Cellist Alisa Weilerstein shares personal stories from her childhood, when her first cello was a cereal box with a chopstick for a bow. She discusses the pressures of the music industry, and how to cope psychologically with the stage, sharing that most of her pressures are self-imposed. She discusses the nature of criticism, whether from one's self or others, her strategies in the recording studio and the practice room, and how to set limits in a musical world of high demands.
In Performance: Alisa Weilerstein
Bach: Cello Suite No. 3, BWV 1009
Episode 48: Bruce Adolphe – Composer
“Are you feeling emotion, or are you just showing it?”
A renowned composer whose music is performed throughout the world, Bruce Adolphe isn't just the author of several books on music, an innovative educator, and a versatile performer. He's also resident lecturer and director of family concerts for The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; composer-in-residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute; founding creative director of The Learning Maestros; artistic director of Off the Hook Arts; and host of The Piano Puzzler on NPR's Performance Today.
Episode 47: Roger Nierenberg – Conductor
“Play in such a way as to make everybody around you better.”
Conductor Roger Nierenberg discusses his Music Paradigm, in which he seats business executives within orchestras to demonstrate engaging and humorous lessons in leadership through a love of music. Full of anecdotes about Leonard Bernstein and Carlos Kleiber and the complex character of conductors, this episode is surprising in its highlight of the transformative power of music.
Episode 46: Susan Graham – Mezzo-soprano
“My career was mostly motivated by fear.”
Susan Graham joins us for a candid look at her life and storied career, and shares her insights into the world of the singer. She describes her "Leave it to Beaver" upbringing in Texas and how she made the shift from Broadway tunes to the world of opera. With humorous anecdotes, she gives insights into her relationship with her audiences, the music she sings, and how she could have never foreseen the success she later found.
Episode 45: Dmitri Levkovich – Pianist and Composer
“I knew a teacher who for the last 20 years watched TV while teaching lessons.”
Dmitri Levkovich, who won top prizes in nearly 20 competitions around the world, discusses creative processes and daily practice, the benefits of competitions, the self-teaching artists do in solitude, recollections of his teacher Sergei Babayan and the development of technique, and how he overcame four years of tendinitis.
Episode 44: Jennifer Koh – Violinist
“I truly believe that art gives us the gift of empathy.”
Jennifer Koh made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11, and has since been heard with leading orchestras around the world. She is Musical America’s 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year, a winner of the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and a recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Ms. Koh is also the Artistic Director of arco collaborative, an artist-driven nonprofit that fosters a better understanding of our world through a musical dialogue inspired by ideas and the communities around us.
Episode 43: Anthony Roth Costanzo – Countertenor
“Perfection is deeply boring.”
Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and praised by the New York Times for his “utterly riveting performances,” Anthony Roth Costanzo is quickly rising to international stature as he performs with the world’s great orchestras and opera houses. In a surprisingly lighthearted conversation about the world of countertenors, Anthony describes how he stumbled into singing and acting, what is unusual and powerful about falsetto singing, and what it feels like to be naked on stage, literally and figuratively.
Episode 42: Caroline Oltmanns – Pianist
“Performing is like a drug.”
As an International Steinway Artist, Fulbright Scholar, and recipient of the Stipendium der deutschen Wirtschaft, Caroline Oltmanns is Professor of Piano at Youngstown State University and holds degrees from the Staatliche Musikhochschule Freiburg and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Caroline Oltmanns has recorded six solo albums on the Filia Mundi label. Her playing has been broadcast globally on radio and television. This season, Oltmanns released her new concept album, Ghosts. Past seasons have included concert tours to Switzerland, Germany, South Africa, and China where she performed for sold-out houses.
Episode 41: Astrid Schween – Cellist
“I try to not wait until I am too comfortable.”
