Behind The Baton

Join conductor and educator Scott O’Neil every day for insightful stories that reveal and demystify classical music.

Behind the Baton broadcast schedule: Mon. at 7 a.m. & 4 p.m.; Tues. at 1 p.m. & 8 p.m.; Wed. at 6 a.m. & 3 p.m.; Thurs. at 11 a.m. & 6 p.m.; Fri. at 8 a.m. & 2 p.m.; Sat. at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., & 4 p.m.; Sun. at 2 p.m. & 6 p.m., or you can play the audio below.

Check back here each week for the latest feature from Behind the Baton with Scott O'Neil.

Music's most extraordinary stories often reveal something about ourselves. They surprise, awe or fascinate us. They can also demystify classical music, especially told from Behind the Baton by the conductor.

A good music conductor strives to get inside the mind of the composer (dead or alive), then conveys the composer's vision to the performing musicians and ultimately, the audience. Leading a major new work can be like baptism by fire. By the end, the conductor knows and understands the music and its forgotten stories more than virtually anyone.

Colorado conductor Scott O’Neil uncovers the hidden stories of the great works. As the former longtime Resident Conductor of the Colorado Symphony, Scott shares his captivating insights every day on CPR Classical. Discover extraordinary tales of the most enduring and beloved melodies, from Behind the Baton. ~Monika Vischer, Program Director, CPR Classical

August 2 - August 8: Painting Portraits With Music

Daian Gan via Pexels
In 14 variations, Elgar created a rich musical palette of his social circle.

Edward Elgar wrote several versions of a theme for his “Enigma Variations” and dedicated the work “to my friends pictured within.” Variation I is dedicated to his wife Alice and incorporates the tune he would whistle to announce his arrival home each evening.

Enigma Variations

July 26 - August 1: A Song Without Words

Rachmaninoff composed "Vocalise" in 1915.

The music appears improvised, still there is ingenious design that makes Rachmaninoff's Vocalise so beautiful and inspired. From the piano in the CPR Performance Studio, Scott O'Neil describes what makes this wordless song sound so "free."

Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise

July 19 - July 25: Bernstein's Candide Overture

Leonard Bernstein in 1955.

"If there is a more quintessential overture, I don't know what it is--isn't it worthy to be the greatest overture?" Fanfares…waltzes…Leonard Bernstien's Candide Overture is a yes! Conductor Scott O'Neil shares more on Behind the Baton.

Bernstein’s Candide Overture

July 12 - July 18: Bolero Phantom Organ

Ravel's Bolero was a huge success when it premiered in 1928 at the Paris Opera.

Maurice Ravel's "Bolero" has several iconic solos, including one for an instrument that isn't even onstage! It's an example of the evocative colors Ravel was able to coax out of the orchestra. Scott O'Neil uses "Bolero" to tell us why he thinks Ravel is one of the best orchestrators ever.

Ravel: Bolero Phantom Organ

July 5 - July 11: Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream Overture

King Oberon and Titania watch as Puck dances with the fairies.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" by Shakespeare is a playful comedy filled with nonsensical mischief and wordplay. It's captured creative imaginations since its 1605 premiere and one of the most famous takes is Felix Mendelssohn's Overture. Conductor Scott O'Neil takes you Behind the Baton to explain the beautiful and imaginative score.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

June 28 - July 4: When in Rome

Wikimedia Commons
Michelangelo's fresco paintings on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

When a young Mozart attended a Lenten Mass with his father at the Sistine Chapel, he broke the rules in a big way - but it made him even more famous! Scott O'Neil tells us the tale of "Miserere" from Behind the Baton.

Allegri’s Miserere

June 21 - June 27: Telemann the World Record Holder

Georg Philipp Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann is credited as the most prolific composer of all time, more so than Bach. And even though Telemann competed (successfully) with Bach for an important job, Scott O'Neil says you couldn't find a nicer guy!

Georg Philipp Telemann

June 14 - June 20: The Father of the Symphony

Wikimedia Commons
A statue of Haydn in Vienna.

Joseph Haydn wrote over 100 Symphonies, earning him the title "Father of the Symphony." They set the standard for what a classical symphony is. But Scott O'Neil reminds us that, standard doesn't have to mean conventional in this week's Behind the Baton.

Haydn’s Surprise Symphony

June 7 - June 13: What Was Old Is New Again

Italian composer Ottorino Respighi

Composers are expected to make music that sounds new and totally original. But, as Scott O'Neil tells us, composers like Respighi had the genius (and good taste) to rework old Baroque melodies into powerful new works.

