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Preview: WQXR at 75

WQXR at 75



WQXR, the nation's first commercial classical radio station, celebrates its 75th birthday this fall with articles, videos and reminiscences.



Updated: 2012-04-30T14:22:01-04:00

 



Hugo Fiorato, Founder of WQXR String Quartet, Dies at 97

The conductor and violinist Hugo Fiorato, a founding member of the WQXR String Quartet and a fixture with the New York City Ballet, died April 23 at the age of 97, The New York Times reports.

In 1947, Fiorato organized the WQXR String Quartet, an ensemble that performed regularly for WQXR broadcasts. While there was a station string quartet as early as 1940, this iteration of the group was the best known. Comprised of Fiorato and Harry Glickman on violin, violist Jack Braunstein and cellist Harvey Shapiro, it performed regularly for 16 years. By 1963, however, the station could no longer afford to underwrite the group and it disbanded.

The WQXR String Quartet recorded two commercial albums for Polymusic Records. The first included Mihaud's String Quartet and Turina's La Oración del Torero. The second album had César Franck's String Quartet. The New York Times music critic Harold C. Schoenberg wrote, "The ensemble of the WQXR Quartet is something to admire, as is the perfection of their intonation."

Hugo Fiorato was born on Aug. 28, 1914, in Manhattan. He began violin studies at age four, and later attended Juilliard, before studying with teachers in Italy. He was with the City Ballet for 56 years, starting as concertmaster in 1948 before working his way up the ranks to principal conductor, a post he held for his last 15 years with the company (ages 75 to 90). He retired in 2004.

In addition to his work at WQXR and City Ballet, Fiorato was also chief conductor and musical director of the Boston Ballet, the Houston Ballet and the National Ballet in Washington.

Listen to a 1961 performance of the finale of Dvorak's "American" Quartet, played by the WQXR String Quartet, above.

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WQXR String Quartet (L-R): Harry Glickman, violinist; Jack Braunstein, violist; Harvey Shapiro, cellist; and Hugo Fiorato, violinist)




An (Almost) New Year’s Eve Party for WQXR’s 75th

This final McGraw-Hill Companies Young Artists Showcase of 2011 celebrates WQXR’s 75th anniversary by featuring some former artists: Alec Templeton, Leopold Stokowski and a special April Fools’ Day visit with Abram Chasins and actor Sir Peter Ustinov, who also plays the part of such "international colleagues" as unknown new music expert Herr Professor Dr. Doctor Hoempler Ziegler, and the obscure scholar Sir Banbury Cross, author of two pseudo-books: The Elgar I Knew and The Elgar Who Knew Me.

Host Bob Sherman ambles through the archives with highlights from the 1940s and ’50s and a WQXR history of music from Medieval chant to ragtime.

Program details:

Johnny Green: Body and Soul.
-- Alec Templeton, piano.

JS Bach: Stokowski Transcription of Toccata in C Minor.
-- Bournemouth Symphony Orch, Jose Serebrier, conductor.

Alec Templeton: April Fool’s Day music for WQXR.
-- Written and performed by Alec Templeton, piano and vocals.

Abram Chasins interview with Sir Peter Ustinov (excerpts).

Sergei Prokofiev: Love for Three Oranges, Op. 33: March.
-- Gil Shaham, violin and Akira Eguchi, piano

Aaron Copland: El salon Mexico (excerpt).
-- New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein, conductor.

Percy Grainger: Molly On The Shore.
-- Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chamber Ensemble.

Sergei Prokofiev: War and Peace, Op. 91: New Year's Eve Ball Waltz (excerpt).
-- The Bekova Sisters Trio.

Sergei Prokofiev: Sarcasms, Op. 17 (excerpts).
-- Sergei Babayan, piano.

Audio extra: The unabridged early 1950s "interview" with Sir Peter Ustinov playing three roles.




