Tune into Music under the Moonlight with Maya Bharara ‘23

We caught up with WHRB Producer and Co-President of the Harvard Pops Orchestra Maya Bharara ‘23 to talk about expanding her music tastes in WHRB and her upcoming feature series, Music of the Night, airing this semester on Thursday evenings from 7-8 pm ET.

Maya Bharara ‘23 is the Co-President of the Harvard Pops Orchestra, a violist in the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, and a producer for the Classical Music Department at WHRB. She will be hosting a feature series, Music of the Night, this semester on air every Thursday, from 7 to 8 pm ET.

Photo courtesy of Maya Bharara.

The Harvard Pops Orchestra is a full orchestra conducted by music director, Allen Feinstein AB ‘86. It hosts creative, seasonal concerts performing classical music, film scores, pop pieces, and arrangements or original compositions by students. Since 1996, at every concert orchestra members invite actors and singers to bring the music to life.

WHRB: How did you first fall in love with classical music, and how are you involved on campus?

Maya: I started playing piano when I was four, then I started the viola when I was eleven. When I was looking at colleges, I knew I wanted to continue in orchestra. Funnily enough, I actually remember asking one school whether they had an orchestra, and they said, we have a marching band, so you should be set… When I came to Harvard then, I auditioned for nearly all the performance-focused orchestra groups and continued in orchestra.

Then, last year, I decided to join WHRB. I had heard others explain that it was a new way to enjoy music, especially if you had only ever experienced it from a performance perspective. And it’s true — now, I look up these pieces that I have played before and know so well, but I actually know very little about their interesting back stories. In WHRB I have the chance to talk about them on air!

WHRB: How are you involved in the music scene on campus?

Maya: Now, I’m involved in HRO, which is the typical large symphony orchestra. It’s been especially exciting this year because we are finally getting to play much bigger pieces after so much uncertainty last year. In fact, it wasn’t until the first week of March last year that we had a rehearsal where the whole orchestra could be on stage and play together at the same time.

I’m also the Co-President of the Harvard Pops Orchestra, which is a bit different. Pops does classical music, but it also does more theatrical music and integrates it with a whole show where we have actors, a plot, and a script that is typically around forty pages. We always try and put on projects our members like to see, like a composition competition for film score music or even integrating puppets into our shows. There’s a lot of creativity that doesn’t quite exist in standard classical music concerts.

As for WHRB, it has been a great experience doing research into everything I’m playing and for me to learn a lot more about diversifying my musical tastes.

WHRB: What are some gems you’ve found through looking around for music to play on air?

Maya: Georg von Henselt’s Piano Concerto in F minor, Op.16! In fact, there’s only three recordings and I read more into it, finding that Clara Schumann had loved playing it. The reason that very few know about this concerto, however, is because it is so difficult to play!

WHRB: What inspired you to create this feature about the night?

Maya: Last year for HRO we played Verklärte Nacht, which translates to Transfigured Night, by Arnold Schoenberg as one of our smaller pieces. It’s beautiful, and the first half is especially dark and moody, almost ominous, before it finally shifts to a major key. I absolutely loved that piece, and I realized that there are just so many pieces that are inspired by the night with such different moods associated with each and every one — from Mahler’s Symphony No. 7 to Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

WHRB: After programming this feature, what would you say your definition of the “night” is?

Maya: I associate night music with darker music — music like Boccherini’s Quintet for Strings, nicknamed “Night on the Streets of Madrid” and which we’ll hear in the second week of the future – is beautiful, but it isn’t what I think of as the night. It’s cheerful and festive, but when I consider the night, I lean more towards something like a Chopin Nocturne.

WHRB: It is a huge effort to put together a feature and provide listeners with all the appropriate context. What would you say the research process was like?

Maya: First, I listed every piece I could think of off the top of my head that I knew was about the night. Then, I considered pieces that were inspired by the sunrise, sunset, and night that I might be able to find on the Internet. I then realized I had this huge list of pieces, when I only have eight hours of music I can play for a feature. At that point, I organized them so that some weeks have themes and others don’t. There’s one on sunsets, sunrises, the moon, and dreams etc.

WHRB: Throughout this process, were there any pieces that became favorites?

Maya: I really like Debussy’s Nocturnes. Actually, I had played this piece in the sophomore year of my high school orchestra, but I had strongly disliked it at that point. Now, however, it’s become one of my favorites. I’m also not the biggest fan of Chopin’s Nocturnes, but that may be because I am not a pianist.

WHRB: What do you hope listeners will take away from your feature?

Maya: I hope people get to experience all different perspectives of listening to the same piece and get to broaden their musical tastes, too. There are a few composers in this playlist who I didn’t even know about, and there are many who are modern composers and not Western, so I have not had as much exposure to them — and I can’t wait for people to meet them!

WHRB: Looking ahead to the semester beyond WHRB, what does Harvard Pops have in store?

Maya: This semester’s theme is about a mix of time travel and eighties music — but from any century. We have music from the 1680s, 1780s, 1880s, and 1980s. I’m very excited for everything to come together, for us to start working on the plot and get to know the music. The concerts are just so interactive with an audience in a way that other great classical concerts are not, so I’m excited for the season to begin!

WHRB: Wrapping up, what is your greatest classical piece of all time, and who is your favorite composer?

Maya: I’ll say the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony. It holds a very special place in my heart, and I still have quite a bit of it memorized. I like to play a few lines of it usually as warm-up for any concert, just to center myself. As for my favorite composer, I would say Tchaikovsky!

// Felicia Ho ‘23 is a producer for the Classical Music Department and the Director of Online Content for Classical Music.