Curious minds select the most fascinating podcasts from around the world. Discover hand-piqd audio recommendations on your favorite topics.
Co-host of the Episode Party podcast, author of Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-rock, editor at ATTN:Magazine.
There are many podcasts aiming to prove that the stuffy, complicated or elitist corners of culture can be fun. Sometimes these attempts feel excruciatingly overworked, reminiscent of a GCSE chemistry teacher donning a backwards cap and performing a rap about the periodic table; others succeed in tugging down the façade of snobbery and technical impenetrability. That Classical Podcast is a fabulous case of the latter, proving that the classical music world is teeming with huge personalities, incredible stories and abundant comedic potential.
Each month, hosts Kelly Harlock and Chris Bland dive into the life and music of classical composers. They start with a breathless 60-second recounting of the composer’s biography, before picking out a few choice compositions to focus on. Yet instead of dragging the listener through the gunge of music theory, the podcast prefers to frame each composition within its story: the romantic turmoil that dogged its creation, the controversy that devoured its premiere. Suddenly, this music – so often snubbed for its reputation as faceless and intimidating – feels imbued with a thoroughly relatable human drama.
The most recent episode picks out two fringe figures from the Baroque period. The first is Barbara Strozzi, a prolific writer of secular vocal music whose father set up an entire academy just to nurture her prodigal talent. The second is composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, whose life was cut short by a gruesome tragedy involving a makeshift conductor’s baton. Yet despite bringing these juicy biographical details to the fore, the hosts still devote airtime to gush about music itself. Technical terms such as “cantata” and “arioso” are explained without undermining the podcast’s jovial pace, while the TCP Glossary on the podcast website makes sure that absolutely no one is left behind. It’s inclusive without feeling condescending; passionate without ever verging on indulgence. In other words, it’s a triumph.