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5 classical podcasts for a summer without live music

Rhiannon Giddens performed during the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade on July 4, 2018.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

With anything resembling normal concert life off the table for the foreseeable future, classical fans have been increasingly exploring various digital options. And while there is no shortage of archival performances now available for streaming, it’s hard to pretend they offer anything near the experience of the live event. Podcasts, on the other hand, are conceived and designed for digital consumption — and after a fairly slow start, the classical world is starting to get better at making them. Here, in no particular order, are five programs worth a listen for your summer (and fall?) without live music.

Aria Code


Since its arrival in the fall of 2018, Aria Code has broken through the noise and emerged as a destination opera podcast for both listeners just beginning to explore the genre, and those who already have their bearings in it. Its combination of substance and zip goes down smooth, as each episode opens up a single aria, typically from a well-known opera, and interweaves reflections on it from Met singers, writers, scholars, directors, and others to form a kind of guided micro-tour. There’s also typically one guest with life experience connected to the theme the aria explores, underlining the unsubtle but still effective message that this centuries-old art form also connects to the here and now. Rhiannon Giddens, a MacArthur-winning banjo and fiddle player who was trained as an opera singer, makes for a lively host, but the music is the star — and it’s remarkable just how wide a vista a single well-chosen aria can open up. After the featured guests have concluded the guided tour, you get to hear the aria performed, at full length and inevitably with more resonance given the episode’s journey. www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/aria-code

Desert Island Discs

Turns out you learn amazing things by asking people to speak about their favorite, life-altering works of music. This legendary BBC program dates back to the height of the Second World War, and over the decades an extraordinary roster of guests have sat for interviews as “castaways,” disclosing not only their favorite music but often much about their own life itineraries in the process. Some episodes are lost or unavailable, but a dizzying number of interviews are right there for the streaming, among them: Alfred Hitchcock, Maya Angelou, Louis Armstrong, Liberace, Stephen Spender, Marlene Dietrich, Stephen Sondheim, V.S. Naipaul, Tennessee Williams, Philip Larkin, Jacqueline Du Pré, Artur Rubinstein, Gyorgi Ligeti, Seamus Heaney, Elia Kazan… Need I say more? www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009mxtm


Meet the Composer

New music today often declines to offer its secrets at a single listen. For those perennially perplexed by the genre, or those already inside of it, yet hungry to deepen their understanding, there are few better quick introductions to the sound worlds of individual composers than this Peabody-award winning podcast. New episodes are no longer being produced but there’s a lot to listen to from 2014 to 2017, with episodes on John Luther Adams, Meredith Monk, Andrew Norman, Kaija Saariaho, and many more — plus some gems from the archives like interviews with the likes of John Cage and Otto Luening. Thoughtfully hosted by violist and veteran new music ambassador Nadia Sirota. www.npr.org/podcasts/528124256/meet-the-composer

The Listening Service

British music journalist Tom Service hosts this reliably engaging podcast that doesn’t shy from big questions, some of which you might have been too embarrassed to ask, like what is interpretation or, say, what makes music sound Spanish, or what’s the key to understanding keys? There are also lively episodes devoted to themes like texture in music or transcendence or virtuosity or how to make a national anthem. Service also takes on individual composers from the canon, taking you beyond cliches and into the worlds of Vivaldi, Liszt, Stravinsky, and plenty of others. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0009jzd


Ways of Hearing

Hosted by musician and writer Damon Krukowski, this six-part podcast from 2017 still holds up as a probing exploration of how the very act of listening in our digital age is changing the way we perceive the world. Each episode takes on a different theme — Time, Space, Love, Money, Power, and Noise — and makes you more keenly attuned to not just what’s been gained in the move from analog to digital but also what’s been lost. www.radiotopia.fm/showcase/ways-of-hearing

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeremy.eichler@globe.com, or follow him on Twitter @Jeremy_Eichler.