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.


  • George Walker: He wants you to play his music

    George Walker: He wants you to play his music

    Episode 58 February 8, 2022

    DC native composer, George Walker, was one of the great American composers of the 20th and 21st centuries. His close friend and colleague, Dr. Mickey Terry, joins John Banther to discuss his life, challenges, and three works you need to listen to.
  • Dvorak's Cello Concerto, 5 things to listen for!

    Dvorak's Cello Concerto, 5 things to listen for!

    Episode 57 January 25, 2022

    There is always something new to discover, no matter how many times you've heard a piece. Our resident cello player, James Jacobs, joins John Banther to give you 5 things to listen for in this masterpiece that you've either missed or could experience differently. 
  • The life and music of Robert Schumann

    The life and music of Robert Schumann

    Episode 55 December 28, 2021

    His music helped define the sound and direction of the Romantic period of the 19th century across different forms; like music for piano, song, chamber music, and symphonies. John Banther and Linda Carducci talk about characteristics to listen for in his music, why he became a composer, and how literature played a part in his works. 
  • 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.