Debra Lew Harder

Classical Host, Producer

Debra Lew Harder is host of Midday Classics and creator, producer and host of Saturday Morning Classical Coffeehouse on WRTI 90.1. With her lifelong experience as a concert pianist and communicator, she brings a deep understanding of music to the airwaves. And with doctorates in both medicine and music, Debra believes in the power of music to heal.

In addition to connecting with listeners during her daily radio shows, Debra loves to find out what makes musicians tick. An insightful interviewer, Debra can be heard on WRTI’s weekly Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert broadcasts, helping listeners get to know renowned artists such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Hélène Grimaud, Andre Watts, Daniil Trifonov, Susan Graham, Jane Glover, Yuja Wang, Stéphane Denève, Yefim Bronfman, David Kim, and many more.

As a performer herself, Debra brings out the best in artists, hosting, and often accompanying, their live radio and video-streaming performances for WRTI, with musicians and ensembles such as the Daedalus Quartet, Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux, the Ahn Trio, violinist and composer Mark O’Connor, harpist Elizabeth Hainen, lutenist Ronn McFarlane, and the DePue Brothers Band.

Debra is WRTI’s community voice for the WRTI/Astral Artist Annual Block Party and Astral Winner’s Concert. She’s emceed live concerts for the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Lyra Society, and the Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society, and is a popular guest lecturer/performer for the Rittenhouse Square Committee of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

Performing with stellar artists in the community continues to be a passion of Debra’s, including as piano soloist with The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra at Verizon Hall, and many other orchestras in the area, and in chamber music recitals with members of The Philadelphia Orchestra and with her piano trio. Her Music and Conversation recital series explores fascinating scientific and societal questions, tied together through great works from the piano literature. Debra’s recorded discography is out on the Albany and MSR labels and her own independent label.

A devoted educator, Debra is currently co-director of the Medicine + Music program at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. For many years, she was on the music teaching faculty of Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College.
Debra’s commitment to the arts community includes service on the Presser Foundation’s Advancement of Music Committee, the William Appling Singers and Orchestra, and recent board service for the Philadelphia Museum of Art East Asian Committee, Tri-County Concerts Association, and Astral Artists.

Hear Debra Tuesdays through Fridays for Classical Weekdays, 10 AM to 2 PM, and on Saturday Morning Classical Coffeehouse, 6 AM to noon. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram @debra.l.harder.

Ways to Connect

July 26, 2021.  To be 80 years old, still vitally contributing to one’s art and performing at peak level — yes, it’s possible, even on an instrument as mentally and physically demanding as the piano. Just listen to Martha Argerich in our Classical Album of the Week.

July 19, 2021. Gardens are abloom all around our listening area, including on the airwaves, with our Classical Album of the Week. Il Giardino Armonico (The Harmonic Garden) performs music of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) on period instruments, and reveals surprising aspects of the composer’s personality.

July 5, 2021. How do you solve a 21st-century problem with 17th-century instruments? Lutenist Ronn McFarlane and viola da gamba player Carolyn Surrick answer that question in their latest album, Fermi’s Paradox.

June 28, 2021. Imagine you’re an 8-year-old girl from a small town in Scotland, and one day, suddenly, you can’t hear your mother calling you. Within four years, you become profoundly deaf. And yet, you have music in your bones, and you’re determined to become a musician. How are you going to make this impossible dream happen?

Courtesy of Singing City Choir

Good news for fans of the Philadelphia region's choral music scene! By popular demand, our Friday Choral Connection, which airs every Friday at 1:30 PM, will be extended into June. And we’ve expanded our offerings to include four more choirs.

Getty Images/Bettmann

We’re celebrating the birth of Edward Kennedy Ellington, better known as the “Duke.”  With drive, charisma, and vision, Ellington became one of the first artists to successfully bridge the worlds between popular and serious music.

April 12, 2021. Sergei Rachmaninoff considered The Philadelphia Orchestra his favorite American ensemble, and our Classical Album of the Week reveals why.

March 22, 2021. All Things Are Quite Silent is the debut commercial recording of the Chapel Choir of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and The Pembroke College Girls’ Choir. Under their remarkable conductor, Anna Lapwood, the choirs perform a sonically elegant program of short a capella selections by composers ranging from Josef Rheinberger to Caroline Shaw. And in keeping with our celebration of women’s history month, the work of women composers comprise the majority of the album.

Wikipedia Commons

While Easter has inspired Bach's Saint Matthew Passion and many other beloved classical works, the holiday of Passover—being celebrated by millions of the Jewish faith this week—claims no famous pieces in the concert repertoire. WRTI's Debra Lew Harder explores why, and finds out what music you can find at a seder.

Leighton Smith /Unsplash

WRTI looks at the origins of this famous ballad, its mysteries, and why it is sung to convey deeply felt emotion and love during times of mourning.