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Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “Naxos Classical Spotlight”

July 20, 2009

If prognosticating bloggers are to be believed, Naxos is one of the very few classical music labels well-place to survive the impending (if not currently occurring) music-industry apocalypse. The reasons for this are manifold, but commentators often point to the outfit’s embrace of at least newish technology and distribution methods. Standing as a testament to this strength is Naxos Classical Music Spotlight, the label’s podcast, which every Tuesday serves up a cornucopia of classical content. (Or, as your Podthinker calls it, a triple-C.)

Tapping a no doubt vast storehouse of musical connections and resources, Naxos puts together a fine, varied program. The easy way out would have been to slap a few excerpts of new releases onto an RSS feed and call the resulting glorified ad stream a podcast (and kids love podcasts), but this show takes the high road, weaving the music itself together with context-providing commentaries and reasonably engaging interviews with performers and composers. Those who have listened to talky classical music radio, especially those who’ve listened to it for a few minutes and then kept turning the dial, know that in this sort of setting things can get a little, shall we say, wonky. Lots of talk about timbre and middle C and such. But the Classical Music Spotlight avoids slipping into this alienating pit of wonkiness by showcasing the wide world of material—sometimes surprisingly wide—to be found in the thinly-populated “classical” section of the record shop.

Just in the last several months, the show has touched on a bunch of disparate subgenres that wouldn’t necessarily be the first to come to the mind of someone not already fairly heavy classical listener. From the nonmelodic Cultural Revolution evocations of Bright Sheng to the Mid-Hudson-Bridge-as-instrument technical stuntwork of Joseph Bertolozzi to the spare, almost space-y compositions of Klaus Ib Jørgensen to the recorded-on-site session with the behemoth pipe organ at Montreal’s Eglise Saint-Jean-Baptiste, this is clearly not an armchair program. Well, you could listen to it in an armchair, certainly. And maybe you should. But the show doesn’t stay put.

This is not to make the podcast sound as if it’s pitched as a sort of This American Life to do with classical-music-related subjects. (Though that wouldn’t be a terrible idea, earnest yet introspective aspiring podcasters with a classical bent and a knack for cutting together a narrative double-twist.) It certainly gets into it about middle C and whatnot. But there’s something difficult to pin downabout the way it delivers its content that’s as accessible as it is technically satisfying. It’s not The Classical Music for Dummies podcast, not by a long shot, but your Podthinker would submit that the world doesn’t needs no more of that sort of thing.



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