Streetscape on Now Is the Time

AmericanPortraitsIt’s all spontaneous fun this weekend on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 23rd at 9 pm. Paavo Järvi conducts a substantial orchestral work by Charles Coleman, Streetscape, then Patrick Beckman plays his own Funky, from his all-piano CD Street Dance. On the CD Dream Streets violinist/composer Cornelius Duffalo performs with an imaginative use of electronics; we’ll hear introduction and cosmic clouds.

From a piano concerto whose movements are all in the key of D, Stefania de Kenessey has assembled a solo piano work Spontaneous D-Combustion. Charles Coleman returns with another Järvi, Kristjan, conducting his Absolute Ensemble in Young Worlds.

from Charles Coleman: Streetscape 

Charles Coleman: Streetscape
Patrick Beckman: Funky
Cornelius Duffalo: introduction and cosmic clouds
Stefania de Kenessey: Spontaneous D-Combustion
Charles Coleman: Young Worlds

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith hosts Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

A 2nd Vespers review from Florida

vespersGreg Stepanich writes in the Palm Beach ArtsPaper, May 10th 2015, on Saturday’s Vespers performance by Seraphic Fire and Piffaro, the third out of four concerts ending Seraphic’s 2015–15 season. In one of the most detailed and perceptive reviews of this work yet (he knows his Giovanni Gastoldi!), he says, “The merging of a Renaissance wind band with 21st-century American choral music is an idea that may sound odd on the surface, but composer Kile Smith showed it could work, and work beautifully.”

Calling Vespersan absorbing and fascinating piece, with lush choral writing and imaginative use of the seven-piece Piffaro ensemble,” he considers that “the combinations of voice and ancient instruments were remarkably atmospheric,” and that

Smith’s choral language is rich, sweet but not overripe, and crafted with emotional intensity. He likes word-painting, as one could see by following along with the text, and in both the instrumental and the choral writing the harmonic language grew steadily in complexity and color until it presented an almost palpable representation of faith.

He justly praises Patrick Quigley, Piffaro’s playing throughout and in their instrumental set-pieces, and for Seraphic Fire, “the singing was ravishing.” For the Magnificat, Stepanich especially mentions the canonic singing of the three exquisite soprano soloists Kathy Mueller, Jolle Greenleaf, and Jessica Petrus, “singing something of a written-out echo; the central melody had a sinuous, perpetual-motion elegance as it floated above harp and theorbo, giving an effect of a constant magnifying, an endless song of heavenly praise.”

He concludes his review this way:

This was an unusual and very rewarding concert, one that introduced South Florida audiences to a prominent early-music group and a fine American composer, and also demonstrated that music of deep faith written according to a hallowed tradition is as alive as it ever was.

Read the entire article here.

Vespers Review in South Florida

SeraphicVespersDavid Fleshler writes in the South Florida Classical Review of last night’s performance of Vespers by Seraphic Fire and Piffaro, The Renaissance Band.

Describing “the unique tone of the Vespers by American composer Kile Smith,” he writes that “the work sounds like no other music,” and goes on to say that it’s “a serious, ethereal and searching setting of German and Latin texts…the words…inform every note.”

He mentions details from the score, and has this to say about Vespers overall: “The work spans centuries. In style and cadence, it has much in common with 16th-century choral music. Harmonically, with its soaring polyphony and gentle dissonances, it could be from any time in the past 80 years or so. The predominant tone is reverent and serene. There’s never a sense of the composer trying to awe the listener into spiritual submission through sheer choral grandiosity.”

Piffaro, Seraphic Fire, and artistic director Patrick Quigley receive genuine and deserved praise for their riveting and finely-honed concert. I was thrilled and moved by their performance, and happy to have found new friends in South Florida. St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral is beautiful, with a bright and exciting sound. Three more concerts Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, in other venues, details of which are here.

Seraphic Fire, Piffaro, and Vespers: A Preview

SeraphicVespersWhat a nice preview of the four Vespers concerts in and around Miami this week with Seraphic Fire and Piffaro, the Renaissance Band. I’m so excited to work again with Piffaro, and honored that Patrick Quigley and two-time Grammy nominee Seraphic Fire, an outstanding group that has fast made huge waves in South Florida and beyond, have chosen Vespers as their 2014–15 season finale.

Piffaro commissioned this one-hour work; the 2008 premieres, and the recording and subsequent performances have been with The Crossing, directed by Donald Nally, who also brought it to Northwestern University’s Bienen Contemporary Ensemble with Piffaro earlier this year. Individual sections of Vespers have been performed by a number of groups, either a cappella or with piano or with various arrangements I’ve made for other instruments.

Eric Simpson’s preview in the South Florida Classical Review of the concerts in Miami, Miami Beach, Coral Gables, and Ft. Lauderdale is a well-written, in-depth look at our collaboration of old instruments and new music. About my music he writes:

There is an unmistakably modernist harmonic language in Smith’s writing, but Vespers shows none of the academic opacity or pop influence that is heard in much contemporary music. This is a piece rooted firmly in the tradition of the Lutheran Renaissance—-not just in its form, but in its sound, which Smith tailored specifically to the abilities and historical instruments of Piffaro, all of whom play multiple instruments.

