Don’t Forget About This “Rare” Bernstein Gem

The lesser-known Halil Nocturne gives insight into the depth of Bernstein’s genius

By Geoffrey Larson

Leonard Bernstein mania is in full fling in 2018, the centennial year of his birth, and his masterworks are popping up on the programs of orchestras everywhere. I’m always excited for performances of music from his famous stage works like West Side Story and Candide, but there is so much depth and variety to his work as a composer; one great benefit of this anniversary celebration is that we are suddenly getting a chance to hear the lesser-known works by Bernstein, hearing different sides of the famous musician’s character. In the symphonies and other somewhat rarely-heard works, Bernstein strays from the more singable, jazzy music that he is famous for, veering into very serious, personal territory by way of music that is less easily categorizable, often flirting with atonality to powerful effect.

Bernstein’s Jewish heritage becomes a major influence in many of these pieces, and Halil: Nocturne for Solo Flute and Orchestra is one that really deserves to be heard more often. (I will conduct two performances of this work on April 14 and 15, 2018, with flute soloist Rachel Blumenthal and Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.) This music is Bernstein at his most intimate, most personal. The score is dedicated to the memory of Yadin Tanenbaum “and his fallen brothers.”  A promising flute student, Tanenbaum was killed in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. He was nineteen years old. Here are Bernstein’s own words on the piece:

Halil (the Hebrew word for ‘flute’) is formally unlike any other work I have written, but is like much of my music in its struggle between tonal and non-tonal forces. In this case, I sense that struggle as involving wars and the threat of wars, the overwhelming desire to live, and the consolations of art, love and the hope for peace. It is a kind of night-music, which, from its opening 12-tone row to its ambiguously diatonic final cadence, is an ongoing conflict of nocturnal images: wish-dreams, nightmares, repose, sleeplessness, night-terrors and sleep itself, Death’s twin brother. I never knew Yadin Tanenbaum, but I know his spirit.”

Check out a video performance of Halil below, and get to know a different side of America’s most legendary conductor and composer.

Chopin’s Olympics!

What an honor to be invited as a judge for the 2018 Northwest Chopin Festival held in Bellevue on February 10, 2018. 170 talented pianists entered whose ages spanned from “9 and under” through adult. Only works of Chopin were allowed and each performance was evaluated on technique and artistry with accompanying elements of speed, interpretation, accuracy and memorization taken into consideration. Choosing Gold, Silver and Bronze awards was a challenge! What a display of self-worth, pride, parental support and fine teaching.  Chopin would have been most proud. I certainly was!



Alan Hovhaness and Seattle

The Pacific Northwest is permeated by natural beauty, a place where the mountains, forests, and sea intertwine with the furthest reaches of American civilization. The communities that reside in this place are highly diverse, with peoples of many cultures from the Pacific Rim and all around the world mixing together. The music of prolific Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) seems to observe nature in a hushed, reverential atmosphere, and evokes its grandeur and terrible beauty in soaring melodies and epic orchestral textures. Hovhaness’ music blends the sounds of different exotic cultures with those of his own heritage. His compositions are so evocative of these Northwest features that it is no surprise he made Seattle his home in 1970 and resided here for the rest of his life. A closer look at Hovhaness’ unique musical aesthetic not only looks inside life in the Northwest but also shows a reverence for the universal human spirit.

The prolific compositional output of Alan Hovhaness numbers no less than 500 works: operas, ballets (a few choreographed by Martha Graham), choral works, songs, chamber music, and 67 numbered symphonies. His early music was scorned by Copland and Bernstein and the young composer faced setbacks. As he searched for his musical identity, he became fixated on the aesthetic of Armenian music, and changed his name from Chakmakjian (which no one could pronounce) to “Hovaness” and later “Hovhaness” with the emphasis on the second syllable, honoring the name of his Armenian paternal grandfather. Modal, folk-like melodies singing above low, droning sounds became central to his aesthetic. He was a pioneer of early semi-aleatoric music, where individual instruments within an ensemble would repeat a series of set patterns, uncoordinated and at different speeds. This created everything from a lush, soft cloud of sound that he called “spirit murmur” to thundering, cataclysmic orchestral sounds. Trips to Asia between 1959 and 1963 added the indigenous music of India, Hawaii, Japan, and South Korea to his aesthetic. A strong background of classical training added counterpoint to the mixture, and Hovhaness was one of the first American-born composers to bring cultural influences of Asia and Eastern Europe together into the composition of Western contemporary classical music. Hovhaness studied astronomy in his early life, and a fascination with the grandeur of planets, stars, and space crept into many of his musical works.

