On Friday, June 14, Brian Newhouse signs off for the last time as the regular host of Classical Minnesota Public Radio’s live broadcasts of the Minnesota Orchestra’s Friday night classical concerts. Newhouse, who hosted Orchestra broadcasts from 1986-1992 and from 1998 to the present, answered a few questions about his work and most treasured memories.
What goes into the live Friday night broadcasts?
It’s a team effort. Our audio engineer, Michael Osborne, places microphones in locations that allow the Orchestra’s sound to be communicated accurately to the radio audience, reproducing the balance heard inside Orchestra Hall. A colleague interviews conductors and guest artists, and I help choose bits that illuminate different aspects of the music and the performers. Then it’s my job to interweave those segments with live, on-the-spot conversation and concert information, to capture on air the immediacy of the event and the sheer beauty of live music-making.
You also venture outside the broadcast booth.
Yes, at times I step out into the lobby sans microphone, walk up to someone and say: “I’m from the radio station, tell me where you’re from?” And I hear the most wonderful stories about the Orchestra and what music means to each person, and back in the booth I’ll turn that into a little piece of radio. My ultimate goal is to welcome broadcast listeners into a wonderful shared experience, live concert-going, where they’re part of everything that happens. If the principal cellist breaks a string mid-symphony, if a fire alarm goes off before a concert—the unpredictability makes the experience that much more exciting.
How did you get started in broadcasting?
I was studying music and voice at Luther College and got a call from the student-run radio station. They needed somebody who could pronounce the names of classical composers, and since Luther required singers to learn basic German and French, I fit the bill. I got hooked, and now broadcasting has taken me around the world, from my first professional job in DeKalb, Illinois, to Germany and the mountains of Norway, where I interviewed NATO troops in their heavy winter gear while working for the Deutsche Welle network.
Two of the most memorable Minnesota Orchestra concert broadcasts came late in your hosting tenure—Cuba in 2015 and South Africa in 2018. What were some unique challenges of those?
In each case, the challenge lay in the two basic needs for a long-distance live broadcast: partnerships and infrastructure. In Cuba, there was no such infrastructure. Normally we’d get a broadcast signal back to the U.S. via undersea cable. But there is no undersea cable between Cuba and the U.S.! Through a fantastically complex process that initially involved Swiss diplomats, the BBC in London and NPR in Washington, the MPR engineers were able, miraculously, to get a satellite link directly from Havana to St. Paul. And even though there was duct tape and prayer involved, the Cubans we worked with could not have been more helpful with the broadcast.
In South Africa, we had no local partnership in the broadcasts. In the end, we weren’t confident we could actually make a live broadcast from Johannesburg. So we didn’t. We recorded it “live-to-tape,” as if it were truly live, and fed the audio back to St. Paul for broadcast on Classical MPR a few hours later.
Any other favorite memories from those historic broadcasts?
From Cuba, I’ll never forget the look on our Cuban translator’s face as she listened to the Cuban and US National Anthems. Tears running down her cheeks, she whispered, “I never thought I’d see this day…” And in South Africa’s Regina Mundi Church in Soweto, as the Orchestra began the final movement of Beethoven’s final symphony, a woman in the third pew leaned her head back and smiled as if heaven itself had just opened on her; then she mouthed every word along with the choir as they sang Schiller’s German text Ode to Joy.