Cellist Astrid Schween is the newest member of the Juilliard Quartet and a new member of the Juilliard School faculty. An active juror and panelist, she was recently featured in Strings and Strad magazines and on NPR, and was an invited speaker at the Library of Congress on the role of women in music. In our exclusive interview, she discusses the learning she experienced after she left school, cultivating an individual voice, finding joy and ease on stage, recollections of Mstislav Rostropovich and Jacqueline du Pré, and many other fascinating topics.
A living legend, immortalized in Philip Roth's novel "The Human Stain": "He crushes it. He doesn't let that piano conceal a thing. Whatever's in there is going to come out, and come out with its hands in the air. And when it does, everything there out in the open, the last of the last pulsation, he himself gets up and goes, leaving behind him our redemption. With a jaunty wave, he is suddenly gone, and though he takes all his fire off with him like no less a force than Prometheus, our own lives now seem inextinguishable. Nobody is dying, nobody – not if Bronfman has anything to say about it."
Episode 39: Deborah Voigt – Operatic Soprano
“I don’t try to reel my audience in — I try to reel myself in.”
In one of our most emotionally revealing interviews, American operatic soprano Deborah Voigt opens up about her long and acclaimed career. She discusses performance psychology, acting, the difficulty of maintaining relationships while on the road, and speaks candidly about her struggle with addiction and weight loss.
Episode 38: Lowell Liebermann – Composer
“Composition is something you have to do because you can't imagine doing anything else.”
Lowell Liebermann is one of America's most frequently performed and recorded living composers. Called by the New York Times "as much of a traditionalist as an innovator," his music is known for its technical command and audience appeal. He has written over one hundred works, several of which have gone on to become standard repertoire for their instruments. His "Sonata for Flute and Piano" and "Gargoyles for Piano" have each been recorded at least twenty times.
Episode 37: Christina & Michelle Naughton – Pianists
“I don’t think performance ever becomes comfortable — we like that risk.”
Seldom are collaborators more sympathetically aligned. Christina and Michelle Naughton have been hailed by the San Francisco Examiner for their “stellar musicianship, technical mastery, and awe-inspiring artistry.” They made their European debut at Herkulesaal in Munich, where the Süddeutsche Zeitung proclaimed them “an outstanding piano duo.” After their Asian debut with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, the Sing Tao Daily said of their performance, “Joining two hearts and four hands at two grand pianos, the Naughton sisters created an electrifying and moving musical performance.” Their second album, Visions, was named "Editor's Choice" in 2016 by Gramophone Magazine.
In Performance: Christina & Michelle Naughton
Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106 (Sonatina from "Actus Tragicus") J.S. Bach/G. Kurtág
Episode 36: Steven Isserlis – Cellist and Author
“My career didn’t really start to take off until I was thirty. I was by no means a prodigy.”
Acclaimed worldwide for his profound musicianship and technical mastery, British cellist Steven Isserlis enjoys a distinguished career as a soloist, chamber musician, educator, author and broadcaster. The recipient of many awards, Steven Isserlis’s honors include a CBE in recognition of his services to music, and the Schumann Prize of the City of Zwickau. He is also one of only two living cellists featured in Gramophone’s Hall of Fame.
Episode 35: Jeremy Denk – Pianist
“The way that people build careers is mysterious and unique to each person.”
Jeremy Denk is one of America’s foremost pianists – an artist the New York Times hails as someone ‘you want to hear no matter what he performs’. Winner of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, the Avery Fisher Prize, and Musical America’s Instrumentalist of the Year award, he has recently appeared as soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and London. Mr. Denk discusses his passions, daily work, and the challenges of touring, and he demonstrates at the piano examples of Beethoven, Byrd, Bach, and Verdi.
Episode 34: Lawrence Brownlee – Award-winning Tenor
“Perfection is never the goal. It's about being special.”
One of the most in-demand singers around the world, Brownlee was recently nominated for “Male Singer of the Year” by the International Opera Awards. He has performed with nearly every leading international opera house and festival, as well as major orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Academia di Santa Cecila, Boston Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra.