Just as Hovhaness’ music stood apart from other American aesthetics of his time such as serialism and Copland-influenced populism, his religious and political views separated him from his contemporaries. Hovhaness’ youthful interest in meditation and mysticism was a profound influence on his music. The Greek mystic painter Hermon di Giovanno became a close, highly revered associate of Hovhaness and his pseudo-impressionist paintings could be found on the walls of Hovhaness’ residence throughout the composer’s life. Hovhaness called Giovanno “my spiritual teacher who opened the gate to the spiritual dimension.” His Sixth Symphony is named after a specific Giovanno painting, Celestial Gate. Hovhaness’ spiritualism caused him concern regarding the direction of American society, proclaiming in 1971:

We are in danger of destroying ourselves, and I have a great fear about this … The older generation is ruling ruthlessly. I feel that this is a terrible threat to our civilization. It’s the greed of huge companies and huge organizations which control life in a kind of a brutal way … It’s gotten worse and worse, somehow, because physical science has given us more and more terrible deadly weapons, and the human spirit has been destroyed in so many cases, so what’s the use of having the most powerful country in the world if we have killed the soul?

The composer’s spiritual views gave him a strong reverence for the natural world, and this tied Alan Hovhaness in part to the Northwest. Written shortly after his relocation to Seattle, his famous orchestral work And God Created Great Whales specifically called for recorded whale calls to be inserted into the performance. The austere darkness of Northwest weather that we see much of the year seems to color his music’s murky lyricism, and the towering mountains of Seattle’s impressive skyline seem to rise out of his epic brass writing and the gargantuan sound of his quasi-aleatoric passages. Gerard Schwarz recorded a number of his works with the Seattle Symphony, where Hovhaness was composer-in-residence for the 1966-1967 season. Hovhaness’ music continues to be performed in the Northwest by ensembles like the Seattle Youth Symphony and Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra. Rumor has it that on a rainy and cold Northwest day in the late 20th century, a thin, wizened figure could be seen in the food court at Southcenter Mall, bent over a table full of score paper, composing his next mystic ode to the earth and its people.

Christmas at KING FM

Hello everyone.  It’s that time of the year again.







Here’s what you should know about Christmas at KING FM:

KING FM’s Classical Christmas Channel has been running since November 1st.  You can access it on king.org or through the KING FM mobile app.  And, on December 1, you can hear it over-the-air on HD channel 2, where it will stay until January 2nd.

If you listen to the Evergreen Channel on HD channel 2, have no fear!  The Evergreen Channel will remain available on king.org and the KING FM mobile app through the Christmas period, and will return to HD channel 2 on January 2nd.

Many of you noticed Christmas Music on KING FM over the recent Thanksgiving weekend.  Christmas programming on 98.1 will resume on December 1st, and slowly ramp up until Christmas Day, after which it will cease.







In addition to the Classical Christmas Channel and regular Christmas programming on 98.1, KING FM has many special holiday broadcasts.  On Saturday, December 2, at 7:30pm PST, KING FM will have a live broadcast of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker, hosted by Peter Newman.  Stay tuned for more special Christmas programs, including a re-broadcast of Northwest Boychoir’s Festival of Lessons & Carols, as December 25th approaches.

Finally, if you are someone who does not appreciate holiday music, we completely understand.








I suggest that you check out KING FM’s Seattle Symphony Channel, Evergreen Channel, and Second Inversion, all of which which include absolutely zero Christmas music.

Happy Listening, and Happy Holidays!


“Thanks for your support”

You’ve probably heard that a lot these days. Certainly during and after our recent fund drive. I want to personally add my thanks and no – this isn’t another solicitation. You put up with that for over a week and it’s time to give it a rest. I want to thank you and provide my personal perspective.

I’ve been with KING for over 40 years. I’ve been an announcer, operations manager, program director and general manager. If asked I’ll do windows. It’s been a big part of my life ever since Dorothy Bullitt ran King Broadcasting from the fifth floor of our (commercial) corporate headquarters and created the most amazing, substantial and innovative local broadcasting company in the country.

