© 2024 WRTI
Your Classical and Jazz Source. Celebrating 75 Years!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meg Bragle brings voice and vision to the helm of Afternoon Classical

Meg Bragle, WRTI's
Tatiana Daubek
Meg Bragle, WRTI's new Afternoon Classical Host, comes to the role with a multifaceted career as a performer and educator.

When Meg Bragle goes on the air as WRTI’s new Afternoon Classical host on Aug. 1, classical listeners in the Philadelphia area will encounter a voice familiar in more ways than one. That’s partly because of Meg’s work as an impeccable fill-in host since spring of 2022 — but no less a matter of her stature as one of the leading mezzo-sopranos of our age, notably in the Baroque and early music repertoire. Whether she’s singing Monteverdi or announcing Mendelssohn, her trademark is a self-assurance rooted in deep understanding of the music, and expressed in the most agreeable terms.

“We’re beyond thrilled that Meg will be joining WRTI as our new full-time afternoon host,” says Classical Program Director Zev Kane. “Anyone who has heard Meg filling in during middays and afternoons in the last year knows what a unique skillset she brings as a broadcaster. We’re so fortunate that her rich insights into the repertoire, warmly reassuring voice, and generosity of spirit will be gracing our airwaves every weekday.”

Meg took a circuitous path to the broadcast booth. A decade ago, she moved to Interlochen, Mich., with her husband, Christopher Gruits, who had taken a position as executive director for Interlochen Presents. “I’d been a city dweller for a long time, and was used to being busy,” Meg recalls. “I was dealing with the big change of being a new mom and living in a rural location. And IPR was in my backyard, literally; the station building was right there.”

Interlochen Public Radio was in the midst of transition, with a new incoming general manager. “So I met the new GM when she came in, and said: ‘Hey, I’d love to help. If there’s anything I can do, put me to work.’ I positioned myself as a music resource, not an on-air person at all.” Then the host of a live Saturday morning request show decided to retire, and Meg was hastily prepared to take the reins.

Tatiana Daubek
Tatiana Daubek

It was the ultimate training ground, a hands-on operation with a small but passionate audience. “I was usually by myself in the building,” she says, laughing. “There wasn’t even an engineer.” A month into the job, the station’s news director assigned her to interview pianist Richard Goode. “And we’re in the staff meeting, and he looked over at me and said, ‘Have you ever interviewed anyone before?’ I said, “No, absolutely not.’” The crash course that followed was one of many. “I didn’t know what I was doing on the air. It was pretty hilarious,” Meg recalls. “But doing the request show was a great way in, because you talked to people. I didn’t feel like I was sitting in a box talking to the void.”

Meg had formative history with Interlochen: at age 13, she attended her first summer camp at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. She was there as a violinist; she’d been playing the instrument since she was 3. The concentration of young talent at the camp was intimidating at first, and off-putting. “For eight weeks, I hated it,” she says. But then came the final concert, a performance of Frank Liszt’s Les préludes, S.97 featuring all of the students in the program in a radiant unity of purpose.

“I just thought, ‘Ohhhh,’” Meg recalls, imbuing the word with a note of awestruck appreciation. She pinpoints that as the moment when she knew she truly wanted to devote her life to music. (“Up until then I was pretty sure I was going to be a lawyer,” she says.) Returning back home, to a small hamlet outside of Albany, NY, she redoubled her commitment to the violin, performing in a youth orchestra and devoting herself to the repertoire. “The dream was to play in an orchestra,” she says.

Meg had always dabbled in singing as well, but subsequent summers at Interlochen nudged her to take vocals more seriously (despite what she recalls as the horror of a small mistake during her first-ever solo, in one of Handel’s Coronation Anthems). The choir director at Interlochen provided crucial encouragement, and when Meg enrolled in college at the University of Michigan, she planned to study both violin and voice. By the time she graduated, she was a double major in Voice Performance and English: “I just found the combination of words and music too compelling to pass up.”

Her path after graduation was unconventional. “You were supposed to leave undergrad, apply for young artists programs, do one or two of those, get a masters if you had to, and then take the world by storm, eventually landing at The Met,” she says. “I didn’t feel ready to do that.”

So she took a year off and applied to an oratorio program at the Royal Academy in London. “They gave me a chance to audition, but they said: ‘This is really for when you’re ready to go on stage. And you’re lovely, but you’re not ready for this program.’ So I was pretty heartbroken. I came back and got a degree in conducting. So I got that degree, and then I went and auditioned for a lot of people, most of whom were either oratorio people or early-music specialists, including Jeannette Sorrell at Apollo’s Fire.”

Apollo’s Fire is an acclaimed Baroque orchestra based in Cleveland Heights, OH, and it provided Meg with a deep immersion in early music, filling a gap she didn’t realize she had. “I knew the Cambridge Singers and I knew some nice English choral cathedral stuff,” she explains. “But I didn’t know Monteverdi. I didn’t know Rameau. I knew Bach, but as a violinist, not as a singer.” In addition to Sorrell, she learned from a range of visiting musicians who were specialists in the style and time period. “Just getting to talk about different tuning systems, and expression, and that combination of text with music,” Meg says, “it was all the things that I didn’t even know were a thing.”

That expertise would become a calling card for Meg, who has made several recordings with Apollo’s Fire and several others with Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists — including J.S. Bach’s Easter and Ascension Oratorios, which constituted her BBC Proms debut in 2013.

Meg has performed with many other distinguished ensembles, including the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. She has been featured with the Houston Symphony, the Milwaukee Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and others.

Meg moved to Philadelphia in 2016, when her husband was named artistic director of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which later rebranded as Penn Live Arts. She now serves as a Resident Artist and Director of Vocal Studies at Penn, leading the Collegium Musicum (formerly Ancient Voices) and serving as a vocal advisor at the Platt House, home to a wide range of student performing arts ensembles.

In the weeks leading up to her debut as full-time host at WRTI, Meg has been on tour with a program she created called “Into the Light: Songs of Beginnings.” (It’s a centerpiece program of this season’s Carmel Bach Festival.) She says her conception of the recital was informed by her experience on the air.

“I do think about things in a different way,” she says. “How is the audience going to receive what I’m programming, and how am I programming it so that they hear what I hope they will hear? It’s a mix of early and contemporary music — so I’m doing Caroline Shaw and Isabella Leonarda. I’m doing Margaret Bonds and Erlebach. But I’ve tried to make it so that there are no jagged, shocking transitions. So yes, I think it has actually prompted me to think about how the audience is receiving things, even more.”

Audiences in the greater Philadelphia area — and around the world, via our online stream — will soon have the opportunity to receive Meg’s signal at WRTI. Be sure to tune in on weekday afternoons, starting Aug. 1.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.