What Was Old Is New Again

May 31 - June 6: Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Rainbow Near LovelandHart Van Denburg/CPR News
A rainbow forms near Loveland after a late afternoon storm on May 27, 2020.

What do Bach and Judy Garland have in common? Conductor Scott O'Neil lets us know from Behind the Baton!

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Somewhere Over the Rainbow

May 24 - May 30: Rossini the Melodist

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain)

Gioachino Rossini

Some composers have a natural gift for tossing off great melodies - almost effortlessly. One of those composers was Gioachino Rossini, whose Barber of Seville and William Tell Overture include some of the most recognizable melodies in music. Scott O'Neil tells us more from Behind the Baton.

Rossini The Melodist

May 17 - May 23: Copland's Fanfare

(Photo: Public domain)

Composer Aaron Copland at the piano.

May 17 - May 23: Aaron Copland wrote his "Fanfare For The Common Man" for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - a patriotic World War Two-era overtures project. Conductor Scott O'Neil explains how Copland opens with the day that will "live in infamy", December 7th, 1941.

Fanfare for the Common Man

May 10 - May 16: Honoring Tradition

Wikimedia Commons
Johannes Brahms

We tend to think of composers almost as "inventors of sound." But for all his musical creativity, Johannes Brahms was interested in honoring the past. Conductor Scott O'Neil lets us in on Brahms' perspective.

Brahms: Symphony #1, Mvt. 4

May 3 - May 9: Water Music

Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
A portrait of George Frideric Handel, presenting his Water Music to King George I.

You might think Handel's Water Music was composed to depict rivers and seas. But it was actually composed to be performed ON the River Thames that flows through London! Conductor Scott O'Neil tells us about his favorite movement, called Alla Hornpipe.

Alla Hornpipe

April 26 - May 2: Going Home

dvk_fixedforwebLife Picture Collection/Getty
U.S. Navy CPO Graham Jackson plays "Goin' Home," from Dvorak's 'New World' Symphony, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's body is carried from Warm Springs, Ga., where he died.

Czech composer Antonin Dvorak encouraged American composers to incorporate uniquely American music, particularly African American Spirituals and Native American melodies. In the melting-pot symphony that is Dvorak's 9th, he shows the world just what he meant.

Going Home

April 19 - April 25: Gymnopedies

Erik Satie as painted by his lover Suzanne Valadon, 1892.

French composer Erik Satie heard the bombastic symphonies of German and Austrian powerhouse composers and wanted to write the opposite. What we get are his Gymnopedies, minimalist, melancholy music explained here by conductor Scott O'Neil.

Beethoven conducts.

April 12 - April 18: Fate Knocks at the Door

The opening of Beethoven's 5th Symphony might be one of the most recognizable sets of notes in classical music. Conductor Scott O'Neil explains how that ominous beginning has come to represent fate itself.

Beethoven’s 5th Symphony
Samuel Barber (center) with his partner, composer Gian Carlo Menotti (right), and Aaron Copland (left) in 1945.

April 5 - April 11: Pulling at the Heartstrings

Samuel Barber's most famous work, his "Adagio for Strings" speaks directly to the heart. Early reviewers said it "rarely leaves a dry eye." Scott O'Neil demonstrates exactly how Barber achieves the work's dramatic emotion.

Barber: Adagio For Strings

Mar. 29 - April 4: Less is More

Ella Harpstead
A sunrise in Bergen, Norway.

Some adjacent notes in a standard musical scale create friction when you play them together. Edvard Grieg simply removed those clashing notes, and left us with a quieting beauty aptly named: Morning Mood.

Peer Gynt: Morning Mood
Alma Schindler Mahler

Mar. 22 - Mar. 28: A Musical Love Letter

Alma Schindler was a gifted composer before she gave it up to become the devoted wife of Gustav Mahler. How did he woo her? With messages of deep yearning that he placed in his famous adagietto of his Symphony No. 5. Scott decodes exactly how Gustav pulled on Alma's heartstrings in one of the most luscious works for orchestra ever conceived.

Mahler’s Adagietto for Alma

Mar. 15 - Mar. 21: Bernstein in Vienna

Wikimedia Commons
Conductor Leonard Bernstein

Forget that Leonard Bernstein was one of the world's greatest conductors. The Viennese had no problem telling the famous visitor from New York just how to properly conduct a Viennese Waltz. Scott O'Neil tells us the story.

