Lyric Fest Composer in Residence

artwork by Laura Pritchard

artwork by Laura Pritchard

I’ve attended their concerts for years, so I’m excited to be a part of Lyric Fest’s upcoming season as Composer in Residence!

A Shakespeare trio, a choral work with audience participation, a large song cycle using new poems inspired by new paintings, and lecturing on Lieder are all part of my 2014-15 residency with Philadelphia’s Lyric Fest, which for more than ten years has been bringing imaginative art song performances to the aficionado and newcomer alike.

More details about each of the concerts are here, and their brand-new brochure is linked here. Lyric Fest is a unique musical offering, equally noted for scholarship and entertainment, presenting artists of national and international stature in the intimate setting of song. Critics call Lyric Fest “compulsively enterprising” and “an irresistible mix of high art and humane feeling… as entertaining as a well managed party.”

I hope to greet you at one of the concerts. My deep thanks to Suzanne DuPlantis, Laura Ward, and everyone at Lyric Fest for this wonderful opportunity!

Nice and Easy

niceandeasy…is how Parma Recordings blogger Chris Robinson describes Where Flames a Word, from The Crossing’s Parma CD It Is Time, in amassing his featured Spotify playlist. Thanks, Parma, and much love to The Crossing! I can never get over how good they sound.

(Y’know, I forgot I had those glasses, and didn’t remember my hair being that straight, but that Reebok endorsement contract looks pret-ty smart right now.)

Secondary Impressions on Now Is the Time

VoltiTurnPageThey come in twos on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 9th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Joan Tower responded to Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man with numerous Fanfares for the Uncommon Woman; we’ll hear No. 2. Eric McIntyre doubles down on impressionism with Secondary Impressions for saxophone and piano, and Kronos performs the Quartet No. 2 of Philip Glass.

William Hawley’s Two Motets on Roman poets, sung by Volti, separates the last two instrumental works, the Four Fanfares for Two Trumpets by Andrew Rindfleisch and John Novacek’s Three Rags for Two Pianos.

from John Novacek: Three Rags for Two Pianos 

PROGRAM:
Joan Tower: Fanfare No. 2 for the Uncommon Woman
Eric McIntyre: Secondary Impressions
Philip Glass: Quartet No. 2, Company
Andrew Rindfleisch: Four Fanfares for Two Trumpets
William Hawley: Two Motets
John Novacek: Three Rags for Two Pianos

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware.

Electronic Fantasy on Now Is the Time

KucharzPastelsIt’s sound, brand-new and fantastical, on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 2nd at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Mason Bates intersects electronica pop rhythm with indigenous percussion in Stereo Is King, while Prism by Charles Peck combines a percussion quartet with an electronic touch-pad instrument of his own invention, at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.

Violin mashes into a surprisingly romantic Fantasy for Violin and Electronics by James Aikman, Barton McLean unleashes the hounds in Demons of the Night, and up in Woodstock, David van Tieghem wrote, recorded, and produced the quirky Waiting for the Gizmo—No. 1. Ambient Pastels of Larry Kucharz waft through the rest of the program.

from Mason Bates: Stereo Is King 

PROGRAM:
Mason Bates: Stereo Is King
Larry Kucharz: Pastel 7606
Charles Peck: Prism
James Aikman: Fantasy for Violin and Electronics
Barton McLean: Demons of the Night
Larry Kucharz: Pastel 0902
David van Tieghem: Waiting for the Gizmo—No. 1

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware.

Symphony Club Philadelphia Premieres: Suk, Novák

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday August 2nd at 5 pm

Josef Suk (1874–1935). Serenade (1892)
Vitezslav Novák (1873–1949). Slovak Suite (1903)

The gentleman from Philadelphia was heir to a textile business but his passion was music. An amateur violinist and violist, he founded a club for young people to play music at a time—1909—when there was no instrumental music instruction in the Philadelphia schools. He obtained a building, hired a conductor, and brought the students in to play orchestral literature, as much as he could buy. He called it the Symphony Club.

Edwin A. Fleisher (1877-1959) quickly realized, however, that he would need to go to the source of orchestral music. Music publishers did not have the international reach, through agents and distributors, that they would later have. So Fleisher traveled to Europe, purchased music, signed agreements, and shipped scores and parts back to the United States. He was building what would become the largest library of orchestral performance material in the world. It was the library of the Symphony Club, and is now called the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. It is housed in the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Symphony Club held readings/rehearsals every week, for younger and older students, for strings only and for full orchestra. They learned chamber music and theory, and even had a choir. Occasionally they’d give public concerts. Boys and girls, blacks and whites, rich and poor all took part, with Edwin Fleisher footing the bill, paying for salaries, music, and later, the hand-copying of instrumental parts where none existed.

Symphony Club String Orchestra, 1921-22

Symphony Club String Orchestra, 1921-22

The library grew to include American and Latin American music, but in the beginning the music was European through and through, the spine of orchestral literature, music popular at that time and music that had been popular in previous decades.

Because of Fleisher’s access to European publishers, the Symphony Club often premiered works in Philadelphia that would later become staples of orchestral programs. That’s the case for the two Czech composers on Discoveries today. Josef Suk’s Serenade for string orchestra and Vitezslav Novák’s Slovak Suite, which show up on programs all over the world, had their very first Philadelphia hearings on Symphony Club concerts.

Suk and Novák, born within a year of each other, were colleagues and friends, and in the vanguard of the new generation of composers reaching beyond folk influences to a more international sound. They could not escape—nor did they really wish to—the teaching and influence of Dvořak. Suk, in fact, had married the master’s daughter. But the future of Czech music continued bright and world-renowned in large part to their own legacies.

