Poster studio_microphone
Learn a bit more about your favorite classical hosts.
Bob Collins/MPR

Top 10: Our classical hosts pick their musical favorites

What do your favorite classical hosts love to listen to? You might be surprised.

Here are their top 10 playlists so you can learn about what they love to listen to and why.

Click below to jump to your favorite host (listed in alphabetical order):

Julie Amacher - Michael Barone - John Birge - Andrea Blain - Scott Blankenship - Melissa Dundis - Jeff Esworthy - Ward Jacobson - Melissa Ousley - Steve Seel - Steve Staruch - Lynne Warfel

Julie Amacher
Julie Amacher
Minnesota Public Radio

Program director, Classical MPR; host/producer of New Classical Tracks; host of SymphonyCast

Usual shift: various times

The music that resonates with me the most is that which creates an atmosphere. I usually want to put on a recording that will just fill the room and wash over me at the end of the day. It could be a Beethoven symphony, bluegrass, folk, Celtic or eclectic instrumental music. I grew up on progressive rock, especially bands that included lush orchestral elements and grand piano. Now I gravitate toward music that blends genres, as you'll see by my list of favorite albums. Here are some recordings I would highly recommend:


1. The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin; Desmond Earley, conductor — Invisible Stars (Signum Classics)

2. Daniel Hope — Spheres

3. Dobrinka Tabakova — String Paths (ECM)

4. Danish String Quartet — Last Leaf (ECM)

5. Chris Norman with Camerata Bariloche — Highlands

6. Ludwig van Beethoven — Minnesota Orchestra: The Symphonies

7. Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile — Goat Rodeo Session

8. Supertramp — Crime of the Century (and Even in the Quietest Moments)

9. Joni Mitchell — Blue

10. Ludovico Einaudi — I Giorni

Michael Barone
Michael Barone wears his "Legend" shirt before an interview at the Minnesota State Fair.
Daniel Nass/APM

Host/producer of Pipedreams; host of annual broadcast of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Usual shift: Various times nationally, and 6-8 a.m. central Sundays, Classical MPR

I am a mostly classical omnivore, although my current work makes me appear to be a "pipe organ geek." I've been a fan of Bonnie Raitt, pianists Bill Evans and Art Tatum, Frank Zappa and (of course, isn't everyone?) the Beatles. Back in the day, when I was host for "The Morning Program" on Mondays, you might have heard Anglican Chant, Laurie Anderson and a "Little Orley" story from Uncle Lumpy. During my 25 years as MPR music director (1968-1993), you might have heard a Renaissance mass by Ockeghem, Gesang der Jünglinge by Stockhausen, the Busoni Piano Concerto, one or another of the more than 200 Bach Cantatas, and an entire symphony by Mahler or Bruckner (or Nielsen, or Arnold Bax, or Malcolm Arnold, or …). There's a lot out there about which to be curious, and enthusiastic.


1. J.S. Bach — "The Art of Fugue" of "Well-tempered Clavier" (both books) — with a side of the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues (Opus 87) for contrast

2. J.S. Bach — Cantatas (106, 140)

3. Ferruccio Busoni — Piano Concerto (heard both Marc Andre Hamelin and John Ogdon play it live!)

4. Charles-Valentin Alkan — 12 Etudes in all the minor keys, Opus 39 (included here is a symphony for solo piano, also a concerto for solo piano!)

5. Ludwig van Beethoven — String Quartets (16) and Piano Sonatas (32) — all of them!

6. Francis Poulenc — Gloria & Organ Concerto

7. Igor Stravinsky — Symphony of Psalms

8. Sergei Prokofiev — Alexander Nevsky Cantata

9. Pyotr Tchaikovsky — Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique)

10. Joseph Jongen — Symphonie Concertante for Organ and Orchestra (Virgil Fox recording)

10. Olivier Messiaen — Turangalila Symphony (with Quartet for the End of Time as a chaser)

Bonus: The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book

John Birge
John Birge
John Nicholson/MPR

Host/producer; host of Composers Datebook

Usual shift: Various times nationally, and 6-10 a.m. central Monday-Friday, Classical MPR

Duke Ellington said it best: "There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind." My favorite is the good kind(s). Choosing only 10 is a fool's errand, but I'll play the fool and mention these 10, out of a zillion that I couldn't live without. (Heck, Beethoven alone gives you way too many to choose from.) So, here goes, in absolutely no order of preference.


1. Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphony No. 3

2. J.S. Bach — Violin Concertos (played by David Oistrakh, of course)

3. Gustav Mahler — Symphony No. 7 (conducted by Georg Solti, of course)

4. Alec Wilder — Octets

5. Stephen Sondheim — "I'm Still Here" (sung by Elaine Stritch}

6. Count Basie/Sweets Edison — "Louisiana"

7. Ella Fitzgerald — "Embraceable You"

8. Miles Davis — "Blue in Green"

9. Ludwig van Beethoven — Piano Concerto No. 4

10. Nat King Cole — "Stardust"

Andrea Blain
Classical MPR host Andrea Blain
Nate Ryan/MPR

National host/producer of "Music Through the Night"

Usual shift: midnight-6 a.m. central

It's hard to pin down my favorite type of music, but I guess in general I'm often drawn to works that are rooted in some element of folk or traditional music. I like works with a strong melodic impulse and feeling of bringing you to a specific place or moment in time.