The guiding principle has always been to serve the community, and while the definition of “community” has changed some, the principle has not. We could load a CD player or computer with music, press “Shuffle” and still claim that we played classical music 24/7, but it wouldn’t be serving the community and it wouldn’t be KING. Weekly live and local concert broadcasts, in-studio performances, our support of regional arts groups, our education outreach, our expanded channel offerings…I could go on but you get the idea: All of this is in service to you, the dedicated classical music lover.

It’s also good business. There are so many ways one can get music these days. The radio station that chooses to press “Shuffle” will be undone by the next and better Shuffle button. To give you a unique and valuable musical experience requires greater resources but is far more rewarding and a much more sustainable model of success.

So – just a moment here to thank you. I’ve been doing our concert broadcasts for many years now and hope they mean as much to you as to me. Suggestions always greatly appreciated. I just wanted to take the opportunity to show my appreciation to all of you who make this possible. Much more to come!

What’s on TV?

Listening to All Things Considered today (yes we all listen to other stations!) and hearing a story about great TV theme music and the upcoming Emmys, reminds me of a love suppressed for many years: I loved and love music written for television. As a child of the 50s and 60s how could I not? Of course my favorites corresponded to my pre-geek adulthood: Mission Impossible, The Man From Uncle, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Wild, Wild West, I Spy…. And later: Twin Peaks, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos,…this music is embedded in me as much as Beethoven and Mahler.

The best of this music is really good. Why? Well it supports the look, feel and attitude of the show. Just as Mozart created a musical world to support Beaumarchais’ play about class and privilege, a TV composer creates the musical analog to the work done by the writers, actors and director. And the way it can enter the pop culture is remarkable. Anyone who wants to conjure up a world of ironic confusion has only to hum the first few bars of The Twilight Zone.

These days I don’t watch much episodic television. And the credits these days are very short, the editing is tighter and the music is, to my ears, less memorable. So I’m engaged in some Old Fart internet searches. The first TV theme I remember was a CBS historical docudrama from 1963. Score by Richard Rodgers! Thank you YouTube for my latest earworm:

1963, probably pre-assassination. It reeks with optimism. And if you look at the credits, it’s a who’s who of black American acting royalty. Wow. On TV, 1963!

In the second year of the original Star Trek series I went on my first trip to Europe with my parents. We spent the summer in Vienna with my aunt. I wish I had appreciated more fully the gift of being there, going to the opera, museums, and parks, not only as a tourist but with my family who lived there. One thing I do remember was watching Austrian TV. There was a German sci-fi show, Raumpatrouille. Space Patrol. I don’t think I was successful in convincing others who watched that this was way inferior to Star Trek. But I thought the theme music was terrific! Here is the pilot episode.

It’s a good thing that we’re evolving into beings that don’t require oxygen. There is such a cool 60’s vibe about the music. And a Europop quality. I thought I might be a bit crazy to even know about this show but on the Youtubes there is even a suite from the main theme and underscoring:

So somehow this little musical item will have a life beyond a forgettable (I think?) German TV series. But I’m always suspicious of “suites” that try to get 16 minute of music out of 2. So if you want a really fun version of the theme, sit back and enjoy this bizarre and wonderful take:

Now – did Richard Rodgers write underscoring music for The Great Adventure and might a suite be put together?

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Poor Salieri

I was thinking about “the Bad Guy” in the play and film, “Amadeus.”  Antonio Salieri’s birthday was last week (May 18) and I’ve been working on the NW Sinfonietta/Seattle Choral Company broadcast of the Mozart Requiem on Friday.

Mozart died before the piece was completed and his wife, Constanze, asked a student of Wolfgang, Franz Xaver Süssmayr to complete the piece. He did and the rest is history, at least until Peter Shaffer wrote his play and the subsequent movie came out.  For very fine artistic reasons the completion of the Requiem was given to Salieri, a way of giving some emotional tension and depth to the final scenes of the piece.

The funny thing is, in “Amadeus”, Salieri bemoans his fate as a just a footnote of history while his rival, Mozart, will be a composer for the ages.  The fact is, Salieri was a successful, much-admired composer in his lifetime and wrote some really fine music that we enjoy today. And we wouldn’t likely give him his due were it not for Shaffer.  Maybe I should have titled this blog post, “Poor Sussmayr.”

