One of the many things we have been missing since the arrival of COVID-19 is the beauty of live performances. Fortunately, even before the pandemic hit, PBS created a show to capture the attention of classical music aficionados by telling the stories behind great composers.
The series, called Now Hear This, takes an unconventional look at the forces and historical contexts that helped shape great works. The first episode, which aired in September 2019, centered around Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Host Scott Yoo (conductor and violinist) follows a meandering journey that begins in Venice with a vocal and instrumental performance of a newly discovered work.
Yoo goes on to visit sites throughout Italy. Along the way, he stops to appreciate the craftsmanship of Stradivarius, Benedicté Friedman, and other violin-makers. He pauses in the countryside to record the call of the cuckoo bird, one of the many nature sounds Vivaldi captured within the Four Seasons. He speaks to the museum curators who now serve as the guardians of a recently discovered body of work by Vivaldi.
The episode is an exploration of “how Vivaldi gathered the sounds of his country and captured them in his masterpiece” — but it’s also a lesson in the differences between several composers, the woods that are used in violins, the great food in Italy, and how a great composer’s works can almost be lost. You even meet a dog who barks a perfect C sharp.
And that’s just the beginning. In season 1, Yoo focuses on Bach, Scarlatti, and Handel. The show is now in its second season and has released episodes about Haydn and Schubert. Season 2 ended on October 2, but you can watch previous episodes on the PBS website here (select Full Episodes) or search for “Now Hear This” on Amazon.com.