New WFMT program brings fresh, young and hopefully hip perspective to classical music

While WFMT is constantly updating its musical repertory and presenting varied short-run series and specials, an inaugural show like “Sounds Classical” is a rarity.

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LaRob K. Rafael and Kristina Lynn co-host “Sounds Classical” on WFMT-FM.

LaRob K. Rafael and Kristina Lynn co-host “Sounds Classical” on WFMT-FM.

Mike Grittani

Hoity-toity, pedantic or snooty.

Right or wrong, these stereotypes are sometimes associated with classical-music programming on the radio. And it’s just such perceptions — or misperceptions — that the hosts of “Sounds Classical,” a new Friday evening program on WFMT-FM (98.7) beginning Dec. 9, want to dispel.

The show, featuring Kristina Lynn, 31, and LaRob K. Rafael, 29, is meant to offer a fresh, down-to-earth and, yes, fun, approach to classical music at the same time as it expands the very idea of what the genre can be.

WFMT

‘Sounds Classical’

When: 8 p.m. Fridays starting Dec. 9

Where: WFMT-FM (98.7), wfmt.com or WFMT app

Info: wfmt.com

“I think we can all agree,” Lynn said, “that sometimes, if you’re not in the classical-music world, it can seem hard to reach or unapproachable in certain ways. You associate it with these grand music halls, these intellectual things and these bigger-than-life composers who are sometimes not very relatable.” 

Rather than focusing on Beethoven’s life span or the number of Mozart piano concertos, Rafael wants to explore the emotional aspects of classical music: “How do we feel when we hear this piece? Why do we like playing this piece on the radio? What does it evoke?”

In conceiving a new show for WFMT, said General Manager George Preston, the station wanted to present classical music from a younger perspective and provide more exposure for some of the station’s newer in-house talent.

“Over the past few years,” Preston said, “we’ve been broadening our play list at WFMT to be very inclusive, and we thought this would be a great opportunity to sort of help classical presentation on the radio evolve into the 21st century.”

Station leaders picked the 8 p.m. time slot on Fridays for the new hourlong program in part because of the station’s solid ratings at that time. In addition, listeners tend to engage more closely with its content in the evenings than during the day, when WFMT’s programming sometimes serves as background to other activities. 

Lynn and Rafael emerged as ideal choices as the hosts, Preston said, because they are “super-creative” and classically trained musicians — Lynn a trumpeter and Rafael a singer — and because of their “wonderful chemistry” and curious minds. 

Both joined WFMT’s announcing team in 2020. Lynn is also the station’s operations manager, and Rafael serves as founder and artistic director of Hearing in Color, a Chicago organization devoted to sharing music and composers who have been historically excluded.

Though the two attended DePaul University at the same time, they met at WMFT. They didn’t have a chance to really get to know each other until they began working on the show, and from their first minutes in the studio together, their personalities clicked.

“We get along very well,” Lynn said. “We have fun talking about music. We’re laughing. He’s a singer, so he’s singing the music. We’re getting emotional, and I think that dynamic between us is really exciting. It’s different than what you normally hear on WFMT. We don’t have a lot of co-hosted things at all, so it’s really nice to hear our dynamic together.” 

When they begin an installment of the show, the two hosts have a theme and a general direction they want the discussion to go. “But all of the reactions to the music or the spur-of-the-moment conversation just happen organically, and that’s what I really like,” Rafael said. 

In addition to music and their own conversations, the two plan to incorporate interviews with local artists and national figures. They have finished the first two installments of the show and are working on programs for the rest of the year, including one that looks at the best of 2022.

A focus of “Sounds Classical” is asking what “classical music” means in the 21st century and examining how the genre’s boundaries continue to bend and expand. The two dive right into that topic in the Dec. 9 episode with music by such past and present composers as Michael Abels, Ludwig van Beethoven, Carlos Gesualdo and Max Richter. 

“It’s actually really hard to nail down an answer to that in today’s world, at least,” Lynn said. “That’s what we discovered. Is it a very Euro-centric perspective? It is just Western music? Is it just notated music or orchestral music? We want to include other voices than just what we have always learned about.”

A theme Rafael hopes to examine, for example, is the influence of hip-hop on classical music and vice versa. “There are shockingly so many references to classical music in hip-hop,” he said, “so I’m excited to talk to experts about how people decide to sample music. Why do they choose strings? Why do they choose orchestral arrangements and what that adds?”

While WFMT is constantly updating its musical repertory and presenting varied short-run series and specials, an inaugural show like “Sounds Classical” is a rarity. 

“It doesn’t happen all that often, to be honest,” Preston said. “To have a new, weekly hourlong program, it’s a pretty big deal.” 

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