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

For the past seven weeks you've been asked to name the great voices of WQXR. This is the last week of the contest. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Dec. 6, to submit your answer. A winner will be selected through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

This contest is closed. Answer: Nimet Habachy.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

Still don't know the answer? Listen to the full show here:




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 29, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

This contest is closed. Answer: Abram Chasins.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

Still don't know the answer? Listen to the full show here:




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

This contest is closed. Answer: Pru Devon.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

Listen to the full show here:




1956: Neil Sedaka Plays Debussy and Prokofiev at WQXR

(image)

Over the course of five decades, Neil Sedaka's career has undergone several major phases, including as a teen pop star in the late 1950s, a mature crooner in the '70s and as one of the legendary '60s songwriters emanating from New York's Brill Building. While the public knows him for such pop hits as "Breaking Up is Hard to Do" and "Calendar Girl," less known is his background as a classical pianist who studied at the Juilliard School.

In 1956, a 16-year-old Sedaka was one of 15 young people selected to appear on WQXR's educational competition program "Musical Talent in Our Schools." Sedaka attended the Abraham Lincoln School in Brooklyn where, he was already getting a start on writing pop music -- "ballads and musical-comedy material," as he said in his remarks. But here the precocious teen sticks with the classics, performing works by Debussy and Prokofiev. It clearly paid off: Sedaka won the contest, whose judges included none other than pianist Arthur Rubenstein.

Neil Sedaka's Top Five Works and Performances

1)  Frederic Chopin - Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 (Vladimir Horowitz, piano)
2)  Gustav Mahler - Symphony No. 5: Adagietto
3) Neil Sedaka - archival recording of Sedaka playing Prokofiev
4) Sergei Rachmaninoff - Piano Concerto No. 3 in D Minor, Op. 30
5) Neil Sedaka - Manhattan Intermezzo




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 15, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

This contest is closed. Answer: Duncan Pirnie.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

Listen to the full show here:




1992: Beverly Sills on The Vocal Scene

(image) In 1992, the Brooklyn-born soprano Beverly Sills was a guest on The Vocal Scene, a show hosted by the late George Jellinek that ran on WQXR for 36 years. This was recorded several years after her retirement from singing, at age 63.

At this point in her life, Sills was operatic royalty. She had long since retired from the stage, but played an active role in managerial positions at New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. With her plain-spoken manner and telegenic charisma, "Bubbles," as she was known, frequently sat in for Johnny Carson as host of "The Tonight Show," and even did a stint co-hosting "The View" late in her life (she passed away in 2007).

In the course of this hour-long show, Sills shares her recordings of Massenet's Manon, Handel's Giulio Cesare and Donizetti's Anna Bolena, among others. We also hear what happened when she heard herself singing on the radio while getting her hair done in the beauty parlor.

Below: See what our expert panel thinks of this interview and share your own thoughts in the comments section.




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 8, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

This contest is closed. Answer: Lloyd Moss.

Listen to the full show here:

 




1948: WQXR's Halloween Nightmare

(image) What was WQXR's worst nightmare in 1948? Was it to have their supposedly long hair* cut? No -- as it turns out, it was to be part of a big network.

In a 1948 Halloween broadcast, a "recurrent nightmare" is played out in full: What would WQXR be like if it were part of a "big, great, wonderful network," broadcasting from "WQXR City?" The broadcast features the show "Harpsichord Arpeggio", complete with sponsors (PruRex, the world's most irritating counter irritant) and rotating commentators. In the selection posted here, commentator Sebastian Bhuh shares his thoughts on Halloween.

 

*In the 1940s and 1950s, classical music was often referred to as "longhair" music.

Courtesy of NYPR Archives and Preservation




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 1, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

This contest is closed. Answer: June LeBell.

