A look into classical

I have very little in classical music. The local library has a lot of classical cd's available. Rather than taking the hit & miss approach are there some suggestions for me to get my feet wet? I do like what I have: Mozart "A Little Nightmusic"...1812 Overture...Nutcracker.

The Mozart disc really floats my boat of the 3.
One approach would be to build on what you already have liked: Check out some Mozart symphonies, some of his string quartets, his operas. Do the same with Tchaikovski--there's a lot more to him than the two works you mentioned. You could also start listening to music from the same time periods as these two. Check out Haydn, Borodin, Brahms. Then look at a few composers from earlier periods, Handel, Bach, Telemann; or later, Beethoven (later than Mozart but before Tchaikovsky), Mahler, R. Strauss, Schoenberg.

Once you've got a few different selections under your belt, you might start noticing that you're gravitating towards string quartets, or symphonies, or whatever. You can then start looking at other recordings from the same performers you've been listening to and if you find things you like, then try others by the composers on those recordings.

Lastly, the hit-and-miss approach has a lot going for it. "Classical" music is such a huge genre that you might never make your way through even a small part of it if you are too systematic. It would be hard for Tchaikovsky to lead you to Percy Granger, Arnold Bax, or Rodrigo, but grab the occasional random CD and see what new vistas (if any) open up. Have fun!
Another approach is to use your computer- go to pandora.com and register. It's free, no worries.
Go to genres, classical and you can select what you want. Chamber???
Internet radio, without commercials. I have found this an excellent way to discover great music, then hit the stores.
Good luck.
Well since we don't really know what you would like, and apparently neither do you, IMHO recommendations would have a very limited value at this point in time.

What I suggest is that you check out from your library some 'compilation' CD's which have the most popular music of various composers. From these CD's you can find music that is appealing to you (actually specific pieces) and come back as ask from recommendations of composers/pieces to build on that particular recording/composer or style.
Another alternative is if you have a classical music station just listen, what catches your ear? Then go get a CD that has it and see what it is combined with and go from there. It is a bit of hit and miss but over time you will find what your attracted to and have built up a collection of things you like as well.
Pandora is a great site. You can listen to radio stations on the Internet such as the fine Dallas Classical station WRR. Also, you might want to try a few audiophile classics from Telarc or Columbia Masterworks. Gramophone and BBC Classical magazines do a tremendous job of sorting things out and publish recommendations each month and summaries of the very best each year. Wonderful things are happening around the world in this genre'. Good luck and enjoy!
Internet radio is a great place to go for variety and to get a feel for the different periods of classical music. Then just grow from there as you will find yourself gravitating to certains kinds of music.

As far as the best sites for a variety of classical radio stations I would suggest i-tunes or rhapsody.

This is one of my favorite stations http://www.radioswissclassic.ch/en.
Lots of classical variety on Internet Radio.

All you need for a great variety of Internet Radio with excellent sound is a Network Player like Roku Soundbridge (<$200) or Squeezebox, a high speed internet connection, and a system.
If you are so inclined to spend the money for a subscription, Grammaphone magazine is a great resource. Each issue has a cd of a collection of recently released pieces. If you aren't sure you want a year's subscription go to Barnes and Noble and get the recent issue to familiarize yourself with it.
Here are reviews of Gramophone's last three recordings of the month http://puresuperaudio.blogspot.com/2009/02/gramophone-recording-of-month.html

for more reviews I suggest visiting http://sa-cd.net/reviews/0/5
If you like that Mozart disc, then I can recommend you try:
1. Mozart Symphony #40, or better yet pick up from the library this double-cd set "Mozart - Symphonies 35-41. Herbert von Karajan, Berliner Philharmoniker"
2. Mozart Clarinet Concerto - Sabline Meyer, Claudio Abbado.
3. Beethoven Piano Concerto 1&2 and Piano Concerto 3&4 with Yefim Bronfman
4. Mendelssohn - violin concerto(pick this one up with Jascha Heifetz or Hilary Hahn as soloists)
5. Bach Violin Concertos. Readily available should be the ones with Hilary Hahn.
6. Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1
7. Saint-Saens Piano Concerto #2 - if you can find this with Bella Davidovich and Neeme Jarvi conducting, this is the one to get.
8. Paganini, Spohr violin concertos - Hilary Hahn

This should be sufficient enough to start and for you to see what you like. You have to start with something light and then make a natural progress into more modern classical music.
Lot of good suggestions above. If you favor one or more instruments, you might want to seek out compilation that offer different works by different composers based on that particular instrument that appeals to you. Soon you will have favorite musicians and composers. It's a big ocean out there, don't be afraid to just jump in!
Thanks for all the input! I wish I could get Pandora and the such at work. I'll try the internet suggestions at home when I have the time to "listen"...but, it's lunchtime for me so off to the library!
If you like Mozart, may I suggest the Opera 'Le Nozze Di Figaro' Herb Von Karajan on EMI Classics.
I think that if you want to jump start an investigation of classical music with the primary focus on finding music with the greatest immediate enjoyment factor, newbee offered the best suggestion: compilation discs with lots of works by different composers.