Episode 33: David Stull – President and Tubist
“Musicians are so incredibly well-equipped to be successful.”
The President of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music explains why trained musicians thrive in the business world. In a compelling discussion about what is required of conservatories to train the new musician of the 21st century and what students must do to cope with changing models of success, David Stull discusses what he did to raise funds and create a dynamic new curriculum, at a time when the cost of higher education has reached crisis levels — and why a classical musician is the best-equipped individual in any field.
Episode 32: Nicholas King – Pianist and Philanthropist
“I realized, of all the places I'd played, the one that was most meaningful for me was the meat department.”
Nicholas King describes his unique path from childhood performances in a supermarket, through conservatory, to establishing his own philanthropy and performing around the world. He's won an impressive array of contests and awards, including the Congressional Medal of Recognition, and is living proof that, by helping others, you help yourself.
Episode 31: Jennifer O'Loughlin - Soprano
“We’re vulnerable: we need the approval of others in order to continue — we need the applause.”
Soprano Jennifer O'Loughlin shares a unique look into the world of a young opera singer who has received critical acclaim for her performances in Europe, America, and Japan. Her singing has been described as "a miracle of precision" and "bewitching, brilliant and theatrical." Nominated for the Best Female Lead by the Austrian Music Theater Awards, she also portrayed Amira in "La Sonnambula", winning the "AZ Stern des Jahres" for the best opera in Munich in 2015. O'Loughlin discusses making a pathway in a life in music, learning and preparing for a role, backstage routines, dealing with reviews, and the importance of a great vocal coach.
Episode 30: Rachel Barton Pine - Violinist
“Nervousness is a threat to the self — but if it’s not about the self, there is no threat to it.”
Award-winning violin soloist, recording artist, and born motivational speaker Rachel Barton Pine has appeared regularly with the world's major orchestra's ever since her first appearance with the Chicago Symphony at age ten. Embodying her message of hope and passionate living, her appearance on Living the Classical Life begins with a performance of J.S. Bach's D Minor Partita and continues with a discussion about the art of practicing, overcoming adversity and motivational slumps, and the pursuit of all corners of the musical life.
Episode 29: Franklin Cohen - Clarinetist and Educator
“I never saw music as a career.”
Since his first solo appearance with The Cleveland Orchestra in 1977, Mr. Cohen has been featured as soloist in nearly 200 performances — at Severance Hall, Carnegie Hall, Blossom Music Center, and on tour throughout the United States, Asia and Europe. He has also been a featured artist with many of the world’s leading chamber groups. His former students hold principal positions in major orchestras in North America, Europe, Mexico and Asia.
Episode 28: Tim Page - Author, Producer, and Educator
“My first experience with music was using it to self-medicate.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning music critic, author, producer, and professor Tim Page recounts how he found music at an early age and went on to write for the New York Times and the Washington Post. He discusses his love of art and music, and what it takes to be a perceptive critic. He also examines his discovery of Asperger’s Syndrome as an adult, and how it has affected his life in often surprising ways, including his friendship with Glenn Gould.
Episode 27: Merry Peckham - Cellist and Educator
“Chamber music was like a narcotic for me.”
Merry Peckham has toured extensively throughout the US and abroad, and won the overall string category as well as the cello division of the National Federation of Music Clubs Competition. She is a founding member of the award-winning Cavani Quartet, Director of The Chamber Music Workshop at The Perlman Music Program, and is on the cello and chamber music faculties at The Cleveland Institute of Music. She is also host of the radio program Offbeat, aired weekly on WCLV, 104.9 FM.
Episode 26: Jerome Lowenthal - Pianist and Educator
“My mother said, ‘I never wanted you to become a pianist.’"
Distinguished pianist, recording artist, and eminent Juilliard faculty member Jerome Lowenthal discusses the changing musical world, his legendary teachers William Kapell and Alfred Cortot, the positive side of participating in competitions, and the young musician's path to success through personal and musical well-being.
