Arts & Culture

Announcer Catherine Lu’s Top Ten Favorite Classical Pieces

As you might guess, Classical 91.7 announcers are huge classical music fans. We asked them to tell us what their all-time favorite pieces are, and why. We've been posting their "desert island" lists – pieces so essential, they'd be happily stranded with them on a desert island. (As long as they also had adequate food, shelter, and running water.)

Check out announcer, violinist, and owner of a cat named Cheeto, Catherine Lu's list here!

  1. Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue – If I were actually stranded on a desert island, this piece would definitely cheer me up and remind me of home.  Gershwin’s iconic work, blending classical and jazz, captures the bustle of busy streets, the energy of city life, and the romance of night clubs, (whether you live in New York or Houston)!
  2. Pachelbel: Canon – This is one of the first pieces of classical music that I ever heard and that I ever played (in grade school orchestra).  It awakened me to the beauty and pleasure of harmony.  Though it’s become a classical music cliché for some, it has never lost a certain magical and innocent appeal for me.
  3. Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5, “Emperor” – I love all of Beethoven’s piano concertos, but this one is still my favorite – from the fearless opening cadenza to the triumphant finale, and especially the poetic, achingly beautiful slow movement in between.
  4. Copland: Appalachian Spring – This is another piece that would cure my homesickness, if I were stuck on a desert island.  Even though the ballet is set on a Pennsylvania farm, I can easily imagine it taking place on a Texas ranch, with wide open pastures surrounded by bluebonnets and the bright sun.   Also, I find the quintessential American spirit of hope and optimism in Copland’s music addictive and uplifting.
  5. Stephen Paulus: The Road Home – This song always gives me goose bumps.  It’s a modern-day spiritual.  Whenever I play the recording by Conspirare and soprano Melissa Givens on-air, I turn up the volume in the studio and just bathe in the warm, comforting sound.
  6. Mendelssohn: A Midsummer Summer Night’s Dream – This is the first piece of classical music that I fell in love with.  I was reading Shakespeare’s play in 8th grade, and listening to my dad’s vinyl recording of Mendelssohn’s incidental music brought the story to life. Braying donkeys, mischievous fairies, mortals drifting off to sleep from love potions, a wedding in a magical forest!  I truly felt the power of storytelling through music.
  7. Mozart: The Magic Flute – I love a good fairytale, and this one is of the highest and noblest order.  I always admire the combination of playfulness (e.g., “Pa-pa-pa-pageno / gena” duet) and other worldly beauty (e.g., “Queen of the Night” aria) in Mozart’s music.  Similarly, the story is full of both accessible comedy and lofty ideals, allowing Mozart’s humanity to shine through and inspire me every time I hear it.
  8. Dvorak: Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” – If I could time travel to any point in musical history, I’d love to visit New York in the mid-1890s when Dvorak was in America.   His excitement and sense of adventure is palpable in the music, as well as his homesickness for his native Czech land.  This symphony embodies all the stuff I love about Dvorak’s music (drama, tenderness, and folk flavor), and it helped change the landscape of American music by encouraging our country’s composers to use native melodies.
  9. Schubert: String Quintet in C major – This piece got me through a lonely and angst-y time in my life.  Far away from home and working at my first job post-college, I discovered this quintet and listened to it often.  I felt a kindred spirit in Schubert.  The yearning, loneliness and search for transcendence that I felt in the music resonated with my own questions about identity and the future.   I think this is one of the most intimate and profound pieces ever written.
  10. Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto & Bruch: Scottish Fantasy – I’m cheating a bit by making this one a tie, but I really love both!  The Mendelssohn has given me so much joy over the years.  It was “love at first hearing” when I heard it at age 15.  My dream was to learn and play it one day, which I did my senior year in high school.  Truly a violinist’s violin concerto, it is as fun to perform as it is to listen to (soaring lines, virtuoso cadenzas, gorgeous melody after gorgeous melody).  Regarding the Bruch, the soulful folk-flavored movements conjure up images of misty lochs, rugged cliffs, castles, and legends of battles won and loves lost.   Though I’ve never been to Scotland, I always feel as if I have after listening to Bruch’s fantasy.