Classic Conversation

BING YANG and DENNIS GIAUQUE host a singularly entertaining online talk show.
by F. Paul Driscoll. Portraits by Dario Acosta 

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Giauque, left, and Yang in the Classic Talk studio in Manhattan
Photographs by Dario Acosta
“We listen very carefully and try to really engage.”—YANG

A FEW YEARS AGO, when I was doing online research for an OPERA NEWS article about a singer on the Met roster, I stumbled via Google onto an excellent interview with her posted on YouTube, conducted by two low-key but obviously very well-prepared gentlemen. The atmosphere was relaxed, the questions were perceptive and the answers candid—pretty much the ideal interview situation. 

Who were these guys, whose work I had never seen before? A few clicks through YouTube uncovered more impressive work from Classic Talk, as I discovered the series was named. Here was a talk show featuring a variety of music professionals—all of them in conversation with Bing Yang and Dennis Giauque, whose on-camera teamwork looked completely seamless. Some of the interview subjects were artists I knew well, and I was impressed with the way in which Yang and Giauque were able to get the very best out of them: everyone on camera seemed to be having a splendid time.

In an October 2016 conversation in the OPERA NEWS offices, Giauque and Yang exhibit the same easy camaraderie in person that they do on camera—not surprisingly, as they are married to one another. Giauque, a pianist and vocal coach and an assistant conductor at the Met for more than thirty years, credits his husband with “planting the initial seed” that turned into Classic Talk. Yang, a businessman whose background includes acting and television production, as well as work doing translations and voiceovers, says that he and Giauque wanted to do “interviews that would appeal to audiences and educate them in an easy, interesting way—people will like opera if they understand better what makes it work. So we thought, ‘Why don’t we do a program?’”

 

The Classic Talk conversations started in 2011. Right from the beginning, Yang and Giauque decided to program a mix of personalities, showcasing people who worked behind the scenes in classical music and opera, such as musicians in the Met orchestra and members of the Met music staff, as well as well-known onstage personalities. Giauque admits that even though he had a professional musical connection to many of the interviewees, “Bing has had much more of a career in front of a camera and a mike than I have. So starting out, he was so much more comfortable than I was—I was the one who said, ‘Oh my God, I don’t know if I can do this!’ But it came together organically, if that’s the best word, in the beginning. One of our earliest interviews was with Maria Guleghina, who was lovely but is a very big presence, with lots of energy, and I remember thinking, ‘Can we pull this off?’ But somehow it all came together.”

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Yang and Giauque on set with René Pape, in October 2016
Photograph by Dario Acosta

Most people encounter the Classic Talk interviews as I did—on YouTube, during an online search for a video on a particular artist. But a visit to the show’s website, classictalk.tv, reveals the breadth of the team’s work thus far. The site organizes interviews by category; the Classic Talk baritone roster has racked up the most hits, with names such as Terfel and Hvorostovsky pulling in numbers upwards of 40,000 each. Classic Talk is recorded in Manhattan, without a live audience, with two segments of about twenty-four minutes allotted to each guest. The show uses attractive low-tech settings that keep the focus on the conversation, whether the guest is a star on the order of Sondra Radvanovsky or a less-familiar face, such as violist and viola d’amorist David Cerutti. Cerutti’s interview includes a fascinating discussion of his own beautiful sixteenth-century Italian viola, which sits on the table in front of Giauque and Yang like a second guest. 

 

Outside the studio, Yang, now a fulltime painter and photographer, and Giauque, who maintains an active schedule as a pianist and assistant conductor, are passionate and enthusiastic travelers whose past journeys include trips to India, Africa, South America and the American West. In 2014, Yang and Giauque published Flying Clouds, a book of photos by Yang taken in Central and Southeast Asia. They say they feel no pressure—and have little time—to expand the show, which now has an international audience. “We have so many other things we are interested in that for now we will do the best we can [with Classic Talk], enjoy it and see what develops,” says Yang.

Asked to define the team’s interview style, Yang says, “It is all spontaneous. We both have to develop the kind of instant feeling for what is being said—an answer finishes, and then the other one of us will pick up a new question immediately. We listen very carefully and try to really engage. You have to be on your toes—sometimes I hear a word or two in the answer to my question or Dennis’s question that will bring out some wonderful stories. We want the interviews to be more like a conversation.” After a tiny pause, Giauque amplifies his husband’s point: “More like a conversation than a performance.” Yang chuckles and says, “What you see, we hope, is that they trust us to have an arena where we really can talk like friends, without becoming an autopilot interview. We don’t want that, ever.” Giauque nods. “At the end of his interview with us last week, René Pape said, “Oh, that was fun. You didn’t ask me the usual questions!” spacer 



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