Classical Breakdown

John Banther takes classical music fans behind the scenes with interviews, deep dives, and analysis. Episodes released bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Produced by WETA Classical in Washington, D.C.


  • Bach's Christmas Oratorio, what to listen for and know!

    Bach's Christmas Oratorio, what to listen for and know!

    Episode 54 December 14, 2021

    It's a holiday classic that is becoming more popular, especially in the Washington area. Bill Bukowski joins John Banther to explain everything we need to know in this masterpiece. From how it was originally performed, expected audience participation, and how Bach reused old music. Plus, we have some listener mail and a special Classical Breakdown challenge. 
  • Bernstein's West Side Story

    Bernstein's West Side Story

    Episode 53 November 30, 2021

    Here is what to listen for, know, and appreciate when it comes to West Side Story before you watch the 2021 movie remake!
  • The life of William Grant Still

    The life of William Grant Still

    Episode 52 November 16, 2021

    Known as the Dean of Afro-American Composers, William Grant Still wrote a variety of music, from symphony, opera, ballet, to popular song, and more. Gayle Murchinson, Associate Professor of Music at William and Mary, joins John Banther to discuss Still's life and explore his music across three aesthetics that she describes as Ultramodern, Racial, and Universal. 
  • Mozart's Clarinet Concerto

    Mozart's Clarinet Concerto

    Episode 51 November 2, 2021

    Composed in his final year, this concerto is one of Mozart's last and most enduring works. Nicole and John explore the origins of the concerto, which was originally for a slightly different and more obscure instrument. They also talk about what to listen for in each movement and even give a little music theory lesson to explore some unintended consequences in the music. 
  • The Life of Sergei Rachmaninoff

    The Life of Sergei Rachmaninoff

    Episode 50 October 19, 2021

    Linda and John uncover details about Rachmaninoff's life, like early influences that stayed with him his entire career, his comeback story after a disastrous symphony premiere, and what led to him emigrating to the United States. Plus, we hear some recordings of Rachmaninoff himself at the piano from the early 1900s.
  • What is a Clarinet?

    What is a Clarinet?

    Episode 49 October 5, 2021

    It's a popular instrument, but how much do you really know about the clarinet? Principal Clarinet of the National Symphony Orchestra, Lin Ma, joins John Banther to talk all about the clarinet. Lin tells us everything, from what it's made of, its predecessor, how it was used over time, and he even plays some of his favorite examples!
  • The life of Tchaikovsky

    Tchaikovsky's triumphant Symphony No. 5

    Episode 48 September 21, 2021

    This symphony is one of the most popular and triumphant in the repertoire, and for good reason! It takes us on a journey using a simple melody that appears in every movement, transforming from the opening in E minor to the triumphant E Major finale. John and Bill go through Tchaikovsky's personal correspondence during the months he was writing the symphony, show you what to listen for, and teach you a compositional technique used still today. 
  • The Life of Leonard Bernstein

    The Life of Leonard Bernstein

    Episode 47 September 7, 2021

    How much do you really know about one of America's most treasured artists? There is a lot to explore in his early life in Massachusetts, his meteoric rise to fame in New York, and the unique characteristics we find all over his music.
  • Season 3 starts September 7!

    Season 3 starts September 7!

    August 31, 2021

    It's been a nice summer break, but we are excited to be back with your favorite classical music podcast! We kick things off on September 7 as Matthew Dayton joins John Banther to explore the life and music of Leonard Bernstein. The following episode, September 21, is all about one of the most popular symphonies, the No. 5 by Tchaikovsky. Bill Bukowski and John Banther explore the symphonies insecure origins and what to listen for in the music.
  • New classical albums to listen to this summer!

    New classical albums to listen to this summer!

    Episode 46 June 29, 2021

    We wrap up Season 2 of Classical Breakdown with some recommended recordings for you to explore this summer. These recently released albums feature a diverse range of composers, styles, ensembles, and even world premiere recordings.