional radio listeners may have about the change, other than duplication of radio hosts and programs during the hours when both WNYC-FM and WQXR hosted all-classical programs. (You can view a WQXR program schedule at the WNYC website and a bunch of other FAQs about the switch can be found at here.)
Terrance McKnight sounds pretty happy and proud of the fact that an all-classical station has been preserved in any form in the city of New York. Terrance is now one of two evening hosts associated with the new WQXR. David Garland—the other evening host—is on site at Carnegie Hall, and he’s on air chatting with Terrance. David mentions that he is “cool, calm, and collected” about the “historic moment,” not just the Carnegie Hall broadcast but the big radio switchover about to happen. To make things a little more exciting, substitute violinist Henning Kraggerud is substituting for the originally scheduled Janine Jansen in the Beethoven Violin Concerto.
Yes, in the current climate it is remarkable that we still have a classical-music radio station—not just in light of the economic recession but also the difficulties currently faced by the classical music in general. (I wrote about this at SundayArts in July.)
The classical-music world adapts slowly to change. An obvious point, and an understatement, to be sure. After all, some of what classical music is about is preserving tradition. But that’s not the only thing it’s about. “Classical music” was once new—it wasn’t always old and venerated. (Just think of Puccini’s Tosca or Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.) But nowadays, I don’t know anyone under age 20 who even owns a radio. Alarm clock radio? That comes from a cell phone or iPod. I myself don’t listen to much radio over the traditional airwaves, except if I am driving. At home, almost all my radio listening comes streamed through the computer.
What we all want, in the end, is quality. Right? And we can spend from now to eternity arguing about what “quality” is, whether that’s Julia Wolfe’s wailing “Lad” for nine bagpipes or whether it’s the epic, genre-defining Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Here’s hoping for quality and frequency at the new, higher-up-the-dial WQXR.
Photo: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra