Joel's Classical Shop
3514 S. Shepherd Dr., Ste B
Houston, TX 77098

tel: 713.526.7010
fax: 713.526.7005



Tuesday - Saturday
10:00 am to 7:00 pm

12:00 pm to 6:00 pm


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Joel S. Greenspan (1953 - 2013)

Joel S. Greenspan, 59, of Houston, passed away on Monday, February 18, 2013 after a long illness. Born and raised in Springfield, MA, Joel moved to Houston, TX in the 1980's.

Joel loved music and theater and was an aspiring actor. In 1985, he started working at a CD store in Houston in the classical music department, and over the years developed an encyclopedic knowledge of classical recordings. In 2002 Joel opened his own CD store in Houston, Joel's Classical Shop, which specializes in classical, musical theater, and film soundtrack recordings and is one of the few independent music stores still thriving today.

Joel is survived by his two brothers, Herbert Greenspan of Becket, MA, and Michael Greenspan of Giv'at Haim Meuhad, Israel.


Yavar's Farewell to Joel's Classical Shop

Hello everyone,

For a few weeks now, I've been sharing this news with some of you in person, but it is now long past time that I let you all know I am leaving Joel's Classical Shop. This coming Sunday the 12th, my wife Francesca and I will be leaving Houston and moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico. A couple of months ago we were both accepted to our dream school, St. John's College. We have both wanted for a long time to return to school full time and we've decided to finally take the plunge. We stumbled across St. John's about a year ago thanks to this article in the New Yorker. If you're curious what could entice me away from a great job like working at Joel's, but are unfamiliar with St. John's unique curriculum, take a look at their website and watch some of their videos.

I am glad I was here long enough to witness a true milestone: Joel's Classical Shop celebrated it's 10th Anniversary in June. Think about that for a moment. Joel Greenspan started his business in 2002, after downloads had already gained a lot of traction in the music industry. That took some guts. As an independent brick-and-mortar store specifically catering to lovers of classical music, it's pretty unique -- at this point probably the last of its kind left on this continent. Houston is lucky to have it! Much credit should also go to Michael Sumbera, my colleague at the Shop for nearly the entire time I've been here. He's gutsy, too: For those of you who didn't already know, he bought the shop from Joel last September, ensuring its future, hopefully for years to come. Every week we have new customers discover us who are amazed and delighted that we exist. There's just something special about being able to browse in a classical oasis, rather than just shopping by surfing the web. All of you can continue to help out by telling your family, friends, and acquaintances about Joel's. You might just make their day!

If anyone would like to stop by and see me before I go, I'll be in the shop Tuesday afternoon to closing, and all day Wednesday. I may stop in briefly once more before we leave but those are your best bets. Also, if anyone would like to take advantage of my expertise in film music, we are having a special two day sale: Tuesday and Wednesday, all film music (including used titles and new releases) is 10% off! Come stock up on Goldsmith, Williams, Korngold, Rozsa, Waxman, Tiomkin, Bernstein, and Barry. If you stubbornly resist the joys of film music, don't fret because we have something for everyone: for the entire month of August the entire Harmonia Mundi label is also 10% off as well!

I have long delayed writing this message because it is so hard to say goodbye to Joel's and all of you. When Joel first hired me two years ago, I had no idea how attached I would get to the place, or how much of myself I would put into it. At first I concentrated on aesthetics, like putting posters and LP covers up on the walls, rearranging the look and organization of the place a bit. And then I really started getting to know all of you. Sharing my passion for music with such warm and welcoming folks as yourselves has given me a great sense of purpose and belonging, which I will take with me. I hope in some way I have similarly touched many of you.

Your Friend in Music,
Yavar Moradi

P.S. If you can't make it into the store to say goodbye, please feel free to leave any comments here.


Return of the Maestro

Even seconds before Eschenbach walked on stage I could feel something different in the air. The audience’s anticipation was palpable, and when he finally stepped out people were already beginning to stand, applaud, cheer. The beloved maestro who had spent over a decade melding the Houston Symphony into a world-class orchestra had returned after nearly ten years for one night only, to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. He humbly and silently accepted all of this adulation before turning towards the orchestra and subtly signaling the lead trumpet to begin.