1. Gerald Finzi — A Severn Rhapsody

2. Bedrich Smetana — Ma Vlast

3. Traditional Welsh — "Suo Gan"

4. Hamilton Harty — From the Irish Symphony In the Antrim Hills

5. Claudio Monteverdi — Pur ti Miro from The Coronation of Poppea - Joshua Bell, violin

6. Traditional Norwegian — "Behold the Beautiful Light of the Sun"

7. J.S. Bach — Violin Sonata No. 2: Allegro - Chris Thiele, mandolin

8. Rachel Portman — The Cider House Rules

9. Traditional Danish — Minuet No. 6

10. William Bolcom — Graceful Ghost Rag

Scott Blankenship
Scott Blankenship

National host; co-host/producer of Trilloquy

Usual shift: 7 p.m.-midnight central

Music is either good or it isn't. I like to stay open to all genres, as long as it's good. Obviously, the setting dictates what genre is appropriate, but whatever it is, it's always good. This list is what I'm listening to now, although some of these are also on my top 10 of all time list.


1. Steely Dan — Aja

2. Enrique Granados — Danzas Españolas

3. Jean Sibelius — Symphony No. 5

4. Anna Thorvaldsdottir — Metacosmos

5. Caroline Shaw — Partita

6. Khurangbin — Con Todo el Mundo

7. Erik Koskinen — Live at the RealPhonic Radio Hour 2011-2015

8. Future Islands — Singles

9. Dobrinka Tabakova — Cello Concerto

10. Tom Waits — Bone Machine

Melissa Dundis
Melissa Dundis
Nate Ryan/MPR

National host

Usual shift: 6-10 a.m. central Fridays and Saturdays; various other times

I love 19th-century Spanish guitar music. Spain's culture has a very open and sensual dialogue. I hear a lot of romantic conversations between two lovers happening in that style of music.


1. Francisco Tarrega — Capricho Arabe

2. Isaac Albeniz — Alhambra

3. John Cage — In a Landscape (guitar version)

4. Judd Greenstein — Clearing Dawn and Dance

5. Antonin Dvořáak — String Quartet No. 9

6. Philip Glass — Mad Rush

7. Claude Debussy — Images

8. Heitor Villa-Lobos — Prelude No. 1

9. Igor Stravinsky — Octet in E-flat

10. J.S. Bach — Cello Suite No. 1

Jeff Esworthy
Jeff Esworthy

National host/producer

Usual shift: 6-10 a.m. central

When it comes to classical music, I'm definitely a Classical period fan. Mozart and Haydn are my all-time favorite composers, but my tastes are fairly wide ranging. Here's a list of the top 10 pieces I would recommend.


1. W.A. Mozart — any of the Piano Concertos (No. 17 is, I think, my favorite).

2. Ralph Vaughan Williams — The Lark Ascending

3. Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphony No. 6

4. Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov — Scheherazade

5. Antonin Dvorak — Symphony No. 9 (From the New World)

6. Steve Reich — Music for 18 Musicians

7. Philip Glass — Music in 12 Parts

8. Ram Narayan — Raga Shankara

9. Z.M. Dagar — Raga Yaman

10. Traditional American music — anything by fiddler Bruce Molsky

Ward Jacobson
Ward Jacobson

National host, on-call

There are so many types of music that I adore — it really depends on the mood I'm in on a given day. Do I want happy, sad, nostalgia, inspiration? It's a big list. But since I'm a longtime choral singer, I'll have to side with choral music as my ultimate go-to. Here's my list of 10 works in no specific order.


1. Ralph Vaughan Williams — Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis

2. Camille Saint-Saëns — Symphony No. 3 (the final movement especially!)

3. Charles Villiers Stanford — Beati quorum via Cambridge Singers ("Faire Is the Heaven," "Music of the English Church," the entire recording — need that one for whatever island I'm stranded on)

4. G.F. Handel — Messiah

5. Ludwig van Beethoven — Symphony No. 7

6. Anatol Liadov — Polonaise, Op. 55

7. Johannes Brahms — Intermezzo No. 2, Op. 118

8. Glenn Gould playing Bach

9. Gabriel Faure — Requiem

10. W.A. Mozart — Symphony No. 41

Melissa Ousley
Melissa Ousley
Nate Ryan/MPR

National host; host of Minnesota Orchestra live broadcasts

Usual shift: 10 a.m.-noon central Sunday; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday; 8 p.m. central Friday (Classical MPR)

If I had to choose a favorite composer, it would be Bach. I can listen to his music any day of the week, at any time of day. Why? I would say it's a physical reaction — one that draws out emotions of joy, sorrow, serenity and hope. In fact, many times his music cues me into a feeling I didn't even realize was there.