Listen to the full show here:




Tales of an Overnight Classical Deejay
Scheherazade spun tales for a Sultan for a lousy one thousand and one nights. I spun tapes, records and CD’s for insomniac New Yorkers for over six thousand and one nights on WQXR radio, the (then) radio station of the New York Times. Scheherazade enjoyed only one nocturnal companion, the Sultan Shahryar. I, on the other hand, had a handsome cross-section of New Yorkers on any given night; obstetricians, New York’s finest, the Entenmann delivery men, cabbies and a lot of people with jet lag who weren’t too sure where they were. Scheherazade’s Sultan had a nasty habit of killing his night’s companion the next morning in retaliation for having been betrayed by his first love. But the wily Scheherazade told such good tales, the sultan had to keep her alive till the next day so he could hear the end of the story. Needing to keep my ratings up on the graveyard shift, I found I could tease the listeners into keeping me company a little longer by stringing out the identification of the piece of music, so they had to stay awake to find out what they were hearing. Many was the time listeners had to hear a brief history of Tudor England before finally learning they had been hearing Gloriana, Benjamin Britten’s opera on Elizabeth Tudor. If I created an intriguing enough link to the next piece, why then I could keep the listener around for maybe the next offering and the next… Then, Mr. Arbitron, who kept score of numbers of listeners out there, would have to concede someone was there at 4 am and I could keep my job a little longer. Like Scheherazade, I could indulge in certain powers. Even as she could lull the Sultan with a romantic tale, I could do the same by offering the music of Debussy and Vaughan Williams. Scheherazade could excite the Sultan with a rousing adventure: all I had to do was play Wagner, a sure fire way to keep anyone awake. With diabolical pleasure, I pushed a button and New York slept or jumped out of bed at my command. Heady stuff. How did it all come about? In 1980, I was “at liberty” but performing as a chorister in a singular production of Carmen playing every geriatric center between Manhattan and Co-Op City. I was reveling in putting the voice lessons I was taking to good use and learning the Bizet score. The population of Seville varied according to who was employed from week to week. Wishing to play my part to the utmost, I concocted what I deemed was an appropriate Spanish get-up, heavy on red and gold bangles. It wasn’t my fault that our Carmen was diminutive and favored beige and that some elderly residents mistook me for Carmen. One day, word came through the amateur opera company grapevine that the venerable New York Times classical radio station WQXR was looking for women, minorities and languages. I sort of fit the bill: I was definitely female, not blonde and blue eyed and I had French and Italian—or at least an ability to get through Pinocchio. David Vosburgh, our excellent Don Jose suggested I go up for an audition. I presented myself to the chief announcer, Duncan Pirnie who bellowed instructions and gave me a sheaf of papers – some news copy, some music copy and a lot of commercial copy. The news concerned Mrs. Thacher’s economics and went into raptures about someone’s having piloted the Gossamer Albatross from Folkston to Cap Gris Nez and then there was something about the NFL, whatever that was. The toughest bit in the music was reciting the outrageously international cast of Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda with Renato Capechi, Montserrat Caballe and Shirley Verette, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky. This last was a real curve ball. But it was the commercials that threw me most—I simply couldn’t thrill to air fares from New York to Tampa/St. Pete. My au[...]



1949: Stravinsky Visits WQXR with 'Orpheus'

(image) The immediacy of hearing a composer discuss their own work, as it unfolds, is a lot like watching the "director’s cut" of a DVD. Stravinsky's "aural program note" for his then-newly-composed ballet, Orpheus, is a WQXR exclusive, straight from our archives.

Recorded in 1949 for WQXR listeners, this clip captures Stravinsky’s staccato accent superimposed on the opening bars of Orpheus. After conjuring the ancient mythology of the Greek characters depicted in the ballet, Stravinsky goes on to justify his modern musical treatment of the story by comparing himself to Renaissance-era painters. “[They] painted the stories of ancient Greece, or the Bible, and the European landscape in customs of their own time, without attempting to reconstruct the scene of Greece or Palestine with historical accuracy. I have also avoided all unessential ethnographic details for the sake of a higher symphonic reality.”