Episode 25: Anne Akiko Meyers - Violinist
“I once had to stab at a bee with my bow during a performance of Prokofiev Second.”
After nearly three decades of performing, American violinist and top-selling recording artist Anne Akiko Meyers has seen it all. In this episode, she discusses her beginnings on major stages of the world, conquering stage fright, her passion for new music, and her relationship with audiences. She also tells a moving story of early struggles and doubts that led to renewed passion for performance.
Episode 24: Pierre van der Westhuizen - Pianist and President of the Cleveland International Piano Competition
“To prepare for a competition, you train like an athlete but you perform like a poet.”
President of the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition, pianist Pierre van der Westhuizen shares a unique look into the world of competitions. He discusses his own musical path to being the President, what it takes to successfully prepare for and win a competition, and how a competition can produce winners with staying power. He ends with a discussion on pianists who successfully built careers without competitions, and a revealing look at how the Cleveland Competition successfully avoids scandal.
Episode 23: Mark Ainley – Author/Lecturer
“A musician who plays a work for twenty years has actually had a longer relationship with the piece than the composer had.”
Mark Ainley is a specialist in historical piano recordings and the great pianists of the past. He has written about Dinu Lipatti, Marcelle Meyer, Alfred Cortot, Egon Petri, and other legendary pianists for various magazines and CD booklet notes. His research about Lipatti resulted in the discovery of lost recordings and their 1994 publication won a German Music Critic's Award.
22: Zuill Bailey – Cellist
“I attracted what I was looking for. I exuded what I wanted to happen.”
Zuill Bailey is a soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, professor, artistic director, and sometime actor (as seen on the HBO series Oz and NBC's Homicide). He talks with us about taking up the cello as a child; a transcendent and life-changing moment on stage; making a living as a musician; finding an instrument and artistic voice; and what he's learned from the recording process.
21: Matthew Aucoin – Composer/Conductor
“I started with classical music and then got disillusioned nice and early, which is good because you get it out of the way and go back to having illusions afterwards.”
Hailed by the New York Times as “Opera’s Great 25-Year-Old Hope,” Matthew Aucoin shares his passion for opera with a heartfelt traversal of Mozart’s “Figaro,” and discusses unusual pathways to classical music via an early rock band ensemble.
Recent and upcoming performances of Aucoin’s orchestral and chamber works include performances by the Zürich Tonhalle Orchestra, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the SOLI Chamber Ensemble, and the Gramercy Trio.
20: Nathan Gunn – Grammy-winning Baritone
“You really cannot make any progress if you’re not okay with yourself. You can’t make progress until you let yourself sound like you.”
Grammy-winning singer Nathan Gunn has made a reputation around the world as one of the most exciting and in-demand baritones of the day and has appeared with the world's major opera houses and orchestras. He opens up about the world and magic of stage, the psychology and survival of the performer, the musician's breaking free financially, and breaking down barriers in every sense.
19: The Jupiter String Quartet
“Our rule about rehearsal from the beginning was to not complain about each other to anybody else afterwards. You don’t talk about Fight Club outside of Fight Club.”
Winner of the prestigious Banff, Young Concert Artists, and Fischoff competitions, the Cleveland Quartet Award, and an Avery Fisher Grant, the Jupiter Quartet features graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Music and Oberlin Conservatory. They discuss competitions, rehearsals, sound, management, group dynamics, and making a living in a changing musical world.
18: Roger Chase – Violist and Educator
“I was very bad at being told how to play — I wanted to find out for myself.”
Roger Chase has been invited to perform as guest principal violist with most of the major British orchestras and many others in North America and Europe. The current owner of the 1717 Montagnana viola, he has recorded for EMI, Virgin, and Hyperion, and taught at the Royal College of Music, Guildhall, and Oberlin. This episode includes rehearsals with host Zsolt Bognár in Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, and an intense conversation about fear and elation on stage, overcoming frustration in the pursuit of perfection, making a living, and being a rebel.