I think I’d better keep last month’s In This Blue Room a secret, since he might have to delete “pop influence” from that sentence! But it’s not in Vespers (except for one or two dulcian licks), so I’m obliged to his generosity. He goes on to quote Patrick Quigley:

“What I think is most fascinating about this work is just how reverent it is to older traditions,” said Quigley. “How attentive it is to the really wonderful things and the limitations of Renaissance wind and percussion and plucked instruments, and at the same time managing to sound like something that was composed yesterday, in an accessible, gripping sort of way.”

“From the first moments, it felt like there was this simultaneous inspiration from Heinrich Schütz, Johann Sebastian Bach, and John Adams all at the same time,” said Quigley. “In many ways it is able to channel four hundred years of music instantaneously.”

I’m touched by that. All instruments have limitations, but I know what he means. I’m delighted by his appreciation, and by being mentioned with those names.

You can read the whole article here, with more about Seraphic Fire, Piffaro, and my inspirations behind Vespers.

Unseen Sounds on Now Is the Time

PrismSingingGobiWe can almost see the music on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 2nd at 9 pm. Robert Moran took snippets of words from a 30-year correspondence with John Cage and worked them into this delicious three-part work for chorus, Seven Sounds Unseen.

Nicolas Scherzinger spins musical motifs within a chamber ensemble and imagines what they would sound like if held up to Fractured Mirrors. The particular sand of the Gobi Desert, they say, sings when the wind blows a certain way. Bright Sheng conducts two ensembles in The Singing Gobi Desert, Music from China and the Prism Saxophone Quartet, with whom he imagines hearing the sand and viewing a mirage—the archetype of seeing and not-seeing.

from Robert Moran: Seven Sounds Unseen 

Robert Moran: Seven Sounds Unseen
Nicolas Scherzinger: Fractured Mirrors
Bright Sheng: The Singing Gobi Desert

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith hosts Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. At 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. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

1915: Richard Strauss, An Alpine Symphony

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, May 2nd, 5-6 pm.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949). An Alpine Symphony (1915)


The Zugspitze, the Alps, near the home of Richard Strauss, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

It’s a symphony from 100 years ago, from someone not known for writing symphonies. Or is it even a symphony? Richard Strauss calls his own 50-minute work An Alpine Symphony, and the composer ought to have some authority here, but he referred to his earlier Domestic Symphony as a tone poem. In 22 continuous movements, not four separate ones, An Alpine Symphony certainly sounds like a symphonic poem, and not a symphony.

He did write two symphonies, No. 1 when he was 16 and No. 2 when he was 20, but they hardly saw the light of day. When he was in a position to record his own music, he never bothered with them. As he got older and more adept at using larger and larger orchestral forces, Strauss looked for newer means of expression, often referring to “the symphony” as outmoded. The tone poem, with its literary and philosophical underpinnings, each one with a form unique to itself, became his signature. The sunny From Italy led to Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration, then Macbeth and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, then his monumental grapple with Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra. They all poured out in less than 10 years. Don Quixote followed, then the autobiographical A Hero’s Life and Domestic Symphony.

Strauss created operas and many, many other works during this time, but by 1915 he was able to work on this, the final version of the Alpine Symphony. He had begun sketching it in 1899 and seems to have wanted to make it into an actual symphony, but described the process to a friend as “torturing.” Then he came up with the idea of making it a picture—with philosophical undertones—of a hike up and down a mountain. It depicts an 11-hour excursion, from night through sunrise, forests, meadows, pastures, a wrong turn, a glacier, the summit, a storm, a hurried descent, sunset, and night again.

Major themes work their way through it but what is most arresting about An Alpine Symphony is Strauss’s mastery of the orchestra. He calls for a gigantic ensemble about twice the size needed for even large orchestral works. At one point, an offstage band mimics a hunting party going by—its music has nothing to do with the onstage music and it’s never heard again—but that alone requires an extra 16 brass players. There’s a wind machine, thunder machine, cowbells, and if that were not enough, an organ.

Strauss, recognized by all as the consummate orchestrator among his colleagues past, present, and future, joked that he finally learned how to orchestrate with this piece. He would live to 1949, but this would be the last purely symphonic work he ever composed.

So whether it’s a symphony or not, An Alpine Symphony, from 100 years ago, is in many ways a summit in the career of Richard Strauss.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel published by Concordia

OComeOComeCPHI’m happy to announce the publication of my anthem O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Concordia Publishing House.

Here’s the link to the publisher’s page, with a PDF excerpt and a recording of it.

My excessively elaborate notes on the piece, written up for the Broad Street Review, are here.

I’ve been handling all my music myself, including anthems, yet have continued to experiment with different ways of getting the music out, including the wonderful MusicSpoke people (five works here), and the first foray in years and years with traditional publishers. I was impressed with Concordia Publishing House and am interested to see how things go with this quite early work of mine, which I polished up just about two years ago. The story behind that, again, is here.