many booksellers with cd offerings, such as barnes & noble , borders, etc, have a selection within the classical music selection that are compilation cd's of best loved melodies, etc. borders even makes a few under their own label. these cd's offer excerpted music - sometimes entire movements or 2-5 minutes of a movement. i suggest seeking out a 2-4 cd box set since breadth is the object for you at this time. the cost will not be large. as you may know, there are also "greates' hits cd's by composer. there are also compilation discs by mood or period (ie, music to chill, baroque music for brunch, music for driving the autoban... etc)

when you have the cd's, then just start to listen. BUT do so systematically! how so? i suggest sitting down with a pen and post it. divide the post-it into 3 sections: (one post it for each cd)
a. love it (the music captivated you, floats your boat...)
b. ok or no opinion
c. dislike / not into it

when listening to each cd, jot the track number down into one of these 3 categories. dont bother with the composer or name of the work at this point. listen to the cd 3 times over the course of a week. use a different post it for each time you listen. why 3x? because your mood when listening may greatly influence your engagement with a pc of music. if you listen to everything 3x, you will give each musical excerpt a better opportunity to speak to you... or not. that is the goal here.

at the end of the week, compare your 3 evaluation sheets for each disc. you will probably have 6+ works in the "love it" category. look up the composer and specific composition. seek out these full works in your library. for more investigation, the comp discs should also have the composer's birth/death dates. maybe even the period and nationality. you may find that a large grouping of the music that has engaged you the most falls into time frame chunks which may coincide with fairly codified "periods" (baroque, classical, romantic, late romantic, impressionist, modern, etc). or nationalities, or genre (chamber music, soloist, large orchestral, etc ) . as you learn more about what engages you most, you may come to realize that you not only enjoy , for example, colorful large orchestral works, but more specifically "romantic period" large orchestral works, and even perhaps large orchestral/romantic period /russian works (ie tchaikovsky, borodin, rimsky-kor., etc).

you may find your enjoyment follows more than one distinct tendency.. .or none at all. these is over 500 years of classical music, much of it recorded quite extensively. you are not going to figure out what you like best from such a wide selection in a week. in fact, what you find engages you most this year may not be what you favor next year ! the objective is start with what engages you most readily now and continually broaden your experiences when you have the time. once you take a week or so to start your "survey" with excerpts, you will some direction.

other: wikipedia online often lists the major compositions of all the important composers within the bios, so you can get an idea where to start in terms of each composer's major works that are on your "love it" list in addition to the excerpted work. fyi: some composers are easier explore than others. for example, tchaikovsky's major works in the genres of orchestra music and orch+soloist total about 15 works, , whereas with mozart, you can easily explore 40 masterpcs in these 2 genres alone. some composers are an abundance of riches, others less so, but it hardly discounts their worth to you. afterall, you are after works that ultimately float your boat.

if you start with the compilation discs, you will not get overwhelmed, which will be easy to do if you should happen to pick up any "how to build your own music library", which is not your stated objective.

a note of caution: i would not be too concerned at this point with the ensemble or soloist performing the work. most well known and well recorded groups do a more than adequate job at bringing a classical work to life.

at this stage of introduction to classical music, whether you hear heifetz or hilary hahn or any of the other 2-3 DOZEN top tier violinists perform the tchaikovsky violin concerto (for example) is completely unimportant. most if not all have the capability to engage you fully... and float your boat.

happy sailing ! marc

An inexpensive way to find out what you prefer is to listen to the radio. Most large cities have a classical or fine arts music FM station - a public radio station - often connected to a local university and generally around 88 - 92 Mhz. Many of these stations post their playlist on their website. Jot down the time of day that you heard the work and look it up on the playlist. Most folks that I know who have developed a passion for fine arts music later in life have employed this method.

Several guides are a good place to start for classic performances - my recomendation is the Gramophone annual guide. Less comprehensive than the Penguin annual guide but, in my opinion, a better place to start.

By 'classical' music I am assuming that you mean everything from Bach to Berg. Keep in mind that there are different, somewhat arbitrary divisions. A more narrow definition would classify Bach and contempories as Baroque, include mainly Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven as Classical, with Beethoven transitioning into Romantic - followed by Schubert, Bruckner, etc, and with Shostakovich, Berg, and others representing modern or 20th century genres. My guess, given your stated likes, is that you will prefer, at least at first, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic to 20th Century.

You may also want to take a sampling of (1)orchestral, (2) chamber, and (3) instrumental performances (i.e. (1) symphonies and concertos, (2) string quartets and piano trios, (3) piano and violin sonatas). Also consider choral and opera (although a full opera may be daunting at first - highlights are perhaps a better way to begin).

A couple things to keep in mind about collecting classical music that is somewhat different than how popular music is typically collected (although not alltogether different than collecting Jazz - one can never have enough takes on a Gershwin tune). (1) Generally, one ends up with several performances of a composer's work by various performers. For eg. I have roughly 20 performances of Beethoven's 3rd symphony. (2) While a given work can certainly be enjoyed in the first, second, or third listen, the real pleasure comes in becoming extremely familiar with the work.

A nice series of DVD's that may be of use to you are those done by Michael Tilson Thomas - he is a brilliant conductor and the DVD's include performances as well has his and members of the San Fransisco symphony, musings on given works.

The above is essentially an intellectual treatment of music - one which most collectors of classical music do engage in. However, there is also a visceral aspect to listening to fine arts music - not analytical - more of a zen like approach - rewarding in a different way and largely separate from the intellectual treatment. Both are valuable.

Good luck.

This might seem off-the-wall, but it just can't be coincidence that most of my favorite classical recordings are on "Living Stereo" SACDs.
This may sound funny but to get my classical music selection up to speed I'll just go select random stuff from composers and performers that catch my eye. 9 times out of ten it's good but on a few occasions GREAT and gets played often. Some that come to mind are: Holst "Planets" (try and get it on XRCD), Purcell "Music for a while" by Alfred Deller, Otto Klemperer conducting Beethoven symphonies box set, Richard Wagner "Der Ring des Nibelungen" Glenn Gould "Bach Well tempered clavier"