In performance: The Jupiter String Quartet – "Death and the Maiden," 1st Movement
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 14 in d minor, "Death and the Maiden"
In performance at Smith Memorial Hall, University of Illinois.
17: Isabel Leonard – Grammy-winning Mezzo-Soprano
“It’s easier for me when I can’t see the audience.”
Grammy award winner and recipient of the 2013 Richard Tucker Award, Isabel Leonard is on the Board of Trustees at Carnegie Hall and is in constant demand as a recitalist, having appeared with some of the foremost conductors of her time. Highly acclaimed for her “passionate intensity and remarkable vocal beauty,” she continues to thrill audiences both in the opera house and on the concert stage in repertoire that spans from Vivaldi to Mozart to Thomas Ades.
16: Joshua Bell – Grammy-winning American Violinist
"Historically, violinists have been gamblers... My mother, my sisters, and I, we all have the gambling bug."
Joshua Bell is one of the most celebrated violinists of his era. His restless curiosity, passion, and multi-faceted musical interests have earned him the rare title of "classical music superstar." Recently named the Music Director of the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Bell is the first person to hold this post since Sir Neville Marriner formed the orchestra in 1958.
15: Case Scaglione – Conductor and Solti Foundation Fellow
“It’s a paradoxical, Buddhist concept: the way to really influence an orchestra is let their sound go through you, with your ears open.”
Winner of the Solti Foundation Conductor’s Prize, Case Scaglione went from trombone player in a Texas high school band to Associate Conductor of the New York Philharmonic, a position revived specially for him by Music Director Alan Gilbert. He discusses his life, the complex relationship between conductor and players, and how to make a modern orchestra sound as Bach intended.
14: Yuja Wang – Pianist and Deutsche Grammophon Recording Artist
“Life... music and what I do... has to be intermixed, has to be together... or else I feel like I’m not alive.”
In an unusually intimate portrait, young piano superstar Yuja Wang speaks of her life and work, demonstrating by musical examples throughout—including a staggering and delightful rendition of an Art Tatum arrangement of “Tea for Two.” She describes her musical aspirations in contrast with audience perceptions, the value of practicing and not practicing, learning and relearning a piece, and the importance of struggle for musical results. She ends the interview with a touching tribute to the late Claudio Abbado.
13: Peter Takács – Pianist and Distinguished Professor at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music
“Luck favors the prepared mind.”
Peter Takács describes how a traversal of the complete Beethoven Sonata cycle takes the performer to the heart of Beethoven's human qualities. He reflects on the performer's relationship with the musical score, the recording process in the studio, and how to sustain spontaneity, demonstrating with musical examples.
12: Robert Durso – Pianist, Master Taubman Teacher, and Director of the Golandsky Institute at Princeton University
“How early do you really need to be a virtuoso pianist to succeed as a pianist in life? At one time people assumed that the world was flat—by a function of agreement.”
Filmed at his home in Philadelphia, Durso discusses misconceptions about musical promotion in the world today, the importance of balance, the role of teaching in a musician’s life, and describes his own encounters with the work and life of Dorothy Taubman as well as the controversies surrounding her work. The episode ends with a performance excerpt of Bach-Kurtág.
11: Christopher O’Riley – Pianist and Host of NPR’s “From the Top”
“I want the audience not to come with preconceived notions but to decide on the evidence of their ears and their hearts what is good.”
Filmed in his home in Cleveland, Christopher O’Riley talks about his multifaceted musical life, from the practicalities of traveling with a keyboard to nurturing the next generation of musicians. He explains and demonstrates how he found his musical voice through a diversification of projects, ranging from his Radiohead arrangements to his Liszt Project.
10: Daniil Trifonov – winner of the Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky Competitions, and Deutsche Grammophon recording artist
“Establishing closer connection to the music... your fingers go directly from your heart.”