From those first staccato notes the entire performance was electrifying. Every nuance and subtle turn of Mahler’s masterpiece was carefully brought out by both conductor and musicians. Though I had heard that rehearsal time was short, everyone in the orchestra played their absolute best. The strings were more sublime than ever, woodwinds and percussion surpassed their usual high standards, and the brass, which has unfortunately been noticeably sloppy in a few of this season’s performances, played with utmost precision and beautiful, clean tone.

Through the turbulent second movement, the almost upbeat scherzo, and the heartbreakingly beautiful adagio, the audience sat with rapt attention, hardly daring to breathe. I don’t remember a single cough the entire performance, which is unheard-of (and I suppose may simply reflect the spell the music cast on me). During the latter, time almost seemed to stand still for Mahler’s musical love letter to his beloved Alma. Later, as the finale hurtled to its thrilling conclusion I could feel the energy in the room all around me, which finally burst out in a roaring cheer from the crowd as Eschenbach lowered his baton after the final crescendo.

Practically the entire audience was back on its feet again as whistles, hoots, hollers, and loud cries of “Bravo!” filled the air. The loud applause never faltered as the maestro came out for five curtain calls. He seemed grateful yet still somewhat reserved at all this outpouring. He graciously singled out all of the members of the orchestra who had done particularly well in their solos, and repeatedly gestured for the orchestra to rise up and take a well-deserved bow.

On the fifth curtain call, however, the orchestra did something I have never seen before: silent agreement passed between them and they refused to rise. Eschenbach gestured again for them to stand; for a moment he did not understand why just this once they neglected to follow his direction. But by then the musicians themselves were joining the audience in applauding him, even stomping feet on the stage in their appreciation. And now from my fifth row seat I could see some of Eschenbach’s deep emotion break though his professional surface. It was evident just how moved he was at this gesture, and he turned his back on the audience to bow to the musicians of the orchestra, some of whom were no doubt old friends. Then, with one final grateful nod to the crowd, he was gone.

Though I witnessed several great performances by the symphony during the 2005-2006 season when I worked for them, and was more recently wowed by the Symphony under Mark Wigglesworth this past year, this concert was probably their greatest in years. I confess it may not have been a perfect performance, but it was truly a great one. Under Eschenbach’s direction, the Houston Symphony truly lived up to its potential as a world-class orchestra and it was a wonder to behold.

Your friend in music,



Support Your Local Symphony!

The Houston Symphony is winding down another successful season this month, but it turns out they've saved some of the best for last. My wife and I just returned from a heart-wrenching performance of Mahler's tenth symphony conducted by music director Hans Graf. Sadly it's not a piece that gets performed all that often, but it should be. If you've got an hour and a half free Sunday afternoon at 2:30 it's not too late to catch the last performance of it.

Their previous subscription concert featured an absolutely dynamite program: Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky and Stravinsky's Firebird with guest conductor Mark Wigglesworth. He was on fire all night, lending extra energy to exciting pieces that really benefitted from it. (I really hope the Symphony considers him as a successor to Graf as the next season is the maestro's last.) The orchestra, joined by the chorus in Alexander Nevsky, gave a perfect performance which I considered to be the highlight of the season; every musician was fully invested in the music.

I must make a confession: I wasn't expecting to be that impressed. A few years back while working for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, I attended a concert of Nevsky (the full film score version, which I happen to prefer to the composer-excerpted "Cantata" of highlights presented by the Houston Symphony). The conductor was then-music director Esa-Pekka Salonen and the venue was the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the orchestra joined by the famed L.A. Master Chorale. It was an incredible performance, done to a projection of Eisenstein's film to fully appreciate the art of writing music to accompany it. I never thought I'd hear a performance of the music that could touch that one, but I was wrong -- the Symphony under Wigglesworth blew me away!

Even though money is tight, my wife and I were so impressed that we were inspired to make a donation to the symphony then and there. If you value symphonic music in Houston, you should consider doing the same: If the Symphony reaches a pre-set goal by the end of this month to increase their annual fund, The Houston Endowment will give them an additional MILLION dollars, which will go a long way towards making a lot of important programs stronger, particularly their educational outreach to children. There are actually two goals they have to meet -- one is a straight dollar amount, but the other is actually to increase the number of individual donors, so even if you can only afford to send them five bucks, you'll really be helping them out! Here's some further info on the Symphony website.

