Earlier this year, following a rehearsal by the Portland Opera Orchestra, violinist Casey Bozell and her fellow musicians landed on a familiar topic of conversation.
"We got on this accessibility conversation that we have a lot," Bozell says. "How do we reach more people? Why aren't more people into it? And I said, offhand, 'What I want to do is start a podcast about classical music and talk about the stuff that we find fascinating.' One of my colleagues said, 'Yeah, why aren't you doing that?'"
That was all the motivation Bozell needed to launch Keep Classical Weird at the start of May. On each easy-to-swallow episode, she and guests explore interesting figures or rarely discussed curiosities of the classical world that they hope will open the door to new listeners.
On a recent episode, Bozell and flautist Sophia Tegart chatted about the scatology-laden letters Mozart wrote to his family. A few weeks' earlier, both were joined by mezzo-soprano Aleks Romano to explore the history of castrati—singers often castrated before puberty to maintain their ability to reach high notes.
Not all of the episodes are about such unpleasant subjects. Recently, Bozell and performer David Saffert looked into the life of flamboyant pianist Liberace, and she brought on a trio of guests for an early episode that asked the core question: "Why is classical not cool?"
"We're in a generation where audiences will show up at concerts and they'll have very little context for what's going on," Bozell says. "Our traditions have not done a lot to accommodate that. This podcast format, I thought, would start to bridge that gap a teeny bit."
It helps to have Bozell as a guide. The current concertmaster for the Newport Symphony and member of the orchestras for Portland Opera and the Oregon Ballet Theatre, Bozell exudes a plucky personality and infectious enthusiasm that can make a conversation on an otherwise dry subject like Ravel's "Bolero" feel riveting—which surely is part of the reason that Keep Classical Weird has quickly earned a passionate fan base.
"I knew going in that my husband and my parents would listen," Bozell says, "but it's been much more than I expected. I've got one listener in France who has downloaded every episode. I don't know anybody in France! It's so cool that they decided to give it a shot and stuck with it."
Keep Classical Weird is available on most major podcast platforms. New episodes are released every Friday.