Extraordinary young piano phenomenon Daniil Trifonov describes his workday and methods while demonstrating from his repertoire. He discusses the importance of isolation in musical discovery, his experiments with sound and emotional impulse in practice, and shares some unusual methods of practice to illuminate the creation of authentic musical performances.
09: Stephen Hough – pianist, composer, poet, author, and MacArthur Fellow
“You get to a certain age when you don’t care so much what people think about you... and that’s one of the great things about getting older.”
Filmed in Steinway Hall in NYC, polymath pianist Stephen Hough describes his diverse creative projects, the importance of making a positive impression, the non-linear progress of learning, and how to deal with success and failure. Hough emphasizes the influence of his teacher Gordon Green, performance psychology, the artist’s role as an outsider, and his own perspective on the state of human rights in the world.
08: Tanya Gabrielian – activist and award-winning pianist
“The thing I hate about classical music is it’s basically a selfish pursuit.”
In one of the most talked-about episodes, Tanya Gabrielian begins with a performance of Glinka's "The Lark" and then discusses elitism in music, the highly engineered nature of some musical careers, her own way to find rewards in a lack of pretense, and her involvement in mental health awareness activism.
07: David Aladashvili – pianist and recording artist
“Every time I practice, I decide to quit. When I don't practice, everything is fine.”
Rising star David Aladashvili discusses the his early musical education, his background as an actor and how to translate method acting to music, the challenges of daily practice, his dislike of competitions, and Juilliard as a source of musical opportunities. The episode features excerpts of Chopin and Liszt in recital.
06: Paul Schenly – pianist, distinguished teacher and founder of Pianofest in the Hamptons
“The people who seem to have the best and most fulfilling musical careers are the ones who are warm human beings—good people—and attract people to their human qualities as well as their musical ones.”
Paul Schenly, winner of the Avery Fisher Prize, discusses the founding of Pianofest, the importance of friendships in careers, the role of competitions in musical development, the different types of stage fright, and dealing with reviews. He also shares his own personal reasons for becoming a musician.
05: Joel Smirnoff – Grammy-winning violinist and President of the Cleveland Institute of Music
“We’re working constantly as artists to overcome what we feel are our limitations”
Zsolt talks to Joel Smirnoff, recipient of the Lifetime Grammy Award and former first violinist of the Juilliard String Quartet, about his life and work in music: composing, avoiding the straight and narrow, what makes a complete musician, and why the musical life in Cleveland is special.
04: Young Classical Musicians Today
“If you do what you love, you do it well, and you give it your all, somebody will notice eventually.”
Four young rising stars in the classical music world discuss how to make a living, dealing with auditions, competitions, the role of teachers, and getting concerts. Featuring soprano Ariel Rose Bodman, violinist Filip Pogády, conductor Kyle Ritenauer, and composer-violinist Fernando Arroyo García-Lascurain.
03: Cosmo Buono – pianist, festival director, and manager
“We live in fear of other people’s judgment—it really doesn’t mean that much, as long as we’re doing our job and touching people.”
Cosmo Buono of the Bradshaw and Buono Competition discusses the world of managers and marketing, finding a niche, avoiding disappointment and tunnel vision, and the dangers of perfection.
02: Joseph Patrych – Grammy-nominated record producer
“Live performance and recording are not even the same art—nobody knows better than me how fake CDs are.”
This episode begins with a recording session of Schubert’s A-flat Impromptu D935. Patrych discusses the changing world of recording and the prolific underground world of pirate recordings. He also sets the record straight about a scandal at Carnegie Hall on November 1, 2006 that was reported on in the New York Times.
01: Joshua Roman – cellist and TED Fellow
“I don’t believe in time zones.”
Award-winning young American cellist Joshua Roman discusses the challenges of a musician's travel, health and injuries, the world of competitions, and the role of mental practice. The episode concludes with host and guest in a rehearsal of Schumann's "Five Pieces in Folk Style."