A higher reality, indeed: the collaborative effort behind Orpheus achieved historic results. The "Ballet Society" which commissioned and produced Orpheus, with music by Stravinsky, choreography by George Balanchine, and sets and costumes by Isamu Noguchi, was consequently invited to become the resident dance company of the City Center of Music and Drama. Today, we know it as the New York City Ballet. At the time of the premiere, in 1948, The New York Times reported that the Ballet Society “has more than justified its existence” with the production.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Stravinsky conducting, is featured in this clip.




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 25, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

This contest is closed. Answer: Jacques Frey.

Listen to the full show here:




1951: An Historic Vladimir Horowitz Recital, Packed With Encores

(image) In 1951, WQXR gave the first-ever radio broadcast of a Carnegie Hall recital by the piano giant Vladimir Horowitz. It was a sold-out concert, with stage seating added to accommodate a few additional fans. The announcer rightly notes that this was broadcast on the "rural radio FM network" and "Mr. Horowitz’s performance renders a great service to the public."

The broadcast only encompasses the concert's second half, which features Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (in Horowitz’s own arrangement) plus encores including his own "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Below: Three experts join host Jeff Spurgeon to offer their views on this historic broadcast.




WQXR's Great Voices

In celebration of our 75th anniversary, we’ve culled our archive of interviews and shows for some of the most recognizable voices from the station’s past.

Now it’s your turn to name one of the great voices of WQXR. Listen to the audio clip above and fill in the multiple choice box with your guess. (The full piece is below if you need a hint.)

Each week will feature a new voice. You have until 11:59 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 18, to submit your answer for this week's contest. A winner will be selected each week through a random drawing of correct answers. The winner will receive our new member discount card, the QCard.

Click here for the complete rules and regulations for the giveaway.

This contest is closed. Answer: George Jellinek.

Listen to the full show here:




Back in the Day: Artifacts through the Ages
As we mark WQXR's 75th anniversary, we're feeling pretty curious about our history. Commence the plundering of the archives! We've unearthed a ton of great artifacts to share, some we didn't even know we had, including photos, cartoons, notes, footage, recordings and more. This particular collection of historical items is not only cool to look at, but they help to more vividly tell the story of a New York institution. Let the storytelling begin!   Did you know that WQXR used to have its own, in-house string quartet? Pretty fancy stuff. This photo depicts the quartet's most famous iteration, including Hugo Fiorato and Harry Glickman on violin, Harvey Shapiro on cello and Jack Braunstein on viola. Fiorato assembled the group, which performed at the station for 16 years. Here they are in the early 1950s: This quartet was a long time coming. WQXR signed a contract with the Musicians Union in the late 1930s, which began our proud tradition of regularly engaging musicians to educate the public on their artistry through live, on-air performances. Early on, WQXR's Music Director was Eddy Brown, a violinist who brought in many performers and first developed the idea of a staff string orchestra for the station. Beginning with a group of ten players, with Brown as conductor and occasional soloist, the group evolved into the above-mentioned quartet. An in-house string ensemble wasn't Brown's only bright idea. Ingeniously, he arranged an evening of music at the Waldorf-Astoria to showcase the high level of musicianship in jazz at the time; an effort to sway his classical cohorts' interest in the rapidly-developing genre. Inviting guests like conductor Wilfred Pelletier of the Metropolitan Opera to hear Benny Goodman, Brown's mixing of jazz and classical artists produced a vibe of mutual appreciation that spilled over to WQXR programming. At a time when 80% of airtime was devoted to classical music, the station began broadcasting blues, jazz and swing. Here's an image of a lacquer transcription disc containing the sixth program of The World of Jazz hosted by John S. Wilson and George T. Simon.  In the heyday of our in-house string quartet, WQXR host Alma Dettinger was at the helm of one of the stations "Women's Programs," Other People's Business. Okay, based on the title, it does sound like a gossip show, but Dettinger's interviewees included female artists, like Alvena Seckar. Below, a sketch by Seckar of her own interview on the show in 1952. And Alma Dettinger wasn't the only host honing in on the female demographic. For ten minutes every week (and through 1945, every weekday), host Angelina Dougherty hosted Bloomingdale's B-Line Shopping News on -- yes, WQXR. Dougherty would review sales and "good buys." If you're scratching your head trying to make the connection between this show and the rest of the classical programming, well, so are we, but in all likelihood, the segment was underwritten by the department store. While we don't know much about it, we did discover four copies of the show on 16-inch lacquer discs from 1945, among the Edward Tatnell Canby recordings in the WNYC archives collection: Another WQXR host from back in the day was Commander Edward Whitehead, who also had his share of advertising chops. A decorated British naval officer, Whitehead was the host of WQXR's This is Britain, from 1959 to 1962. The WQXR program guide described the show as "a program of sounds, music and stories of England. [The host] takes his listeners on a personally conducted tour of the British Isles, with comments based on his personal experiences." In addition to being a naval commander and radio hos[...]



