The bottom line with Marvin Rosen — longtime host of the Classical Discoveries program on Princeton University’s WPRB-FM 103.3 — is that he really, really loves music and wants to share it, especially new music from little-known composers in far-flung regions of the world.
Rise early on a Wednesday morning, tune into the show, stay with it for a few hours, and you might hear a recently composed piano piece from South Africa, new works from Japan, the Philippines, the Baltics, the Middle East, or compositions from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
Thanks to Rosen listeners are introduced to the creative minds of brilliant composers, male and female, from all over the world. You’ll hear things that otherwise might not be aired at all here, where the “Three Bs,” Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, are more of a priority on classical music stations.
“This is how the show evolved,” Rosen says, refreshed from a mid-afternoon catnap after a recent Wednesday show. “Every week I’m playing mostly 21st-century classical music, and playing it from places where people may not even know that classical music is being created.”
“The more I do this, the more I think, ‘why aren’t these musicians and composers more well-known?’” he says. “Composers are writing in so many styles, too — it’s endless. But you have to have the desire to listen.”
“If I get a new recording from a composer I’ve never heard of, from an obscure country, I think to myself, ‘this will be on the show next week,’” Rosen says. “That’s why having my show on WPRB is priceless. This is my joy.”
Rosen hosts Classical Discoveries on WPRB 103.3 FM, Wednesdays, from 5:30 to 11 a.m., as well as Treasures of Early Music, Mondays, from 5:30 to 11 a.m.
Now celebrating 20 years of Classical Discoveries, Rosen first went on the air in 1997. The university’s academic year was winding down, students were leaving, and WPRB needed on-air hosts/DJs to cover the summer shifts.
Two decades later he is a veteran broadcaster and has even toughed out numerous 24-hour radio marathons, with several to celebrate 21st-century music, one to honor the 100th birthday of Alan Hovhaness, and, in 2011, “We Remember 9/11.”
Not satisfied with haphazardly putting a show together, Rosen curates his programs, and almost every week Classical Discoveries has a theme. A perusal of the website carefully maintained by Rosen’s wife, Beata Rzeszodko-Rosen, reveals all kinds of topics he has illustrated through music.
He has presented special programming for Labor Day, Memorial Day, Presidents’ Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and the winter holidays among others. Many shows have paid tribute to women composers, even airing works by nuns throughout music history. One recent week featured the rich but imperfect sound of vinyl recordings.
In addition composers and educators from the Princeton area have had their exclusive editions of Classical Discoveries — Jon Magnussen, Paul Lansky, Paul Moravec, and Steve Mackey are just a few whose music and careers have been spotlighted.
And Rosen will stretch the boundaries of contemporary music for certain occasions. He honored the late George Harrison after his passing in 2001. Rosen also hosted a tribute to Frank Zappa, who always seemed to have one foot in rock/pop and one in the avant garde end of classical music.
Rosen has also opened his studio to dozens of guest musicians and composers, such as Robert Moran, Daniel Dorff, Jennifer Higdon, Martha Moore, Jerome Kitzke, and prolific contemporary composer Andrew Rudin, who has reflected that Rosen’s Classical Discoveries is “uniquely important to living composers of the greater Philadelphia area. (Marvin’s) perceptions, taste, and explorations represent a personal passion that greatly enriches our musical community.”
Philadelphia-based composer and educator Adam Berenson was delighted to have his String Quartet Number 3 aired on Classical Discoveries and writes via e-mail that “(Marvin) was very kind, and I got the sense he really listened to the quartet and really thought about it. I remember that he made intelligent and relevant comments before playing the piece on the air,” Berenson writes. “He is doing a wonderful, important, and noble thing. I greatly appreciated it.”
In 2005 Classical Discoveries was awarded the ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) Deems Taylor Radio Broadcast Award, “in recognition of the excellence of the program.”
Thinking back on the beginnings of his broadcast, Rosen says, “It’s always been called ‘Classical Discoveries,’ about rarely heard music, although at first I played some of the standard repertoire by composers such as Stravinsky and Copland. But then I mixed it in with (works) I had been so excited about when I first got into music.”
He’s referring to music often found on semi-obscure labels, especially Nonesuch, which featured artists/works like Terry Riley’s “A Rainbow in Curved Air,” and Steve Reich’s “Violin Phase”/“It’s Gonna Rain.”
“The budget record companies had many new works on their labels, including major compositions for (combinations such as) synthesizer, violin, and tape (loop),” Rosen says. “I would think, ‘Let me try this, let me give this a listen,’ and I would find the work fascinating.”
“You could also get samplers or excerpts of new releases, and they were very inexpensive,” he adds. “Even though they were only excerpts of works, my mind was open to these new composers.”
So Rosen would listen to the excerpts and then explore the completed works by up-and-coming artists and composers.
Born in Englewood in May, 1953, then raised in Kendall Park and Princeton, Rosen first discovered the joy of radio and music in 1962 when he got a transistor radio, tuning into pop music giant WABC in New York.
Although for personal reasons Rosen doesn’t wish to discuss his parents (his maternal grandfather was more of a parental figure, he says), he does say that there was always music playing in his home, and the family liked to listen to New York’s famous classical station, WQXR 105.9 FM.
He was about 12 years old when he was taken to one of the legendary “Young People’s Concerts” with Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic.
