Nathan Gunn Goes Old-School

Nathan Gunn Sharkey Photography

Baritone Nathan Gunn calls himself “old-school” when it comes to recitals.

“That’s just how I was raised, and I’ve been trying to break out of that mode,” Gunn said in a recent interview.

“Old-school,” in this sense, means that the performer doesn’t actually speak to the audience or interact with them in any way other than the music being presented. That’s the traditional format — the idea being that the music speaks for itself, maybe with the aid of some printed program notes — but more performers, like Gunn, are learning to talk to the audience.

“[That makes it] more of an evening, a conversation,” said Gunn. “It’s also a very effective way of making music, and the point is to communicate to other human beings.”

Gunn will be singing, and speaking, at the University of Louisville Comstock Recital Hall this Saturday evening, as part of the Speed Concert Series. He’ll be accompanied by his wife, pianist Julie Gunn, who collaborated with him on choosing the songs for the program.

One of the most in-demand baritones working in opera today, Gunn has been seen on stages throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Paris Opera, and the Royal Opera House. Many critics see him as part of a “new generation” of opera singers who not only have beautiful voices but deliver strong acting alongside movie-star looks. In 2006, the New York Times cheekily suggested that he might also capable of singing with his shirt on, a nod to his occasional bare-chested appearances in various opera roles. (Ed. note: see video below)

Presumably, he’ll be fully clothed on Saturday as he performs Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, a song cycle written in 1840 that tells a sad, romantic tale.

“If you know the story, he’s this guy who’s in love with a woman who doesn’t love him, which probably makes up 95 percent of all German art songs on the planet,” Gunn said.

Gunn decided, in a fit of “art song humor,” to follow the thoroughly tragic Dichterliebe with the song “Everything Happens To Me,” usually associated with Frank Sinatra.

“We’ll see if anybody chuckles, cause it’s sort of funny… yeah, it’s nerdy, I know,” Gunn said.

The program will also include some American art songs by composer William Bolcom, some cowboy songs arranged by Julie Gunn, and a still-to-be-decided ballad.

Gunn says he enjoys doing recitals because he gets to be in control of the musical quality, as opposed to an opera, where there are so many other variables at play.

“You’re dealing with a gajillion different things. You’re dealing with your colleagues, you’re dealing with lights, you’re dealing with costumes, you’re dealing with a large-scale event. What I love about recital is that anything can happen,” Gunn said.

And anything does. In a recent appearance with Broadway singer and actor Mandy Patinkin (he and Gunn have toured with a two-man show), Gunn completely forgot the words to “Over the Rainbow.”

“And I just stop. And he looks at me and he’s like, do you want me to sing it in Yiddish? And I’m like, you know this in Yiddish? And he starts to sing it in Yiddish. And those are the sort of moments that you cannot plan,” said Gunn. “And I’m telling you, that’s what most people loved.”

Nathan Gunn appears on Saturday evening at 7:30 pm at U of L’s Comstock Recital Hall, as part of the Speed Concert Series. More information, including ticketing, is available here.

This story comes from Tara Anderson, 89.3 WFPL News Arts and Culture Reporter.


Every weekday at 10:30am I play what I call a “guitar pick.” It’s a work featuring the guitar. It can be as a solo instrument, in a chamber setting or with orchestra. On Monday I presented a performance of what it widely considered the international anthem of guitarists – Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) by Francisco Tarrega. Composed in 1896, Tarrega made generous use of the picking effect known as “tremolo” throughout the piece. While the thumb picks the bass line, the other digits on the picking hand quickly alternate on the melody. Novice listeners to the piece often conclude that the work is being played by two guitarists. This composition holds a special place in my heart as it was part of the opening music to our wedding, which was played expertly by Louisville guitarist Dale Grider.

Other guitar picks from this week were:

Francisco Tarraga – Recuerdos de la Alhambra – Valerie Hartzell
JS Bach – Partita BWV 1002 – Michael Long
Maurice Ravel – Pavane – Julian Bream and John Williams
Federico Moreno Torroba – Sonatina – Eduardo Fernandez
Giuseppe Torelli – Concerto for guitar and violin – Karl Scheit, guitar

My ukulele pick this week is a cover by Eva Walsh, of a Black Eyed Peas song. Trust me.

Neil Rao: Where is He Now?

Headshot (1)

Classical 90.5’s Young Artist Competition showcases our region’s top musical talent. Every fall kids ages 8-18 compete for a spot in our live on-air studio recital.

But where do our winners go from there?

I caught up with our 2010 Young Artist Competition Winner Neil Rao, a percussionist and marimbist who recently played Carnegie Hall with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra.

Neil talked about the the weightiness of playing in Carnegie Hall, the work it took to get there, and gave advice to young musicians who are trying to make it in the music world.

He said it really boils down to three things: practicing, people skills, and your motivation- really having a cultivated reason for why you are a musician.

And why is Neil a musician?

“I’m a musician because I love spreading the joy that comes across people’s faces and comes across people’s hearts when they hear these wild sounds from every single spectrum of emotion you can have.”

Listen to Neil’s story and watch him playing his original composition below:

Audio: Kentucky Opera Showboat Preview


Recorded live on February 3, 2016 at Classical 90.5/Louisville Public Media. Due to a technical malfunction, the final 10 minutes of the preview is not available.

Four for Andalucia


Every weekday morning at 10:30 I present the “Guitar Pick,” a musical selection that features the guitar in some form or fashion. It can be as a solo instrument, in a chamber setting or with orchestra. On Friday’s show I played Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto Andaluz, scored for 4 guitars and orchestra. The family of guitarists collectively called “Los Romeros” hail from Andalucia, Spain. Through the years, Rodrigo and the Romeros forged a tight partnership. One of the results of this partnership was this work, named after the Romeros’ home town. The compositions display the styles of Buleria, Zapateado and Sevillana dances. And it’s a lot of fun!

Other guitar picks this week:

J N Hummel – Grand Serenade No. 1 – Consortium Classicum
JS Bach – Suite for lute, BWV 1006a – Sharon Isbin
Enrique Granados – Spanish Dances – Folkwang Guitarren Duo
Georg Philipp Telemann – Bourée alla Polacca – John Williams and Friends

My ukulele pick today comes from the amazing Jake Shimabukuro. He once promised to create a ukulele version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. He later said he regretted saying that! But he finally did it and spectacularly so!