1958: A Conversation with Van Cliburn

(image) On May 26, 1958, WQXR program director Abram Chasins interviewed the Texan pianist Van Cliburn, just a few weeks after he won the first International Tchaikovsky Competition.

The Tchaikovsky Competition, as legend has it, was the product of the Cold War, an attempt by the Soviets to claim their cultural dominance just as they had in the space race with the launch of the Sputnick satellite in 1957. After Cliburn took the first prize, he returned home to a ticker-tape parade in New York, as well as international celebrity. His recording of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 was the first classical recording to sell more than a million copies.

As Cliburn tells Chasins, he received a warm reception in Moscow from the Soviets, who enjoyed not only his playing of big romantic works by Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, but also his version of a Mozart C-major Sonata.

Cliburn also talks about the potential to raise the classical music's visibility in American popular culture. “If I am the tool – or the incident – that will awaken the possibility of giving the possibility to give more ticker tape parades to musicians in the United States, this is wonderful, and for this, then I am happy.”

"I feel very, very grateful for," he adds. "I experienced the feeling in a small way that our movie idols experience. It was thrilling and at the same time scary because I very much feel responsibility."

Below: Three experts join host Jeff Spurgeon to discuss this classic interview: conductor and commentator Rob Kapilow; musicologist Elaine Sisman and host Robert Sherman.




Video: Jazz Trio Performs at WQXR in 1943
(image)

Decades before MTV, the Leonard Ware Trio came to the WQXR studios to record a song for a March 1943 edition of The March of Time newsreel. Leonard Ware is on guitar, Luther Henderson sits at the piano and an unidentified musician is the bass player. The jazz trio performed music specifically written for the Food for Victory campaign. The government campaign made a patriotic duty of eating leftovers and planting victory gardens during World War II.

The WQXR announcer in the footage is Al Grobe and the engineer is Louis J Kleinklaus.

(WQXR Archives Collection courtesy of Footage Farm)




Tell Your WQXR Story

(image) Help us celebrate 75 years as New York’s classical station by sharing your WQXR stories. Do you have a favorite host memory? Was there a favorite recording that you first heard on the station? Or a concert broadcast that caught you by surprise? Tell us about it by calling 800-543-2543 or leaving your comments in the box below.

In this clip, Aurora D’Elia, a teacher at a public school in the South Bronx, discusses how she sits her students down in the classroom every morning to listen to WQXR. What happened next caught her by surprise:




The WQXR Radio, That Hi-Fi Wonder

(image) (image) Long before the WQXR app, the station was marketing a very different type of newfangled technology. In the late 1930s, WQXR branded a line of home radios, complete with mahogany cabinets, AC/DC operation and in some cases, built-in phonographs. Listeners were invited to visit the studios, then at 730 Fifth Avenue, to come experience the technological wonder for themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
















A Visual History of WQXR

WQXR has a long and storied history. Our slideshow illustrates milestones from the eight decades that WQXR has been on the air in New York.

WQXR has been on the air in New York for almost 80 years. During that time, the station has stayed true to its commitment to provide New Yorkers with access to great works of classical music. This slideshow illustrates some of the milestones in WQXR's history.