1. Bach — Goldberg Variations; Glenn Gould, second time around.

2. Brahms — Violin Concerto and both Piano Concertos (I know this is cheating to pick so many, but I can't help it!)

3. Ralph Vaughan Williams — Symphony No. 5

4. Ludwig van Beethoven — Piano Sonata No. 30

5. Joni Mitchell — "A Case of You"

6. Franz Schubert — Impromptu No. 3 in G-Flat Major

7. Dmitri Shostakovich — Leningrad Symphony, 1st movement

8. Richard Strauss — Der Rosenkavalier

9. William Walton — music from Henry V

10. Stevie Wonder — "It Ain't No Use"

Steve Seel
Steve Seel

Host of Extra Eclectic

Usual shift: 7 p.m.-midnight central Monday and Wednesday

My tastes, listening habits and musical interests are all over the board, as a guy who grew up listening to both classical and rock, and came to love everything from jazz to avant garde music as an adult. I guess you could say my classical aesthetic tends toward pretty somber and often elegiac sounds — the Gustav Mahler, Dobrinka Tabakova and Arvo Pärt works are prototypical of the stuff I gravitate toward. I have been, however, a huge fan of Steve Reich for decades, which is the definition of propulsive, sonic euphoria to my ears. And finally, the Brian Eno and Laurie Anderson selections represent my lifelong love for genre-expanding, experimental rock. I've included my favorite recordings, too, except in the case of the rock records, which are self-explanatory.


1. Steve Reich — Eight Lines (Bang on a Can)

2. Arvo Pärt — Berlin Mass (Tonu Kaljuste, Estonian Philharmonic and Chamber Choir)

3. Brian Eno — Ambient 1, Music for Airports

4. Gustav Mahler — Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 (Leonard Bernstein and New York Philharmonic)

5. Dobrinka Tabakova — Concerto for Cello and Strings (Kristina Blaumane with the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Maxim Rysanov)

6. Caleb Burhans — A Moment for Jason Molina (Simon Jermyn)

7. Ludwig van Beethoven — String Quartet No. 15., III. Heiliger Dankgesang (A Far Cry Orchestra)

8. Maurice Ravel — "La Vallee des Cloches" from Miroirs (Abby Simon)

9. Laurie Anderson — "Blue Lagoon," from Mister Heartbreak

10. John Luther Adams — The Wind in High Places (JACK Quartet)

Steve Staruch-03
Classical MPR host Steve Staruch
James Napoli/APM

Classical host/producer

Usual shift: 3-7 p.m. central Monday-Friday (Classical MPR)

The colors, and the shapes; the dance quality, and the "theater" of much 18th-century music is most appealing to me. Nothing is more satisfying than when an ensemble gets into a dance groove and stays there for an entire work. My list includes the top 10 of the Baroque and Classical periods — and a few surprises, too.


1. G.F. Handel — Water Music

2. Georg Philipp Telemann — Water Music

3. J.S. Bach — Brandenburg Concertos

4. Franz Joseph Haydn — Symphony No. 50

5. J.S. Bach — Mass in B-minor

6. W.A. Mozart — Les Petites Riens

7. J.S. Bach — Orchestral Suites 1-4

8. Franz Joseph Haydn — Creation

9. Jean-Baptiste Lully — Suite from The Bourgeois Gentleman

10. J.S. Bach — Toccata and Fugue in D-minor

Host Lynne Warfel
Host Lynne Warfel

National host and producer; host of Saturday Cinema

Usual shift: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. central Tuesday-Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday

Fave music? Can't pin it down — classical, classic rock, jazz, classic jazz vocalists, and, of course, movie music and musical theater. I listen to it all — not just one thing.


1. Mahler — Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection) (love the old Leonard Bernstein/New York Philharmonic recording with Jennie Tourel and company)

2. Brahms — any of the four symphonies with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

3. Stan Kenton — "Malaguena" as a piece, and West Side Story as an album

4. Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim (the whole album, especially "Someone to Light Up My Life" and "Song of the Sabia")

5. Ella and Basie! (Quincy Jones arrangements; her "Honeysuckle Rose" modulations are awesome)

6. The Beatles — George Harrison's "Something" from Abbey Road

7. Eva Cassidy — "Over the Rainbow" from Songbird

8. "And He Was Beautiful"/"Cavatina," from The Deerhunter with Cleo Laine and guitarist John Williams

9. Judy Garland — "Over the Rainbow," from Judy at Carnegie Hall

10. Anything that Stephen Sondheim, Michael Giacchino, Elmer Bernstein, Henry Mancini and John Williams ever wrote.

Love the music?

Donate by phone

Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.

Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.

YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.

More Ways to Give

Your Donation


Latest Favorites Episodes


Latest Favorites Episodes