The Toledo Symphony Orchestra has its own podcast, Toledo SymphonyLAB, and its innovative style has been winning awards and putting the city on the map since 2017. Host Brad Cresswell has created over 350 weekly episodes in collaboration with WGTE and Toledo Symphony Orchestra (TSO). Cresswell talked with Toledo City Paper about the podcast, his favorite guests, and what he hopes the show’s legacy will be.
Cresswell has an impressive resume as a former opera singer hailing from Chicago. He has performed with opera companies in New York, San Francisco, Washington, Chicago and Buenos Aires. In the early 2000s he joined NPR affiliate WNYC in New York City as a music host and producer. After writing extensively for the Metropolitan Opera Radio Channel on Sirius Satellite Radio and guesting as a panelist for their channel’s opera quiz intermission feature, he started working with WGTE Toledo around 2009 and created a series called Living American Composers: New Music from Bowling Green for BGSU. That show was broadcast to 160 stations worldwide.
Cresswell says the core strategy behind Toledo SymphonyLAB is not only to connect with the Symphony’s current audience while bringing them new content, but also to show classical music can be fun. “We have a lot of fun, sometimes too much,” he says. “The idea was to model ourselves on the Morning Zoo radio show where their different host personalities, to keep it lighthearted, [but also maintain the ability] to dive into serious subjects too. A conductor or performer can talk about a performance in a way that connects with a wide spectrum of listeners. We want to reach people who thought about attending a TSO performance but haven’t dipped their toe in the water yet.”
Each episode, Cresswell includes a multiple-choice quiz, which has become a signature part of the episodes. The idea, he says, is to break down the walls that keep people away from concert halls. While most people are familiar with Mozart and Bach, if only by name, there’s 500 years of classical music to explore, as well as music being written currently, which the podcast also features.
How do you keep things new and exciting when you’re doing an episode a week? Cresswell works with the Symphony to come up with creative perspectives for shows. “We did a show about mental health and musicians, bringing in a therapist to talk about how performers deal with performance anxiety,” he explains. One episode included the children of musicians and another featured local astrologer, Janet Amid, who reviewed the horoscopes of some famous composers, like Gustav Holst. They talked about Holst’s orchestral suite, ‘The Planets,’ which inspired John Williams’ score for Star Wars. Those fun facts draw a line from classical to pop culture and on to our daily lives. The SymphonyLAB podcast has done Halloween shows with ghost stories, experimented with sounds and tones that purportedly elicit emotional reactions along with biofeedback testing.
Though the show wrapped in May, 234 episodes that have aired over the past six years are available for download online. Explore the archives to find episodes that branch out into similar non-commercial fare, like jazz. Toledo Alliance for the Performing Arts is an umbrella organization that includes the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, and the Toledo Ballet. While the show ended in May, Cresswell says it may be more like a pause. “It will go on in one form or another, and in the meantime, all the episodes will remain online.”
The show has even been recognized outside the classical music community. The Toledo Press Club has given it four awards. That the show is interesting to a wider audience reaffirms TSO’s mission to make this music accessible to new audiences, and WGTE is proud to have helped make the Toledo Symphony’s mission a reality.