James Irsay: Liveliest Classical Piano Radio Program

Amusingly spontaneous radio presentation by fine pianist critic

Close analysis of major works, performances

Fresh, knowledgeable, winning – WBAI Fri 10=12 am

this man knows how to live, host at WBAI and play the piano: james orsay in sun

Go to WBAI 99.9 FM every Friday morning from 10am to 12pm to catch the finest, most informed, liveliest program on classical piano ever, hosted by the inimitable James Orsay.

James Irsay

see http://pianosociety.com/cms/index.php?section=2495

James Irsay, born in New York City, began piano study at the Buffalo School of Music. Before he entered the fifth grade, his family moved back to New York so James could attend the Juilliard Preparatory Division, where he studied piano with Anne Hull, a student of Ernest Hutcheson. He also studied composition there with Peter Schickele (“PDQ Bach”) and Jacob Druckman. After private study in New York with the man who taught him the most, Sascha Gorodnitzky, he studied at Indiana University with Jorge Bolet, and John Ogdon, and composition with Frederick Fox.

James spent many years as an award-winning radio broadcaster, at WBAI, WNYC AND WQXR in New York, and on WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. His extra-musical pursuits include collecting and translating old books and manuscripts of practical kabbalah (Hebrew magic) and Jewish polemical writings. He has translated a (legendary) Jewish life of Jesus from a rare Hebrew manuscript in his collection.

He tries to keep his fingers in shape, but is busy working as a teacher to keep up rent payments for his overpriced apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He loves to fish for bluefish and striped bass in New York waters. His travels have taken him to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Morocco, Nepal, India (where he joined and traveled with a circus), Pakistan, Yemen, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and more. He plans to visit Europe soon, so he can pay his respects to Chopin.
Chopin – Waltzes
Dussek – Sonatas
Dvorak – Piano Trio Op.26
Schoenberg – Piano Concerto
Schumann – Toccata
Scriabin – Etudes

From his Facebook page:

We had yet another fun-fest on MORNING IRSAY today. A wild and wooly Bach-Tausig d minor T&F from Mark Hambourg; some gorgeous poetic playing from Jelly d’Aranyi and her discreet vibrato. Our man from Lodz, Karol Szreter, played Beethoven 4 with Frieder Weissmann – great clarity and simple, direct phrasing, but loaded with the excitement that always flowed out from the irrepressible pianist. He probably would have played it somewhat differently if he were not forced to fit the concerto onto 8 sides of a 78 record.
We also brought out Liberace, playing “Beethoven’s First Movement Of The D Minor Sonata.” He also played Chopin’s F# Major Nocturne – the main section rather hyper-freely, but a not-bad-at-all middle section. And of course, the Bumble Boogie. Some have called Liberace’s piano playing “ridiculous”, but it’s not. He was really quite musical, if not always polished.
Here’s a repeat of our last offering, the delightful, toe-tapping Lisztravaganza by duo pianists Rawicz and Landauer: “Liszt in Rhythm”.

WBAI listener and advocate Christ Albertson:

The right move: James Irsay is back

This morning at 10, intelligent programming returned to WBAI…well, at least for a couple of hours.

I don’t know whose idea it was to bring back James Irsay, but it is a big step in the right direction. Whoever initiated this (was it Reimers?) deserves applause. Irsay, an accomplished pianist, is witty, intelligent, very much at home with the microphone, and thoroughly professional.

Giving him two hours a week is as good for WBAI as would be getting rid of Ifé, Armah, Knight, Kathy Davis, Tony Ryan, Starman, and others, too numerous to mention.

The program is Morning Irsay and it will air Friday mornings from 10 to Noon.

Here is Irsay’s own liquid and imaginatively complex playing of Chopin at The Piano Society’s Free Archive:

Waltz in D flat major Op.70 No.3 by James Irsay

Evidently Irsay is just the superlative player himself one might imagine from his amusingly spontaneous and darting but always richly perceptive and well informed commentary on his program, which is undoubtedly the best presentation of its kind available on radio anywhere.

A vivid potrayal of his effect on listeners, from one addict:

“What’s WBAI trying to do, get me fired?!

And yet …. and yet …. I can’t tear myself away. This is radio as it was meant to be, this James d’Irsay character who thinks I should hop off the merry-go-round of all the other things I have to do and learn what makes great music enjoyable, and great. Right, he’s gonna teach me that, when so many before him have failed! And make me love it. Sure.

Right now, an hour-and-forty minutes into Irsay’s can’t-peel-my-ears-way show, I am looking out my bedroom window over a very rainy Belt Parkway and Gravesend Bay, listening to some Nazi apologist make incredibly beautiful music, damn him! (following, of course, the obligatory and insightful political questions Irsay poses). Yikes, I’ve forgotten to panic at the thought of having no subway fare tomorrow, lost in the maze of musical parentheses, trying to claw my way back to the surface to more familiar ground, wondering “what else do I not know, and why don’t I know it?” and, “Listen to that, did you hear it?!”

Ahhh, here comes the pitch for the transmitter/antenna fund. Turns out that no one is answering the phone at the answering center, even though the phone number is painted in huge numbers facing Irsay in the studio. And it’s out of order. Oh, gawd! Not again! Back to the useless but familar frustration otherwise known as WBAI, which I guess I can at least thank for Irsay’s brilliant utopian interruption amidst the muck.

Mitchel Cohen

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