Open Mic Winners Spotlight: “100 Years of Bernstein” New York Philharmonic

  The June 24th New York Festivals Radio Awards ceremony awarded exceptional radio content in all lengths and formats across all platforms. Trophy-winning, producers, directors, presenters and content creators from around the globe took to the stage to accept their glittering trophies and celebrate their success while toasting their peers with a glass of champagne. Truly a night to remember!

For the next few weeks NYF’s Open Mic will feature interviews with the brilliant women and men behind some of the world’s most compelling programs and provide insights and observations from these leaders within the industry.

In this interview, Open Mic spends a few moments with Mark Travis, New York Philharmonic’s Associate Director, Media Production. New York Philharmonic’s “100 Years of Leonard Bernstein” earned 2 Gold trophies (Best Mini-Series and Music) for their five-week series of Bernstein-themed programming. “100 Years of Bernstein” also received a Silver trophy for Best Director.

Mark Travis, Associate Director, Media Production, New York Philharmonic at the 2019 Radio Awards

August 25, 2018 marked the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, so The New York Philharmonic This Week dedicated August programming to the memory of the orchestra’s former Music Director and Conductor Laureate. Beginning August 2, listeners were treated to five consecutive weeks of Bernstein-themed programming that included carefully curated music as well as sound-bytes from the Maestro himself, behind-the-scenes memories from his daughter, Jamie Bernstein, plus lots of historic audio, from his legendary debut to the opening of Lincoln Center and the Young People’s Concerts.

Keep reading to find out more about this double Gold and Silver winning series as Mark Travis shares the inspiration behind the series, his creative process,  his creative influences, pointers for someone just starting out in the industry and what creative project is next on the horizon.

New York Festivals: What was the inspiration for your award-winning program “100 Years of Bernstein” and what did you ultimately hope to accomplish?

Mark Travis: I had avoided doing a deep dive into Bernstein and his music for many years.  As far as I was concerned,  Steve Rowland and Larry Abrams already produced the definitive Bernstein piece with their Peabody-Award winning 11-hour audio documentary, Bernstein: An American Life in 2004 (hosted by Susan Sarandon).

Leonard Bernstein

Their work loomed large in my creative mind; what could I say about Lenny that hadn’t been said before?  What new ground could I possibly cover?  And how could I possibly do it even half as well?

Yet as plans began to form to mark the centenary of Bernstein’s birth, it became clear that there was some expectation that I’d produce SOMETHING.  After all,  Bernstein’s association with the New York Philharmonic spanned 47 years, 1244 concerts, and over 200 recordings; as the orchestra’s producer, I am perhaps uniquely qualified to tell Lenny stories.  I suppose that’s where the lightbulb went on. Rather than spin my wheels trying to produce another documentary about Bernstein’s life, I instead focused on his legacy at the Philharmonic and let the music do a lot of the talking for us.  I have to say, too, that I think Alec Baldwin truly breathed extra special life into each and every episode.

Mark Travis and Alec Baldwin at the 2017 NYF Radio Awards

I think most people understand that Bernstein was (and is) a big deal; it’s my hope that this miniseries helped some folks better understand ‘why’ he remains so relevant to cultural life decades after his death.

New York Festivals: Tell us about your creative process and how you overcame any obstacles?

Lenny’s daughter, Jamie Bernstein and the Philharmonic’s former archivist/historian Barbara Haws were my muses, as was the orchestra itself.  Jamie shared amazing stories about her dad with signature good humor and warmth—some of these provided the kernel around which I was able to build the narrative and soundscape.  Barbara, of course, knew every resource available to me and made sure that I had access to it all and that I understood how the various pieces fit together.  Since so many of Bernstein’s recordings are still widely available, I tried my best to uncover lesser-known gems in his discography and with the cooperation of our musicians, I was able to showcase breathtaking, distinctive performances and lots of pithy sound clips.

New York Festivals: Who has been the biggest influence on you creatively?

Mark Travis: Lois Baum, Stephen Paley and Steve Rowland are certainly towards the top of that list.  Lois taught me how to think of interview audio in non-linear fashion and set the bar high for me at an early age.  Mr. Paley probably had the most direct influence on how my work “sounds” in teaching me to think about radio production in more cinematic terms and Mr. Rowland is probably the greatest audio documentarian of our time; a modern Studs Terkel, if you will.

When in front of the mic, my announcing and interview style is greatly influenced by the folksy delivery of Pat Cassidy—one of the most versatile and thoughtful morning-drive anchors in the history of Chicago broadcasting.  On the rare occasions I get to hear him, I also still sit in awe of Pat Foley, long-time voice of the Chicago Blackhawks, and the way his radio calls put you center-ice at the United Center and convey all the details and excitement of the game more effectively than a lot of seasoned television announcers.

New York Festivals: What are the top 3 pointers you’d give someone just starting out in world of audio?

Mark Travis:

  1. Invest in yourself.  Having the right tools for the job makes a huge difference in the quality of your work.  This applies to microphones, computers, recording gear—anything you’re going to use to create.  Don’t settle for good enough; settle for perfect.
  2. Have a plan—especially in the beginning.  If voiceover is your thing, then commit yourself to voiceover work.  If reporting is your passion, then get out there and start telling stories.  You may develop into a multifaceted talent over the course of your career, but I think it’s better to be really good at one or two things than “sorta” good at a dozen.
  3. Think broadly, not just “big.”  So you’ve landed your first hosting gig, but your only shifts are weekend mornings.  Rather than stay put in hopes that you might be program director of that station someday, I suggest looking for some shifts elsewhere.  Maybe there’s an AM station that needs a board op for evening news or a public radio station that needs extra air support during pledge.  Staple a few things together and get all the experience you can.  This will likely do more for your career than taking work in another field to afford your broadcasting career.

New York Festivals: What project is next on the horizon for you and your team?

Mark Travis: We’re still in the planning phase at the Philharmonic, in terms of media production, for next season.  That said, I expect my colleagues and I will be working to support the orchestra’s Project 19 commissions, the hotspots festival, and Mahler’s New York with a variety of audio and video materials.    Apart from my work for the Philharmonic, I’m very excited to embark on a project with the Grand Piano Series in Naples, Florida where I will record concerts, give lectures, and produce podcasts featuring all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. I’m also wrapping on a holiday album for the Chicago Chorale and I’m working with Interlochen Public Radio, Interlochen Presents, and UMS on a broadcast project dedicated to great African-American concert and opera singers of the past and present.  There are a few other things on the horizon too with Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, so please stay tuned!

For a complete list of all the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Award winners, please visit: HERE

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