So it was, that when Edwin A. Fleisher toured Europe in the early years of the 20th century, prodding publishers for the latest in orchestral music, he returned with works by Josef Suk and Vitezslav Novák (as well as by Dvořak). Philadelphia first heard these works because of the Symphony Club, because of its library, and because of the gentleman from Philadelphia who founded them both.

String students in Osaka performing the fourth movement of the Serenade by Joseph Suk:

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at wrti.org. We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now 12 years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Voices from the Heartland on Now Is the Time

CrumbHeartlandNew music hears old tunes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 26th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. George Crumb has a way—like no one else—of investing the simplest gesture with mystery and grandeur. He fills his seventh American Song Book, Voices from the Heartland, with these touches of wonder assembled in these hymns, spirituals, folk songs, and American Indian chants. Soprano Ann Crumb and baritone Patrick Mason are accompanied by Orchestra 2001, conducted by James Freeman.

Beginning the show, there’s just time enough to hear a movement from David Amram’s Violin Concerto. His Celtic Rondo breathes the air of long ago from another place, or maybe he hears the spirits of ancestors from any place. Charles Castleman is the soloist.

from George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland 

PROGRAM:
David Amram: Celtic Rondo, from Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
George Crumb: Voices from the Heartland

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware.

Premiere of Gold and Silver in Helena

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 22 July 2014. Reprinted by permission.]

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The president of Carroll College told me that when he arrived in Helena two years ago to begin his new job, they informed him that they’d leave a car for him in the airport parking lot. “But where will the keys be?” he asked. “In the ignition, where else?” was the reply, and so he learned right then and there how special Helena, Montana is.

Allan R. Scott, music director of the Helena Symphony, who commissioned me for Gold and Silver (for program notes, complete score, and MIDI audio, click here), premiered Saturday at Carroll College as part of Symphony Under the Stars, left his car for us at the airport. A connection in our flight from Philadelphia was delayed, he was in a last-minute meeting with funders, the rental car place would be closed by the time we got there, so his assistant met Jackie and me at the airport and handed me the car keys, because, of course, what else would you do?

The next morning we picked up the rental car. Tom the rental guy, who, along with waiters and candy shop owners and everyone else I met was going to Symphony Under the Stars, walked me outside, and started to circumnavigate this Dodge Ram Sport 1500 5.7 Hemi. I don’t know what one Hemi is, let alone five point seven of them, but a friend who knows about these things tells me that this puppy has 16 spark plugs, two for each cylinder.

I looked around for the rental car, like, you know, a car. “It’s all we have right now, trucks,” Tom said, “will that be okay?” Will that be okay, are you kidding? I tooled around in town at precisely 35 or 40 miles per hour, or on the interstates at 75, exactly what the posted speed limit was, because driving the exact speed limit in a huge truck is surprisingly exhilarating. I nodded at the other truck drivers with whom I was now in communion. Of course they didn’t look at me but no matter. I was in Helena, at the first of my official acts as Composer in Residence, driving a Dodge Ram with seven-tenths over five liters of hemi, and the Helena Symphony was playing my piece in front of 18,000 people, will that be okay.

Symphony Under the Stars was in this, its eleventh year, all Disney movie music and one work called Gold and Silver, the piece they requested for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Helena, and the 60th anniversary of the Helena Symphony. So it was Disney, me, and fireworks. In May 2015 they’ll play Gold and Silver again, on a program with Beethoven’s 9th. I’ve now been up against fireworks and popcorn vendors, so sharing the evening with Beethoven doesn’t seem, I’m thinking cavalierly, so daunting now. We’ll see about that, but in the meantime the performance was fantastic.

Children were dancing in front of the outdoor stage at the return of the main theme, the hymn-like tune I set up against the fanfare-y brass opening. If you feel a connection to children dancing unreservedly, by the way, it’s because children dance exactly the way you dance, if you don’t know how to dance. They do the two-styrofoam-cups-of-coffee-thrown-back-over-the-head dance, the elbow-swing-stop-poking-me-in-the-side dance, and of course the crouching-boxer-via-Heisman-trophy dance, just the way you do. But you don’t wear glow-in-the-dark necklaces when you dance, nor do you laugh when you fall down.

The crowd appreciated the significance of the piece, introduced by the Helena mayor, as a celebration of the city and the of state, whose motto Oro y Plata presented me with the title Gold and Silver. They cheered in the middle of it. After careful consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that cheering in the middle of a piece is a good, is a really good, thing.

Allan was, to the last ounce, all about making music. He never calls these pops concerts. He invests in them the same commitment he reserves for Helena’s Mahler cycle or a Jennifer Higdon Concerto for Orchestra. The Disney works are—as many film scores are—incredibly difficult to play well. I looked at the parts, full of turn-on-a-dime tempo changes and sound-effect sparkles, and saw how much work goes into an evening of Pirates and Poppins and Mermaids and Lion Kings and Toy Stories. The well-known tunes and well-settled harmonic sweeps belie the workout this is for the musicians on the stage. The tuba player is a rancher, raises Black Angus cattle, drives 100 miles to play here, has wiry arms and a big smile and a frame that has bent under real work at 15 below or a hundred and five. He sounds good. They all sound good.

As we walked from Carroll College to our truck (it seems to me that I like saying that) parked six blocks away, surrounded by happy Helenans who had just heard a wonderful orchestra playing live under stars and fireworks and that big Montana sky, I thought that I was blessed. Blessed, I thought, to have my music share the stage with these musicians, blessed to share the lawn with these people. I drove nice and slow.