WHRB’s Spring 2002 Orgy Period

Ethelbert Nevin

[June 2002.]

New England is rich in quaint traditions. Here in my outpost, the change of seasons is marked by an event known to but a few of its inhabitants: The radio station affiliated with one of the local colleges (http://www.whrb.org) programs what it calls Orgies. An Orgy is an extended, uninterrupted block of programming given over to a complete chronological survey of a composer, artist or group. The station uses the ® symbol to designate ownership and use of the term Orgy in this context.

This season, listeners were treated to about 176 hours of Franz Joseph Haydn. For a bit more than a week, we had a 24-hour Haydn station. How soothing to turn the radio on and be guaranteed some consistently fine music! Continuous broadcasting of one composer, artist or group is a fascinating approach to familiar and unfamiliar works arrayed chronologically. It was almost numbing to take in the double-digit quantities of baryton trios, string quartets, piano sonatas and songs in addition to the 100-plus symphonies. Entire days seemed devoted to the operas. Happy discoveries were the Stabat Mater (around 8:00 p.m. on Monday, May 13) and the Endellion Quartet (just before 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 17), whose recordings of Haydn I must seek out. Unfortunately I missed the music for mechanical clock (around 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 18).

From Orgies past, I recall several infuriating days of Franz Schubert. Schubert was immensely productive and gifted, but all I remember hearing were multiple versions of the same relatively uninspired songs. (I can see members of the Lieder Lovers League dipping their quills in protest.) The Schubert Orgy seemed to spend more time announcing the songs and providing texts and translations than playing the music. The familiar and wonderful late chamber works, even the scrappy symphonies, came over the air infrequently.

This winter was given over to a few days of Tchaikovsky. It was surprising to realize how much of Tchaikovsky’s music I already knew, but the operas were a revelation with their drama and beautiful choruses. I recall a Messiaen Orgy around the same time and remember singing along to Saint Francis of Assisi. Honestly, how else would you hear one of the best operas of the 20th century on the radio? And then, several seasons ago, there was an excellent Duke Ellington Orgy that was a wonderful, joyous use of airwaves (I was also fascinated by the Kraftwerk and Throbbing Gristle Orgies of seasons past).

As for some of the other classical Orgies that aired this season, I blinked through the Webern Orgy (not too hard to create for yourself in an afternoon), and heard none of the Saint-Saëns. After the week of Haydn, the Orgies of William Kapell and Glenn Gould were oases of dynamic pianism. Hearing so much Gould made me glad to realize that I’m familiar with his Bach recordings. I was most pleased that they played a bit of Gould’s brilliant radio documentaries. How can you go wrong with something called The Idea of North?

WHRB distributes a program guide free for the asking and its entire programming is streamed over the Web. Check it out. It’s good college radio and then some. Some of our New England traditions are quaint, but a few are actually pretty modern and accessible no matter where you live.