I really hope they make their goal because the Symphony really deserves some love. The Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet are considered among the best in the country, but the Symphony doesn't really get the same kind of attention outside Texas. Personally I think a new hall would make a big difference if they can get the financial support. Jones Hall has a lot of beauty and it's an important cultural landmark, but I guess I'm just a little spoiled by all those years of attending concerts in L.A.'s Walt Disney Concert Hall, one of the best acoustic spaces in the world. When the L.A. Phil moved its home from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (comparable to Jones Hall acoustically) to the new hall upon its completion in 2003, it greatly increased their prominence and respect in the world classical scene. A wonderful orchestra deserves a wonderful concert space, and it is my great wish that Houston arts supporters will make that a priority in the coming decade.

Hopefully you can make it to a concert this month and witness firsthand the passion of our fine Houston Symphony, either the remaining Sunday matinee for Mahler 10 or the following three concerts next weekend which close out the season, featuring Dvorak's Cello Concerto and Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2. Even if you can't do it in person, I hope you'll consider helping the Symphony reach their goal this month. I had the great honor of working with them during the 2005-2006 season, and can personally vouch that the gang there really loves and believes in what they do, from Hans Graf and the orchestra members to the wonderful staff behind the scenes and volunteers from the general public. They really deserve whatever extra support we can give them.

Your friend in music and fellow Symphomaniac,



Houston Classical Calendar

Houston is one of the best cities in the entire country when it comes to the arts, and we don't think enough people realize it. Here's our perspective: Upon moving to Texas from California, we weren't expecting to find a cultural/arts center on the level of Los Angeles, much less one that rivals it in many ways. For example, L.A. has nothing comparable to Houston's large museum district. And though the Walt Disney Concert Hall is an incredible venue for classical music, the surrounding arts district there has nothing on Houston's downtown theatre/music district, which is home to not only the Houston Symphony but also the world-class Houston Grand Opera and (our favorite) the Houston Ballet. Due to the latter's recent growth and expansion into the exciting new Center for Dance, it is well on its way to becoming the greatest Ballet organization in the country.

Then there are the many smaller but no less wonderful music organizations in Houston: Opera in the Heights, Houston Friends of Chamber Music, Da Camera, Mercury Baroque, Context, River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, and the recently Grammy-nominated Ars Lyrica. And that's still just scratching the surface! Several universities in Houston have very strong music programs, with their own concerts/recitals. In fact there's so much going on all the time that it can be difficult to keep track of for busy classical music fans. To that end we have created the first fully comprehensive classical music calendar for Houston (which you'll find under the Local Events tab). We will endeavor to include every single concert or event for which one is able to obtain tickets (if you have information about any we've omitted, please email us at We will also start featuring on the website our recommend recordings for musical works being performed in well as stocking them in the store of course! With everything consolidated into one convenient calendar, we hope Houston will be revealed for the thriving musical community it truly is.

Yavar & Francesca


Modern Music Is Not What it Used to Be (No. 1 in a series)

Milton Babbitt died two weeks ago. While his name may be known to classical-music fans, his music likely is not. He epitomized mid-century Modernism in the US: Difficult, dense, cerebral, intimidating, unpleasant. His most famous work isn't even a piece of music, but an article published in High Fidelity, "Who Cares If You Listen?". Of course that provocative title is not Babbitt's but was given by one of the magazine's editors. Many writers will point out that this replacement is a more apt representation of the article's content than Babbitt's own "The Composer as Specialist."

The gist of Babbitt's article, that composers don't write for the general public but for a select group of individuals who are already attuned to what the composer is attempting to accomplish, is not new. Both Debussy and Schoenberg had expressed similar thoughts at the turn of the century, and Schubert's circle of friends shared a similar mindset. The difference with Babbitt though is that he was writing at a time and in an environment that emphasized and rewarded scientific rigorousness — the American university of the 1950s. Babbitt's article is an attempt to place his work on the same level as math, physics and other hard sciences. Given his earliest compositions were popular songs along the lines of Gershwin or Cole Porter, it is difficult to imagine such a drastic change in style as Babbitt underwent.

I think it likely that Babbitt developed and wrote in a total serialist style because that's what was expected of him (or at least what he thought was) as a university professor. Except for Elliott Carter, all the American composers associated with High Modernism worked in the Ivory Tower. Babbitt's article and compositions are an effort to defend or explain the presence of music composition faculty in the university by showing how similar it is to the hard sciences. When Babbitt first submitted his doctoral dissertation at Princeton, it was rejected in part because there was no doctoral-level degree in composition offered.  When all the money is going to the sciences, and you want some of that money, you have to present yourself as scientifically as possible, and this is what Babbitt did, for good or ill.

