Culinary Masterminds: Legendary Composers’ Favorite Foods

By Connie Kim and Mary Lathem

Composers: they’re just like us! If you’re skeptical, consider the fact that Ludwig van Beethoven’s favorite food was essentially macaroni and cheese… and he’s certainly not the classical music world’s only foodie. Just in time for Thanksgiving, we’re serving up a feast of delicious dishes loved by (and named after) famous composers. Bon Appétit!


  1. Rossini This, Rossini That
Gioachino Rossini

19th century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini is well known for his comic operas, but did you know his passion for food rivaled his passion for music? Tournedos Rossini, Chicken alla Rossini, and Eggs Rossini are just a few of the many dishes named for the composer, all proof of his “gastronomic virtuosity” and penchant for experimentation. Rossini himself once claimed he had only cried three times in his life: once when his earliest opera turned into a fiasco, second when he first heard Niccolò Paganini play the violin, and third when his truffle-stuffed turkey accidentally fell into Lake Como.



  1. Hildegard’s Healthy Living Tips

When studying 12th century polymath Hildegard von Bingen, you’d be hard pressed to find a subject area she wasn’t heavily involved in. Aside from her status as one of the most famous composers of sacred monophony (and the most recorded in modern history), Hildegard was an abbess, writer, medical practitioner, mystic, visionary, and theologian believed by many to be the founder of scientific natural history… and, in her free time, a nutritionist. Compiled in 2019, her guidelines for healthy living called for a balance of acidic and alkaline foods to prevent disease. Her go-to dishes? Spelt, beans, and chestnuts.



  1. Chopin’s Polish Pride

Composer Frederic Chopin often drew on Polish themes in his work, and it seems he had a great appreciation for the food of his home country as well! Zrazy, a Polish dish made of thin slices of chopped beef stuffed with vegetables and eggs, was one of his personal favorites. Chopin, who often longed for home, was once overjoyed to discover zrazy was on the menu at a dinner party and wrote, “This rare man, Dr. Malfatti, is so considerate of everyone. If we come to dine with him, he searches out Polish food for us!”


  1. Risotto for a Virtuoso

Born to a family of grocers and restaurateurs, it makes sense that opera composer Giuseppe Verdi had refined taste buds – and as a self-proclaimed connoisseur, Verdi had a particular love set aside for risotto! Described by his wife as “divine,” Verdi’s own risotto recipe may be lost to time, but his passion for the dish did lead to the naming of a popular risotto dish in his honor.


  1. Igor Stravinsky’s Sweet Side

Although he wasn’t known for his sweet personality, Russian composer Igor Stravinsky’s adoration for honey was well documented. Specifically, Stravinsky always had royal jelly honey on hand, even going so far as to bring his own jar of honey to restaurants. Looking for a new way to make friends? Here’s an idea from a fellow composer: when he heard about Stravinsky’s enthusiasm for honey, Sergei Rachmaninoff came knocking on Stravinsky’s door one night with a massive jar of honey!


  1. Marillenknödel alla Mahler 

No one can deny Gustav Mahler’s devotion to music, but you may have never heard of one of his other great loves: traditional Viennese apricot dumplings called Marillenknödel. Mahler’s sister Justine had perfected an amazing recipe – so amazing that when Mahler found out his friend Ludwig Karpath didn’t like Marillenknödel, he insisted that Karpath come over immediately to sample Justine’s “heavenly” cooking. Karpath was an instant fan (and you can use Justine’s original recipe to find out if you are, too).



  1. Paganini Ravioli 
Niccolò Paganini

Imagine a ravioli dish loaded with sausage, veal, beef, and butter… yea or nay? Ravioli was one of Niccolò Paganini’s favorite foods, and there wasn’t a hint of green in his own meat-loving recipe (though it did contain calf brain). The original handwritten recipe is now housed in the Library of Congress.


  1. Duke Ellington’s Culinary Travels
Duke Ellington (center) having his dinner at the Hurricane with his wife, Bea Ellington (right), and a friend.

Best known as a jazz legend, Duke Ellington is also celebrated for his contributions to the classical and film music spheres. As it turns out, he might have made a pretty excellent food blogger, too. In an interview, Ellington spoke at length about the list of favorite foods he keeps from his travels, from chicken liver omelets in Los Angeles to octopus soup in Paris and everything in between. Ellington was no stranger to fine dining – one of his favorite restaurants in the Netherlands offered 85 different hors d’oeuvres, all of which he sampled – but for the best fried fish in the world, Ellington knew a spot in St. Petersburg, Florida: “It’s just a little shack, but they can sure fry fish.”

Pictured: Duke Ellington (center) having his dinner at the Hurricane with his wife, Bea Ellington (right), and a friend.


Sources and Further Reading

Composers In The Kitchen: Gioachino Rossini’s Haute Cuisine (NPR)

Six Curious Facts About Gioachino Rossini (CMUSE)

HISTORY: Hildegard of Bingen (Bioregulatory Medical Institute)

15 Composers who loved their food (BBC Music Magazine)

Composers In The Kitchen: Risotto Giuseppe Verdi Style (NPR)

Risotto Giuseppe Verdi Style (Academia Barilla)

Sweet-toothed composers (BBC Music Magazine)

Composers In The Kitchen: Gustav Mahler’s Just Dessert (NPR)

“Marillenknoedel” from Classical Cooks: A Gastrohistory of Western Music (New York Philharmonic)

Cooking Up History: Niccolò Paganini’s Ravioli (Library of Congress)

Playlist: A Few of Duke Ellington’s Favorite Things (Lapham’s Quarterly)

Playlist: Sinister Scores for Halloween

by Connie Kim

It’s Halloween season! Perfect for a party or an eerie evening of trick-or-treating, our selection of spooky scores from iconic horror films and television will give you the chills.

  1. “Cabrini Green” (Philip Glass, Michael Reisman, The Western Wind) – The Music of Candyman (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  2. “Main Title” (John Williams) – Jaws (Music from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  3. “Polymorphia” (Krzysztof Penderecki) – The Exorcist (Original Motion Picture)
  4. “Main Title” (Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind)- The Shining (Original Motion Pictures Soundtrack)
  5. “Flight”(Bernard Herrmann) – Psycho (The Complete Original Motion Picture Score)
  6. “Dance” (Max Lilja) – The Exorcist (Original Radio Play Soundtrack)
  7. “The Car Lot” (Bernard Herrmann) – Psycho (The Complete Original Motion Picture Score)
  8. “The Shark Approaches” (John Williams) – Jaws (The Collector’s Edition Soundtrack)
  9. “The Shadow”(Bernard Herrmann) – Psycho (The Complete Original Motion Picture Score)
  10. “We’re Not the Only Ones Watching” (David Julyan) – The Cabin in the Woods (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  11. “Night of Terror” (Clint Mansell) – Black Swan (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  12.  “The Cabin in the Woods” (David Julyan) – The Cabin in the Woods (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  13. The Haunting of Hill House (The Newton Brothers) – The Haunting of Hill House (Music from Netflix Horror Series)
  14. The History of Hill House (Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra) – The Haunting (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  15. “Headless Wizard” (Christopher Young) – Hellbound: Hellraiser II (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  16. “Gassed” (Bobby Krlic) – MidSommar (Original Motion Picture Score)
  17. “Femme Fatale” (Michael Abels) – Us (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  18. “Go Tomorrow” (The Newton Brothers) – The Haunting of Hill House (Music from Netflix Horror Series)
  19. Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (Johann Sebastian Bach, William McVicker) – Great Organ Classics
  20. “Finale” (Michael Abels) – Us (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  21. “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” (Michael Abels) – Get Out (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  22. “Children of the Corn” (Marco Beltrami) – A Quiet Place (Original Soundtrack Album – edited)
  23. “WTF is That” (Michael Abels)- Nope (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  24. “Caleb is Lost” (Mark Korven) – The Witch (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  25. “Filthy Dog”(Mark Korven) – The Lighthouse (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  26. “All Together Now” (Marco Beltrami) – A Quiet Place (Original Soundtrack Album)
  27. “Suspiria”(Goblin) – Suspiria (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Sinister Scores Playlist


Holiday Havoc: WDAV Staff Members Share Stories of Christmases Gone Wrong

We can wish for the perfect holiday season all we want, but in the mix of family visits, packed schedules, and high expectations, it’s not uncommon for plans to go awry. When the most wonderful time of the year takes a not-so-wonderful turn, sometimes the only thing we can do is laugh (and share the story with our coworkers and listeners). 


Myelita Melton
Associate Content Director and Afternoon Host

“I was getting married and preparing for my first Christmas with my new in-laws, and I wanted to make a great first impression. My fiancé and I had had a professional photographer shoot engagement photos for us, so I thought pictures would make a great gift for his parents. The problem was that I didn’t have a box that was the right size, and I wanted their present to be gorgeous. As the day for the Christmas gathering approached, I had some frozen shrimp delivered – and lo and behold, the box the shrimp came in was the perfect size! It did smell a little bit, but I thought I could eradicate the odor of the shrimp by dousing the box with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The package was beautiful, but the second my mother-in-law took off the first piece of tape, the smell of shrimp invaded the living room! I’ve never been more embarrassed in my life at delivering a gift that was truly a fish out of water!”


Will Keible
Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“Trouble. I had a knack for finding it when I was kid. And each year at Christmas I was reminded how much of it I had caused by the number of sticks that my parents… err… Santa left in my stocking. When I was 8 years old, and still squarely in the pro-Santa camp, I was greeted at the fireplace with an entire sapling stuck in my stocking. It was so big that it brushed up against the ceiling. I recognized it immediately as the tree that I had snapped in half while roughhousing with my friends that past Summer. My Dad had recently planted it and was more than a little angry to see it contorted into a right angle. I don’t know if he hatched the plan for the stocking then and there, but its appearance six months later is evidence that my Dad rarely missed an opportunity for a well-timed joke.”



“One moment that is forever seared into my memory is the night Santa Claus skipped our house. As kids, my brother and I were notorious for taking forever to fall asleep the night before Christmas, and I guess my parents had had enough of it this particular year. Just as my mom was begging us to go to sleep, my dad walked past our bedroom windows shaking a set of jingle bells, which we all heard loud and clear. Mom shrugged and explained that the sound of bells passing by meant that Santa knew we weren’t asleep yet, and ‘maybe if you go to bed right this second, he’ll come back!’ I won’t say I recommend it, but it worked like a charm, and we all crack up about it to this day.” 


Kendra Intihar
Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach

“When my brother was 10 and I was 13, we committed the Christmas crime we are still paying for all these decades later.

Our family did not have extra money to throw around when I was growing up, but somehow, Mama always made Christmas look like a cozy movie scene. She was so careful, thoughtful, and precise about how much money she spent on each of us and how all the toys and packages would look laid out in the living room next to the tree. Our stockings were stuffed to overflowing, and the toys Santa left for us were thoughtfully displayed without wrapping paper with the tree and the mantle as a backdrop, like a beautiful department store window with its moody colors and twinkling lights. It was her joy to get up with us on Christmas morning and watch us open our gifts.

At six o’clock that infamous Christmas morning, I sneaked into my brother’s room and announced quietly that Santa had come. We knew Mama hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep, so we resolved that we’d go open all of our presents quietly so as not to disturb her. When she woke up, we’d “tell” her what we got and how much we loved it.

Reader, I need you to know something: This was the worst idea I’ve ever had, and it isn’t even close. Mama alternated between crying and yelling for a week, and the Ghost of Christmas Past visits my brother and me every single year as we sit and endure the time-honored tradition of listening to our mother tell her version of the scandalous event. I live in hope that my own children will someday allow me the pleasure of haranguing them for decades, too.”


Classical Icons at Christmastime

Though it’s natural to think of classical music icons as far removed from our lives, their holiday festivities had just as much joy – and just as many mishaps – as ours do today. This holiday season, let’s take a look at what some of history’s most cherished classical figures were up to at Christmastime.

Opera Star Grace Bumbry Finds Her Voice
Grace Bumbry
By U.S. federal government – Kennedy Center Honorees at the White House, Public Domain.

While her parents and brothers rehearsed for a performance of Handel’s Messiah, superstar mezzo-soprano Grace Bumbry – then too young to join any of their church’s choirs – soaked in the music from the pews. Later, as they finished their chores one Saturday afternoon, Bumbry’s brothers made a shocking discovery:

“We were doing the washing, and Benjamin and Charlie were singing along in The Messiah, and I popped in with something that was missing. And they said, ‘Well, how do you know that?’ I heard it in the rehearsals. They were surprised to see that Grace knows all of the music.”

– Grace Bumbry

Though the director of the church’s junior choir deemed Bumbry too young to join the group, she was impressed with the little girl’s singing ability and arranged a solo performance for her at that year’s Christmas program. “I sang ‘O Holy Night,’ which I later found out was really quite difficult,” Bumbry explained in an interview with St. Louis Magazine earlier this year. “But in those days, you don’t have the sense to know that it’s hard… For me, it was normal. It was like playing with my yo-yo or something.” And the rest is history. 


A Raucous Premiere for Frederick Delius’ “Sleigh Ride” 
Nina and Edvard Grieg, Johan Halvorsen, Frederick Delius, and Christian Sinding play cards at their 1887 Christmas gathering in Leipzig.
By Photographer unknown. – Reproduced from Delius Society website, PD-US.

What do you get when Edvard Grieg, Johan Halvorsen, Christian Sinding, and Frederik Delius walk into a party on Christmas Eve? A truly unforgettable premiere. Before Delius’ “Sleigh Ride” was part of the standard holiday repertoire, it was reportedly conceived as a piano work, which was given its first performance as an after-dinner treat for the attendees of an 1887 Christmas celebration. In a letter to close friend Frants Beyer, Grieg describes the raucous scene

“After the meal we were, without exception, all plastered, but the programme had to be adhered to and it offered music, music and still more music! What a Christmas Eve! … Mr. Delius played a piano piece which he calls ‘Norwegische Schlittenfahrt’ (Norwegian Sleigh Ride) with great talent.”

– Edvard Grieg

Chiquinha Gonzaga’s Christmas Debut

Long before she was Brazil’s first female conductor (and one of the most important figures in Brazilian music history), 11-year-old Chiquinha Gonzaga was a budding composer and accomplished pianist. She performed her first-ever composition, a song titled Canção dos Pastores (Song of the Shepherds), at an 1858 family Christmas Eve party with flute accompaniment from her uncle Antônio and verses contributed by her brother Juca. Though the score was never published during her lifetime, Gonzaga’s biographer Mariza Lira recovered it in 1939, and the music remains available for all to enjoy in print and online

Video: CHIQUINHA GONZAGA, Canção dos Pastores
A Sibelius Family Christmas
Jean Sibelius
By Paul Heckscher

Despite composing many of Finland’s most popular Christmas songs, Jean Sibelius wasn’t exactly a fan of the holiday season (in fact, he once wrote to his secretary that “immediately after Christmas is over, things improve and life is fun once more.”) Nevertheless, the Sibelius family Christmas celebrations were filled to the brim with tradition. During visits from Sibelius’ daughters and their families, the house would reverberate with music and the din of childrens’ games, topped off with a delicious feast and an annual sleigh ride. The moment the children treasured most of all was the lighting of the Christmas tree, when their grandfather would lead them in singing his own Christmas carols around the sparkling display. Sibelius’ granddaughter Laura Enckell later recalled the tradition in her writings

“(The tree) really had to dazzle you with its brightness. He played ‘High are the snowdrifts,’ and he played so loud, with the pedal down, as if he were playing the organ… We sang this song and then we sang ‘Give me no splendour, gold or pomp.’ This was all very jolly. It wasn’t pious or gloomy at all.”

Laura Enckell


Christmas in Finland with the Sibelius Family (This Is Finland)

Delius and His Music (Martin Lee-Browne and Paul Guinery, p.15)

Frederick Delius: Sleigh Ride for orchestra (1889) (British Classical Music: The Land of Lost Content)

Opera superstar Grace Bumbry reflects on her start at Sumner High School, Kennedy Center Honors, and meeting two presidents (St. Louis Magazine)

SONG OF THE SHEPHERDS, Christmas Eve (Chiquinha Gonzaga Digital Archive)

Chiquinha Gonzaga Biography (

Native American Heritage Day: Get to Know 5 Native American and Indigenous Classical Icons

November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States, an observance which honors the cultures, traditions, and contributions of Native American peoples across the nation. On this Native American Heritage Day (November 26th), take some time to get to know five outstanding classical artists of Native American and Indigenous heritage, all of whom have brought unique perspectives and innovation to the art form. 


Louis W. Ballard

Known as “the father of Native American composition,” Louis W. Ballard’s passion for Native American music and musicians is evident in his work’s seamless blend of traditions. Though the symphony and dance piece Incident at Wounded Knee is perhaps his best known composition, he is also remembered for numerous ensemble pieces, choral works, and stage pieces, including the ballet The Four Moons. Ballard received a Lifetime Musical Achievement Award from First Americans in the Arts in 1997, and in 2004, he became the first classical composer to be inducted into the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame. 

Video: Louis Ballard’s Ritmo Indio


Dawn Avery

Committed to Indigenous language and cultural preservation, Mohawk composer, cellist, and educator Dr. Dawn Avery melds classical music with pop and folk elements to create a sound all her own. Avery is a prolific recording artist including the albums Our Fire (2011), Beloved (2019), Global Music Award-winner 50 Shades of Red (2016), and many others. Since 2006, she has toured with the North American Indian Cello Project, which commissions and premieres contemporary classical works by Native composers. Avery, who serves as a full professor at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, is the 2011 recipient of the United States Professor of the Year award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

Video: Decolonization (North American Indian Cello Project – Dawn Avery)


Brent Michael Davids

Concert and film score composer Brent Michael Davids, a citizen of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation, is one of today’s best-known Native musicians. Davids’ work in film includes music for The Business of Fancydancing (2002) and a new score for the 1920 film The Last of the Mohicans, and he has composed works for ensembles and institutions including the Kronos Quartet, Joffrey Ballet, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Chanticleer. In his own words, “I strongly believe that when we collaborate and experiment in song, the benefits go beyond music itself. Our interactions as composers, performers, audiences, students and teachers – Indian and non-Indian alike – constitute important relational skills. If we can excite creativity and cooperation in each other, we have accomplished a magnificent thing!”

Video: Brent Michael Davids



R. Carlos Nakai

Described as “the world’s premiere performer of the Native American flute,” R. Carlos Nakai began playing the traditional flute in the 1980s with a background in classical trumpet and music theory. His extensive recording career has spanned over 50 albums, including Canyon Trilogy (2014), which became the first ever traditional Native American solo flute album to go Platinum. Nakai’s works have been nominated for 11 GRAMMY Awards in 4 categories, and he has sold over 4 million albums throughout his career. According to his website, “Nakai’s career has been shaped by a desire to communicate a sense of Native American culture and society that transcends the common stereotypes presented in mass media.”

Video: Phoenix Chorale – Desert Song featuring R. Carlos Nakai 2015



Gabriel Ayala

Gabriel Ayala, a renowned classical guitarist and member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, is known for his unique playing style incorporating elements of the classical, jazz, and flamenco traditions. Among numerous awards for his work, Ayala was named the 2011 Native American Music Awards Artist of the Year. An avid educator, Ayala shares his personal philosophy with all he teaches: “Love your children, honor your elders, and respect your women.”

Video: An Afternoon with Gabriel Ayala


You can listen to these selections on our Native American Heritage month playlist on Spotify.



Sources and Further Reading

BALLARD, LOUIS WAYNE (1931–2007) (Oklahoma Historical Society)

Dawn Avery – Bio (Dawn Avery Official Website)

North American Indian Cello Project (Dawn Avery Official Website)

Brent Michael Davids (The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra)

Brent Michael Davids (Wikipedia)

R. Carlos Nakai (R. Carlos Nakai Official Website)

Gabriel Ayala (Sākihiwē Festival Website)

Gabriel Ayala (Tucson Meet Yourself)

Pictured: Dawn Avery of the Mohawk Nation by Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office – PHFL+soNativeAmerican-p-1-Heritage, CC BY 2.0.

Thanksgiving 2021: Notes of Thankfulness from WDAV

It’s a simple question, passed around the table time after time: “What are you thankful for this year?” We may get tired of hearing it around this time of year, but no matter the season, taking a moment to reflect on life’s most precious gifts can give us new perspective and remind us what truly matters. In the spirit of the holiday, we asked members of the WDAV staff to share what’s filling their hearts with gratitude this Thanksgiving. 


Will Keible
Director of Marketing and Corporate Support

“I’m lucky – I have so much to be thankful for. I am blessed with a wonderful family, caring friends, good health, great colleagues, and a job that allows me to do meaningful work. What more could one ask for? Well, there is one thing for which I’d like to give a special shout out, and that is how thankful I am for all of the artists and musicians in the world. Art, in all of its forms, adds color, beauty, and depth to our existence. Not a day goes by during which I’m not moved by something someone has created, yet rarely do I ever have the chance to thank the person who made it. So, here it is. THANK YOU TO ALL ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS – PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE – FOR SHARING YOUR GIFT WITH THE WORLD.”


Heidi North
Administrative Assistant

“I am deeply grateful for my family, my colleagues, and my friends, especially during the pandemic. I am surrounded by a lot of supportive and kind-hearted individuals which made our surreal reality over the last year and a half much more bearable.”


Mary Lathem
Marketing & Digital Communications Specialist

“Everyone in the office is probably tired of hearing about her, but I have to be honest: this year I’ve been especially grateful for my cat, Flora. She’s been the best little buddy and source of comfort over the last year and a half, always following me from room to room, hiding in the laundry, and making me laugh. When I was working from home, she got so used to Zoom meetings that now she needs her own chair every time I’m on a call (otherwise she’ll yell about it). She’s completely ridiculous and I don’t know what I’d do without her.”


Jay Ahuja
Corporate Sponsorship Representative

“I’m thankful we made it through the past 20 months relatively unscathed and not to have gone through this alone. Without Karen and our dogs, Tosh and Jango, I probably would have gone nuts. I’m thankful our families are healthy and we are too. I’m thankful our friends are fun, generous and caring. I’m thankful for music, art, books, newspapers, magazines, movies and sports. I’m thankful that we have concerts, travel, and cultural events of all kinds to look forward to. I’m thankful we work for organizations run by the best kind of human beings who look out for our best interests. I’m thankful for our co-workers, clients and volunteers. I’m thankful for meaningful volunteer work that connects me with wonderful people and sustains my creative juices. Lastly, I’m thankful I never joined Facebook.”


Ted Weiner
Music Director

“I am thankful for the Fall colors and the falling leaves that cover my car and interfere with my windshield wipers. It reminds me that life isn’t always so convenient just because it is beautiful.

I am thankful for being so lucky to work with the best group of people in all the 35 years I have been with WDAV and Davidson College.

Most of all, I am thankful for my good health and that of my two grown daughters, as well as my elderly siblings. Health… the most important thing. Without it, everything is just plain… doo-doo.”


Kendra Intihar
Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach

“Over the course of the past year, many people I love have experienced profound losses. For better or for worse, this has made me unusually reflective about all the things in my life I’m grateful for. In 2021, I made a promise to myself to be intentional about noticing little bits of joy in ordinary places. Here are a few little things I’m grateful for this year:

  • the scented candle aisle at TJ Maxx
  • the sound of my toddler quietly singing the ABC’s to lull himself to sleep at night
  • mismatched linens
  • the way pothos and potato vines don’t apologize for the beautiful way they take up space
  • late night philosophical and theological conversations with my husband
  • independent coffee and book shops
  • getting random middle-of the day texts from my teenager
  • hammock chairs
  • the church bells across the woods from my house
  • the fact that my larger-than-life eight year old isn’t yet “too old” to ask me for a snuggle
  • re-reading the books my grandfather once read and finding his notes in the margins
  • Nutella
  • weekly lunch dates with my mother… and her hugs
  • the back porch at our house (pictured)
  • sentimental stories

Of course, I could keep this list going for hours. I’ll sum up, though, by saying that, as always, I’m so very thankful for my incredible colleagues here at WDAV. They are the smartest, kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, and they have topped my ‘thankful things’ list every year since I began working here in 2013.”

Holidays of Classical Music Legend

By Mary Lathem

We’ve enjoyed their festive masterpieces all season long – but what were history’s most famous classical artists really up to around this time of year? These stories from classical music lore are the perfect complement to your holiday listening. 


Leonard Bernstein Celebrates Hanukkah at the White House
Leonard Bernstein By Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0.

When Leonard Bernstein received the Kennedy Center Honors award in 1980, he and his family were invited to the White House as guests of the Carters (on what also happened to be the first day of Hanukkah).

The family was invited to rest in the Lincoln Bedroom, where they set up a small menorah that had been packed especially for the trip.

After lighting the first candle, singing the Hebrew blessing, and stowing the burning candles in a bathroom sink, Bernstein and his guests headed to the Kennedy Center for the ceremony. Because the event was being taped for national TV, President Carter needed to be the last person to enter – but Bernstein’s group arrived late, requiring Carter to make a second presidential entrance! 

Source: Working with Bernstein: A Memoir, Jack Gottlieb
Photo by Jack Mitchell, CC BY-SA 4.0



Fanny Mendelssohn’s Roman Holiday
Fanny Mendelssohn

Visiting Italy may have been Fanny Mendelssohn’s lifelong dream, but based on a series of letters to brother Felix (dated New Year’s Day, 1840), the music she encountered there during a year-long visit with her husband and son left much to be desired:

“I haven’t experienced anything edifying since I’ve been in Italy… I heard the Papal singers three times – once in the Sistine Chapel on the first Sunday in Advent, once in the same place on Christmas Eve, and once in St. Peter’s basilica on Christmas Day – and I have to report that I was astounded that the performances were far from perfect. Right now they seem to lack good voices and sing completely out of tune.” 

In a later letter, Felix encouraged Fanny to “pay attention to the horrendous fifths the Papal singers make when all four voices are ornamented with coloratura at the same time” – to which she responded, “I already received a clear impression of Papal fifths at Christmas.” Luckily, Fanny’s Italian vacation would tremendously improve in the coming weeks.

At a Sunday evening dinner party, Fanny crossed paths with a young Charles Gounod, who had recently won the Prix de Rome. Gounod became a beloved companion to Fanny during her time in Rome (and garnered some of his earliest musical influences through the Mendelssohn siblings). 

Source: The Letters of Fanny Hensel to Felix Mendelssohn



Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes’ Christmas Collaboration

Margaret Bonds fell in love with the poetry of Langston Hughes in 1929 while studying at Northwestern University, but it would be several years before the pair’s close friendship (and strong collaborative relationship) began.

After meeting at a mutual friend’s house, Hughes was invited to a Sunday afternoon musicale at Bonds’ family home. Bonds remembered this as the day the pair became “like brother and sister, like blood relatives.”

Both prominent figures in the Harlem Renaissance and outspoken advocates for Black artists, Bonds and Hughes constantly took inspiration from one another. Bonds went on to become a prolific composer, setting a massive amount of Hughes’ poetry to music. The most successful of their collaborations, the Christmas cantata The Ballad of the Brown King (1954), focuses on the story of the African king Balthazar – traditionally considered to be one of the Magi from the story of the Nativity

Originally conceived as a work for voice and piano, the premiere of a longer, orchestrated version was televised as part of the 1960 CBS Christmas special “Christmas U.S.A.” Hughes wasn’t able to make it to the initial rehearsals for the performance, but he expressed his excitement in a letter to Bonds: “Dear Margaret, George tells me our Ballad of the Brown King is be-au-ti-FUL!… I’ll be back in time for the performance of the Ballad, which I hear tell the CBS lady liked very much.” 


Video: The Dessoff Choirs: The Ballad Of The Brown King: IV. Mary Had A Little Baby (Bonds-Hughes)

Source: Margaret Bonds and Langston Hughes: A Musical Friendship, Georgetown University Library



Mozart’s Christmas Eve Duel with Muzio Clementi

At 25, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was confident that he was “the greatest pianist and composer in the world,” and he wouldn’t shy away from a chance to prove it. When Italian pianist Muzio Clementi happened to be in Vienna around Christmastime in 1781, Emperor Joseph II invited Mozart and Clementi to duke it out as part of the court’s Christmas Eve entertainment.

Clementi made the first move by playing his Sonata in B-flat Major, which Mozart followed with improvised variations on a march from André Grétry’s opera The Samnite Marriage (a theme provided to him on the spot). After an evening of stiff competition, no winner was declared, and both participants received an equal cash prize (though the Emperor later collected on a private wager in favor of Mozart with the Grand Duchess Maria Luisa).

After the duel, Clementi marveled over Mozart’s ability, later writing that he had “never heard anyone play with so much spirit and grace.” Mozart’s assessment of Clementi wasn’t quite so nice: “Clementi doesn’t have a Kreutzer’s worth of taste or feeling.” Ah, well. You can’t win them all.

Source: Music History Monday: The Mozart/Clementi Duel, Robert Greenberg

Sing We Joyous, All Together: Warm Holiday Concert Memories from the WDAV Staff

Though the holidays have slowed down significantly in 2020, we can’t help but smile when we think of the concerts that usually fill our calendars to the brim this time of year. Members of our staff share memories of holiday concerts past to warm our hearts until we can safely gather together again. 



Kendra Intihar

Kendra Intihar
Assistant General Manager & Director of Community Outreach

“I’ve seen some gorgeous holiday concerts, many of which were sponsored or hosted by WDAV, but my very favorite holiday concert was the 2019 Davidson College Holiday Gala because it was the first year my daughter was invited to dance to the orchestra and choir’s incredible performance of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

The Davidson College Holiday Gala is always a spectacular and moving production, and for many of us, it has become a tradition that makes the season really feel like Christmas.

I love Christmas music, I love ballet, and of course my daughter is the apple of my eye – to see those three loves mesh at the Gala last year is a memory that still brings me to joyful tears.

The arts make life so beautiful. I’m eagerly waiting for the 2021 Davidson College Holiday Gala when the world will hopefully be mended a little and we can enjoy performances like this one again!”




Mary Lathem

Mary Lathem
Marketing & Digital Communications Specialist

“One of the most familiar sounds of my childhood is the hum of my Dad’s favorite record, the 1959 Philadelphia Orchestra and Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording of Handel’s Messiah, wafting downstairs from his office (usually around Christmastime, but sometimes just because).

Needless to say, finding a live performance of the Messiah to attend has always been on the top of his to-do list around the holidays.

When he found out my community choir in Indiana was putting on a singalong version of the Messiah two years ago, he flew in from Georgia just to participate and spend the weekend with me, bringing along a copy of the score I had given him for Christmas the year before.

I couldn’t stop watching his face while he sang ‘Ev’ry Valley’ with the tenor section – pure joy! That day will always be one of my favorite Christmas memories, and one of my best memories in general.”




Frank Dominguez

Frank Dominguez
General Manager,
Host and Producer of Night Music and Concíerto

“My favorite holiday concert memory is of an event I helped WDAV produce back in 2009. A Carolina Christmas from Biltmore Estate with Kathy Mattea featured the Grammy-winning country singer for crossover appeal, but was also our first collaboration with David Tang and his chorus VOX, an association that continues to this day.

What made it most memorable for me, apart from the festive blend of musical styles, was that I got to work with my eldest child, Torie. She wrangled the more than fifty performers involved with the recording, which was made in the Banquet Hall before a live audience – all of it on a fairly warm, early September evening so that we would have plenty of time to mix and edit the audio for broadcast in December!”





Myelita Melton

Myelita Melton
Associate Producer of Concierto & Afternoon Host, Symphony at 6

“Several years ago I attended a New Year’s Eve concert with the Winston-Salem Symphony featuring Rhiannon Giddens. Watching her and Maestro Robert Moody improv while she sang and danced barefoot made for a magnificent holiday show.

When the balloons dropped at the stroke of midnight, the audience was all singing Auld Lang Syne, laughing, and hugging uncontrollably. Unforgettable!”





Jay Ahuja

Jay Ahuja
Corporate Sponsorship Representative

“In July of 2007, I was at a Public Radio conference in Reno, Nevada. I met two women who ran a business that arranged VIP concerts for radio station executives and contest winners. They mentioned that their next one was in November with Led Zeppelin in London. I jokingly said, ‘If you get a cancelation, let me know.’

Well, guitarist Jimmy Page broke his hand, so the concert was postponed to December and they had two seats come available. They gave me 24 hours to respond before they would move on to another prospect. I arranged to stay with friends in London, called a buddy who was single and had his own business, so he was able to quickly say yes, and found a reasonable, albeit cramped flight to London. Christmas in London: Harrod’s, Borough Market, the West End, the landmarks, pubs and museums – all are incredible.

Tickets came with transportation, a nice sit down dinner with an open bar in a VIP room at O2 Arena, and an after party with the opening bands, including Bill Wyman, Alan White, Keith Emerson, Chris Squire and Paolo Nutini. When the show started, Lenny Kravitz, Marilyn Manson and other musicians were seated a few rows behind us. Not only was it my favorite holiday concert, it remains my favorite concert of all time.”