Bernstein in Vienna

Mar. 8 - Mar. 14: The Hymn Heard 'Round The Galaxy


The hymn section of Gustav Holst's famous Jupiter fills the soul with warmth. By strange serendipity, this music later found its mate - the words - an ocean away, and fell beautifully into orbit. Scott tells the story.

Behind the Baton: Holst’s Hymn

Mar. 1 - Mar. 7: A Musical Time-Off Request

The Esterháza palace in Hungary.

How do you tell your boss, "Enough overtime. Let us go home!" Joseph Haydn found a clever, musical way to drop the hint. Scott O'Neil shares the story behind his "Farewell Symphony," a perennial favorite to this day. 

Behind the Baton: Haydn’s Farewell Symphony

"The Wheel of Fortune" from the Codex Buranus (Carmina Burana)

Feb. 22 - Feb. 28: Fated To Be A One-Hit Wonder?

Scott O'Neil breaks down the allure and magic of the opening to Carl Orff's best known work. “O Fortuna, the opening section of the cantata “Carmina Burana, was written in 1935-1936 and features Latin text from early 13th century.

Behind the Baton: O Fortuna

Josefina Čermáková in the 1870's

Feb. 15 - Feb. 21:
Dvořák's Tribute to a Lost Love

Antonín Dvořák's first love, Josefina Čermáková, never returned his affection and Dvořák married her sister instead. When Josefina became terminally ill, Dvořák adapted the melody of her favorite vocal piece and added it to his Cello Concerto.

Behind the Baton: Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor

Feb. 8 - Feb. 14: Painting A Portrait With Music

Daian Gan via Pexels

Composer Edward Elgar wrote 14 variations on a theme for his “Enigma Variations” and dedicated the work “to my friends pictured within.” Variation I is dedicated to his wife Alice and incorporates the tune he would whistle to announce his arrival home each evening.

Enigma Variations

Wikimedia Commons
Composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Feb. 1 - Feb. 7: American Impressionist Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie are all well known French impressionist composers, creating distinctly lush and exquisite music. But impressionist music wasn't just created in France; learn about American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes.

Behind the Baton: Charles Tomlinson Griffes

Mozart painted by Barbara Krafft

Jan. 25 - Jan. 31:
Mozart, Mannheim & Motown

Much like Detroit is known for its “Motown” sound, in the mid-1700's the German town of Mannheim in had its own distinctive sound which Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart built on for some of his most famous pieces.

Behind the Baton: Mozart, Mannheim and Motown

A beer flight from New District Brewing Co.
A beer flight from New District Brewing Co.

Jan. 18 - Jan. 24:
Classical Drinking Songs

When Johannes Brahms was asked to compose for a formal academic ceremony, he cleverly arranged college drinking songs for orchestra, to the shock of college establishment. O'Neil helps us identify the rousing melodies in the “Academic Festival Overture” by Brahms.

Behind the Baton: Academic Festival Overture

Composer George Gershwin

Jan. 11 - Jan. 17:
America's Piano Concerto

George Gershwin's “Rhapsody in Blue” is the most famous American piano concerto. Written in 1924, it’s been used to represent the United States in everything from the olympics to airline commercials. Learn how Gershwin synthesized the input of musicians and the world around him to create a truly American sound.

Behind the Baton: Rhapsody in Blue

A sunrise from the summit of Pikes Peak.Courtesy PK Knickerbocker
A sunrise from Pikes Peak.

Jan. 4 - Jan. 10:
What Does A Sunrise Sound Like?

Hear a morning sunrise from Maurice Ravel's magical ballet “Daphnis et Chloé”. The piece premiered in Paris, summer of 1912 by the company “Ballets Russes”. It tells the love story of the goat herder Daphnis and the shepherdess Chloé.

Behind the Baton: Daphnis et Chloé

Behind The Baton On CPR Classical

  • Monday at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • Tuesday at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • Wednesday at 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Thursday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Friday at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
  • Saturday at 9 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Listen to CPR Classical by clicking “Listen Live” on this website. You can also hear CPR Classical at 88.1 FM in Denver, at radio signals around Colorado, or ask your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical.”

More Musical Insights from Scott O'Neil

The Great Composers Podcast
Host Karla Walker and conductor Scott O'Neil look at the world through the eyes of these gifted artists. Learn about obstacles they overcame, and their loves, losses, successes and failures. You'll feel you know Mozart, Rachmaninov and others as friends.