The Virtual Philharmonic: Producing the Podcast

Classic Arts Features   The Virtual Philharmonic: Producing the Podcast
For the first time, Elliott Forrest and Mark Travis : who host and produce the New York Philharmonic Podcast : reveal how the series is created.

Elliott Forrest and Mark Travis are familiar names : and voices : to New York Philharmonic audiences. Mr. Forrest, a Peabody Award _winning broadcaster and producer, is the afternoon host of New York's classical radio station, 96.3 FM WQXR. Mr. Travis, also an award-winning producer, is the host of the Orchestra's 52-week radio series, syndicated nationally by Chicago's WFMT Radio Network, and broadcast in the New York metropolitan area on Thursday nights.

And both can be heard as the producer-hosts of the New York Philharmonic Podcast, the engaging and entertaining advance look at the artists and repertoire featured in the Orchestra's concerts, available at "I want to appeal to as broad an audience as possible," says Mr. Travis, "and I try to do that by engaging the listeners directly, with plain language infused with a sense of humor." Mr. Forrest wants to make the artists, as well as the music, accessible. "To be able to speak with pianist H_lne Grimaud, who experiences the rare phenomenon of synesthesia, and ask her, 'So, what color is the Ravel Piano Concerto?' is an opportunity to gain a unique insight into an artist's mind, and into a particular piece of music."

At the heart of every podcast is the music, of course, and each program features examples and demonstrations, often as lush, expansive excerpts that give a taste of what one will experience at Avery Fisher Hall. Therefore, the first step in creating a podcast "is to acquire audio of the music that will be performed in a given program," Mr. Forrest explains. Most of this audio comes from the Philharmonic's Archives, but some comes from commercially released recordings, a rich source, given the Orchestra's vast recording history.

After the music has been secured, it's time to arrange the interviews, which are a key feature of the series. Sometimes the interviews are conducted in person : as when Mr. Travis sits down early each season with Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel to discuss upcoming repertoire. "I think Mr. Maazel knows that I study hard before our meetings," Mr. Travis says, "and he's always rewarded that scholarship with witty anecdotes and insightful comments." Often interviews are conducted over the phone. Elliott Forrest once reached violinist Vadim Repin on his cell phone in Italy, standing outside of a violin shop where his instrument was being repaired. For the preview of the Opening Night Gala concert, Mr. Forrest reached soloist Sir James Galway in Switzerland to discuss Ibert's Flute Concerto. When Sir James began singing a jig-like melody from the work, Mr. Forrest asked the renowned flutist if he could play it, and the virtuoso delivered an impromptu performance. Mr. Forrest exclaimed, "I'll remember for the rest of my life that James Galway played the flute for me on the phone!" : and Sir James responded with gales of laughter.

Yet another source is the collection of relevant and engaging information on, in the form of interviews on the Event Details pages and in special Web features. Here's an example: a recently released feature showcasing the Orchestra's season-long cycle of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, available at This brief film is rich with commentary from New York Philharmonic Program Annotator and Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence James M. Keller.

Once all the puzzle pieces have been gathered, it's time to delve into the nitty-gritty of creating a podcast script, which Mr. Forrest and Mr. Travis write themselves, providing lively and informative commentary. With their experience in audio programming from years of work in radio, they know how best to cull their own musical backgrounds and training to provide their listeners with their own insights and fresh perspectives. They then turn to the technologically intensive step in this process: heading to their respective studios to record voice-overs, edit and incorporate all the interviews, lay down the music tracks, and mix it all together to create a complete first draft. Each producer then shares it with his colleagues at the Philharmonic, and makes any necessary revisions.

The result is a completed and compelling podcast, available weeks in advance of the program. "Knowing that I've produced something that is likely to both entertain and inform our listening audience is the biggest reward for me," says host Mark Travis. You can judge the results of all this hard work for yourself : for free : through iTunes or at

Amy Hegarty is the Publications Editor at the New York Philharmonic.

Today’s Most Popular News: