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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Alan Chapman, KUSC personality

March 14, 2010|By Irene Lacher

In Los Angeles, Alan Chapman is well known as a font of information about classical music. Since 1992, he has been one of the marquee voices of KUSC-FM (91.5), the all-classical-all-the-time public radio station, now hosting a morning show each weekday as well as two weekend shows he also produces, "Modern Times" and "Thornton Center Stage." And he has been a pre-concert lecture maven for even longer.

A Yale-educated music theory scholar who teaches at the Colburn Conservatory, Chapman belies the cliché that those who can't do teach. He does very nicely, thank you, singing cabaret with his soprano wife, Karen Benjamin, and now performing with his musical brood as well. He recently sat down for a chat at his Miracle Mile home, where three of his pets -- two dogs and a cat -- settled in for a snooze.

Any other pets?

This house came with a 23-year-old monkey. There was a squirrel monkey who lived in an enclosure in the backyard, and the guy who sold the house couldn't take him, so he said, "Would you like to take care of Sam?" And so we took care of Sam. He died eight months later. We used to hand feed him in the morning -- worms and green beans.

So who's hot in classical music these days?

Compositionally speaking, Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentine composer. He's going to have a violin concerto premiered by the L.A. Philharmonic next season. He's a guy whose work I've loved ever since I discovered it. His big breakthrough piece was "The Saint Mark Passion," which was one of the pieces commissioned for the big Bach year in 2000. It blew me away. You remember certain things that are unduplicatable. He has written a song cycle for Dawn Upshaw called "Ayre," which is interesting because it visits the point long ago when the Jewish, Christian and Arab traditions all converged, before they diverged, in the 15th century. I also like Jennifer Higdon. She's really distinctive, a lot of great work.

Who's hot among performers?

I'm very fond of eighth blackbird, the collective musical director of the Ojai Festival last summer who were Grammy winners two Grammy Awards ago. They're a chamber group that was formed by students who'd graduated from Oberlin. The instrumentation is unusual -- it's piano, percussion, flute, clarinet, violin and cello.

Also, one of my oldest musical friends in the universe is Sharon Isbin, the guitarist, who just won her second Grammy. She did an album of music of the Americas including a Joan Baez suite, and when Joan Baez heard about it she came on the album and sang a couple of tunes with her.

So whom are you sick of?

Really? Lang Lang. I'm one of the non-Lang Lang lovers. I have to acknowledge that he's gotten a lot of people excited about classical music, but for my money, I would not walk across the street to hear him play. No question he has phenomenal technique, but he makes the music more about himself than about the music.

How many kids do you have?

I have two -- I have a daughter named Molly who's 14 and a son named Jake who's about to turn 16. They're both astonishingly musical.

I was thinking that this looks like . . .

A music room? Yeah. Everybody in the house plays a piano; my wife is a professional singer. And my son plays the vibes -- the vibraphones. That's my bass over there. He also plays electric guitar. We've actually done performances together as a family.

What about other young people who happen not to be related to you? What's going on with classical music? Are they all online?

Working at a classical radio station, we're trying to figure out where people listen. Young people consume music from their iPod and online sources, and I think that every radio station that knows what they're doing is thinking about new media and how you do that outreach.

Ten years ago, podcasts didn't exist, and now part of life at KUSC is podcasts.

How do you think radio in L.A. compares to other parts of the country?

I can only speak about classical radio. KUSC in the most recent ratings turns out to be the No. 1 public radio station in the United States. Over talk and news.

Were you surprised?

I wasn't surprised, because over the last year we'd seen it going in that direction. That means beating the big cultural bastion of San Francisco and also New York, and that's it. It's really a three-way race.

What's your secret?

I think our secret is we play good music and people like it.

First of all, it's 24/7. It isn't sharing time with anything else. You have a staff of people who actually are committed to it. Music is our lives. It's a bunch of musicians, so that makes a difference. Some magic combination happened to come about and seems to work.

calendar@latimes.com

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