Unfortunately, his scientifically rigorous compositional style held a powerful sway over how composition was taught for roughly twenty years until George Rochberg's Third String Quartet made tonality available for serious composition again. The damage had already been done, though. The mass audience of the populist works from the 1930s and 40s had been lost, and American composers now found their audience, in the words of Spinal Tap's manager, becoming "more selective."

Although Babbitt himself maintained his personal style, he did not force his composition students to adopt it. His early interest in popular song never left him, and students who wished to follow that path, he encouraged. Teaching composition at Princeton from 1948 to 1984, his most widely recognized students are jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan and Broadway icon Stephen Sondheim.

- Mike


Bach, Beethoven, Saint-Saëns?

I know, I know -- you were expecting the list to end with that other old bearded fellow. But while Johannes Brahms was certainly a great composer, he's really not hurting for exposure right now. Like Bach and Beethoven, every single one of his surviving works has been recorded multiple times, and most have been performed and recorded so often that it's impossible to quantify.

Camille Saint-Saëns, on the other hand, has not been so lucky in the years since his death. He is chiefly remembered today for The Carnival of the Animals, a light musical joke written for friends which (with the exception of one movement, "The Swan") he did not allow to be published during his lifetime, perhaps because he had a premontion that it might distract from his more serious work. And it certainly has eclipsed everything else he wrote in terms of popularity, even his great "Organ" Symphony (No. 3)

What you may not know, however, is that Saint-Saëns wrote five excellent symphonies, ten concertos (that number is much higher if you include numerous works which qualify as concertos today, even if he did not title them as such), and twelve complete operas. Yet only one work in each of these genres has even managed to stay at the fringes of the repertoire: Symphony No. 3, Piano Concerto No. 2, Violin Concerto No. 3, Cello Concerto No. 1, and the opera, Samson and Delilah. Even recordings of the others are so uncommon they can usually be counted on one hand. In fact only three other operas of his (many of which were critical and/or commercial sucesses in his lifetime) have ever been recorded, and those three have enjoyed only one recording each.

I'm here to tell you this is a crying shame. Well, I cry about it anyway...and I'm sure that if you dare to explore his music further you'll cry too. Contrary to his unfortunate reputation (sadly shared by many a Frenchman) the vast majority of his unique ouvre is far from superficial fluff. His chamber music is profound, his requiem an unsung masterpiece. And even the most superficial fluff he wrote (most composers wrote some, after all) has a twinkle and sparkle of wit behind it that few composers of any era could match. In my ever-so-humble opinion, Saint-Saëns's music has such spirit -- almost a magical quality -- that he deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as any other great composer you could mention.

Over the rest of the month I will be using this blog to discuss his music in further detail, spotlighting five essential albums to start you down the path of enlightenment. To make things just a little easier on you, and in celebration of Camille Saint-Saëns, our first official Joel's Classical Shop Composer of the Month, for the whole of January 2011 all recordings containing his music will be discounted 10% off at the register! (This will even apply to special orders you make if they arrive after January.) Come on in and learn more about one of the greatest musical geniuses in recorded history.

Your friend in music,



At Long Last!

The link has been at the top of the site navigation for weeks now, tantalizing you. You kept clicking it, hoping against hope that there would finally be an entry. Ah, the possibilities of a regular classical music blog written by local guys who listen to it all day! You couldn't help dreaming about it, night after night. It practically haunted your every waking thought. What kind of sick twisted people were these guys at Joel's to keep that darn link up there but never write a blog post? When would they relieve your suffering?

Well, sorry -- it's taken us a little while to get this off the ground, what with all that Christmas traffic. We've had time to catch our breath now, and rest assured, we'll be posting our thoughts on recent CD releases and old favorites, great composers (some now forgotten), local concerts we attend, new musical masterpieces, the state of the classical recording industry, and (of course) the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything.

Michael and I both plan to post regularly, and perhaps we can even talk Joel into sharing his wisdom and experience online, for all of you who are frustrated with just barely missing him in the store (you know who you are). Please let us know if you have any questions, suggestions, or comments, good or bad. Welcome to our new blog!

Your Friend in Music,