“Leonard Bernstein was my musical hero when I was a kid. I loved and bought every recording of his,” Rosen says. “The way he talked and explained things — I look back and think of him as this incredible educator. He was so enthusiastic. You couldn’t help but catch that enthusiasm.”
Another mentor in Rosen’s young life was his grandfather, “Joe,” who had immigrated to the United States from Lithuania, becoming a furrier in New York, and then at age 70, launching a poultry farm in Ocean County.
“I loved my grandfather like a buddy and spent so much time with him, playing board games, taking drives, going to the grocery story, etc.,” Rosen says. “I remember visiting him in Lakewood in the summer and going to the library to borrow some records. I brought them home, and we sat and listened all afternoon. That kind of time together makes a relationship special.”
Pop and rock was raging around him, but Rosen always preferred classical, and, at first, he borrowed classical recordings from the Princeton Public Library.
Then he discovered the record department at Stern’s department store in New York City, and plunged into collecting vinyl. He recalls that the first record he bought was Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” for 79 cents.
“I also loved to buy records at Korvettes in Trenton,” Rosen says. “They had a good classical music department.”
He found some especially deep discounts when records went from monaural (mono) to stereo.
“Buying records became kind of an obsession,” Rosen says. “In high school I got a job (in the music/records department) at the Princeton University Store, where I spent the afternoons reading the dust jackets of records. I probably spent a good chunk of my paycheck there and was listening mostly to standard repertoire.”
“But then I became extremely interested in post-World War II avant garde music, composers like Stockhausen and Cage, and a lot of the electronic (music) when it first came out. For example, I remember ‘Switched On Bach’ when it was released,” he continues. “It was all so fascinating, different, and creative, and it was ‘me,’ my own thing, my domain.”
Rosen’s undergraduate studies began in the early 1970s at the College of New Jersey, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in music and music education in 1975.
“Those were four of the greatest years of my life, and I have nothing but great memories,” Rosen says. “I made a lot of friends and met many people with similar interests. The faculty there was wonderful. I felt that we were colleagues, and they really respected the students.”
“That’s why I was so touched when they awarded me the alumni of the year for the music department,” he adds, referring to the Distinguished Musician Alumni Award from TCNJ, which Rosen was awarded in 2013.
He later earned a master’s degree in musicology from the Manhattan School of Music, and master’s and doctoral degrees in music education from Columbia University’s Teachers College. From 1979 to 1982 Rosen was first a piano pedagogy student and later, a staff member at the New School for Music Study in Kingston.
Since 1999 Rosen has been a full-time member of the piano faculty at Westminster Conservatory of Music in Princeton, where he teaches piano and music history for the honors music program and musical styles for the piano pedagogy certification program.
In addition to his teaching career and his venerable volunteer broadcasting work, Rosen has given numerous recitals and lecture/recitals as well as radio performances in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and in Poland — Beata’s homeland.
The Princeton resident is the author of liner notes for a number of recordings in addition to being a recording artist: Rosen has recorded two compact discs of Alan Hovhaness’ piano music for Koch International Classics — “Fred the Cat” and “Vision of a Starry Night.”
“Fred the Cat” features Beata’s drawing of a cheerful “ginger” cat with a shiny CD heart.
That drawing is the logo for Classical Discoveries, found right up at the top of the website, and it reflects the couple’s love for felines — they have three rescue cats and Rosen’s music and radio blog is titled “MarvinTheCat.”
Although the recordings department at the University Store is gone, it will always have a special place in Rosen’s heart because it was there that he met Beata.
Long story short, she was looking for a Hovhaness recording that was out of print; Rosen special ordered the record, called Beata when it came into the store, and asked her out when they met face-to-face.
“Being the crazy record collector I was, I had two copies of the record and brought one to Beata on our first date,” Rosen says.
His in-depth knowledge of and friendship with Hovhaness continued when the couple used the composer’s music for their wedding processional. Hovhaness (who died in 2000) even made some suggestions as to which compositions might work best for their special day.
As the internet and social media have blossomed, Beata has stayed ahead of the technology, greatly enhancing the Classical Discoveries interactive experience for the show’s “analog” and virtual audiences. She is the one who carefully compiles the playlists and keeps up the extensive archives on the website, as well as posting on Facebook and Twitter.
“I have a wonderful wife who supports me in terms of my craziness,” Rosen says. “She has a passion for the show too; she’s up with me in the morning, at 3:30 a.m., she’s posting on Facebook and Twitter when I’m on the air, she does the website, etc. Beata’s like my public relations person.”
Rosen’s “gig” at WPRB has been all volunteer for decades. He has no idea how much he has personally spent on the recordings he has aired on Classical Discoveries, nor does he know how many hundreds or thousands of records, tapes, and CDs he has accumulated.
“They’re all over the house, and I’ve never counted them,” he says. “One thing I’m very proud of, though, is that I’ve basically stuck with the eclectic repertoire. I still want to hear new stuff, different composers from different countries. This is what I find fascinating, to experience the talents of our entire world.”
“Music is the universal language and from this we understand each other,” Rosen adds, reflecting on a broader purpose to his broadcast. “The talent in our world is unbelievable. It’s an endless treasure chest. I wish people would get out there and explore it, just listen with open ears.”
Classical Discoveries, WPRB 103.3 FM, Wednesdays, 5:30 to 11 a.m. Treasures of Early Music, 5:30 to 11 a.m. www.classicaldiscoveries.org.
Marvin Rosen online: www.facebook.com/marvin.rosen1 and marvinthecat.wordpress.com.