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Mixed media

I’m filling in for Dave all this week and looking at the music we’re putting together for the afternoons.  It’s amazing how much of the music reminds me of movies and TV.  Today it’s Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, used in the 1979 film, “Breaking Away.”  Tuesday there’s the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto Number 2, which I associate with Marilyn Monroe and “The Seven Year Itch.”  Wednesday: Stanley Myer’s “Cavatina” used so brilliantly in “The Deer Hunter.”

Bizet’s Symphony in C doesn’t make me think of a movie but it did make a great ballet score.  And on Friday, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien makes me a Patches Pal again (People who didn’t grow up in Seattle in the 60’s will just have “research” that one.)

Isn’t it amazing and wonderful that music can trigger all that?!



Classical Music Alive in the Northwest

Classical KING FM is your voice for classical music and the arts in our community.  And that’s important in so many ways.   To start with, we are your exclusive source for live and local broadcast concerts from the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, The Compline Service, and so many other of your favorite Northwest performers and ensembles.   But KING FM is also a critical voice for the arts groups themselves, especially as traditional media has moved away from not just the arts, but our entire community, as well.

KING FM’s Sean MacLean shares the word on upcoming concerts on NW Focus, Dave Beck previews upcoming Seattle Symphony concerts, and Peter Newman is your host for more than 80 broadcast concerts every year.  It’ so important to build arts awareness and to share the joy of a healthy and vibrant arts community.

Your Support Matters

KING FM is a voice for the Northwest arts community, amplifying the activities of nearly 70 local arts groups to a broader community of over 300,000 listeners each week. In addition, KING FM’s presence at various community events engages thousands of arts lovers each year. It takes listener support to keep this going. Help us continue to build community within the arts with a donation today. Make this your moment.

Supporting Local Classical Music

Classical musicians deserve every bit as much support as athletes, and while you can find sports everywhere, KING FM is the one place you can count on to share the love of classical music across the generations – and we are right here in the Northwest.  Our Young Artist Awards, in partnership with Seattle Chamber Music Society, has celebrated the achievements of hundreds of young performers through the years.   Here’s a sampler that will amaze you!

Arts Partnerships Matter

The Seattle Symphony/Classical KING FM Family Concerts are designed so that youngsters from 6 to 11 can enjoy the Symphony, too.  What a way a way to ignite the imagination of the kids in our community.   And while you are at it, give the KING FM Seattle Symphony Channel a listen.  It’s curated by the experts at KING and Seattle Symphony.  Listen now online or through the KING FM smartphone app.

KING FM is your local, listener supported, classical music station.   That matters for you, for our listeners young and old, and it matters to our local arts community.

Thank you for a magical afternoon of music making! It was fantastic to have you bring such passion and delight and all those amazing instruments to the library with your petting zoos. Your program brought fun and enrichment to many families who walked with happy smiles and happy hearts.  Many thanks for partnering with KCLS – I look forward to (m)any future endeavors.  –  Mie-Mie, King County Library System

We really appreciated KING FM’s sponsorship this year. We had an extraordinary turnout and I personally heard from some sale attendees that they listen to KING FM and heard the sale promoted – reminding them to go. – Alice, Friends of The Seattle Public Library Book Sale

I’m writing to thank you for the Seattle Chamber Music concerts. I’m on a fixed income and can’t make it to the concerts.  This is the next best thing to being there. Keep up the great work! I look forward to all the rest of the concerts.  – Cynthia

Hello, I can no longer get to the concerts. I am so glad KING FM will be broadcasting the Olymic Music Festical concerts! – Michelle


Partnerships Include


Your Support Matters

KING FM is a voice for the Northwest arts community, amplifying the activities of nearly 70 local arts groups to a broader community of over 300,000 listeners each week. In addition, KING FM’s presence at various community events engages thousands of arts lovers each year. It takes listener support to keep this going. Help us continue to build community within the arts with a donation today. Make this your moment.

What’s your preference? Family friendly classical music? Relaxing music? Intellectually stimulating music? Modern classical? Classical music in the Northwest? Click one of these links for content curated for you.