Lines on Now Is the Time


cellist Caroline Stinson (credit: Alicia Hansen)

Lines point every which way on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 6th at 9 pm. Mathew Rosenblum starts us off with Sharpshooter for orchestra, and then we scale it way back to Steven Stucky’s Dialogs for solo cello from Caroline Stinson’s CD Lines.

Van Stiefel composed The Shape of Hands for electric guitar, and the Prism Saxophone Quartet takes on Miguel Zenon’s X Marks the Square. Then we return to the orchestra to close out the program, with Paul Lansky’s Line and Shadow.

from Miguel Zenon: X Marks the Square

Mathew Rosenblum: Sharpshooter
Steven Stucky: Dialoghi (Studi su un nome)
Van Stiefel: The Shape of Hands
Miguel Zenon: X Marks the Square
Paul Lansky: Line and Shadow

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on WRTI’s Now Is the Time, at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

The Surprising Connections of John Knowles Paine

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, February 6th, 5-6 pm


John Knowles Paine

If it’s a small world, then the 19th-century world of American classical music was tiny. Last month we looked at George Frederick Bristow of New York, the first native-born composer to get a hearing from that new American institution, the symphony orchestra. Now we meet John Knowles Paine—for the second time; we heard his music on another Discoveries eight years ago.

He was born in Portland, Maine in 1839. A few years younger than Bristow, he would become the first American composer to have real success in orchestral music. He settled in Boston, after lessons in his hometown and further studies in Germany.

American composers would begin to find their way to Germany for training, then return. Not only was Germany renowned for its musical opportunities, but many accomplished German musicians had been immigrating to America because of the 1848–49 political upheavals. It was unwitting but efficient advertising for German training.

Paine became the first professor of music in the United States, at Harvard, after fame in Boston for his composing, organ playing, and musical learning. He taught music classes—at first, for free—and his organized approach became the backbone of Harvard’s new music school, as well as a model for college programs elsewhere. Among many other accomplishments, he was a founder of the American Guild of Organists.

When Harvard students put on the Sophocles play Oedipus Tyrannus, Paine wrote incidental music for it, including the strong Prelude we’ll hear today. The production was sold out (fairly remarkable considering that they gave the play in Greek) and even traveled to New York. Paine’s second Symphony, “In the Spring,” was conducted in Cambridge by Theodore Thomas, a pioneering American conductor and violinist. He had moved to America in 1849 from his native Germany and played in the orchestra of Jullien, whom we met last month in connection to Bristow and Philadelphia’s William Henry Fry.

In Fry’s opera orchestra was another German, trying to make a living with his Dresden friends. They called themselves the Saxonia Band and had left Germany, yes, in 1848. Hermann Kotzschmar was a composer and organist who eventually set up shop in a small New England city. A local businessman and amateur musician, Cyrus Curtis, housed him his first year. The family adored Kotzschmar so much that they named their first son Cyrus Hermann Kotzschmar Curtis.

That son would earn a publishing fortune in the industry’s center of Philadelphia. He helped the new Philadelphia Orchestra, arising from a Germania Orchestra (founded, indeed, in 1848) to get on its feet. His daughter, Mary Louise Curtis Bok, founded the Curtis Institute of Music.

Oh, the town Kotschmar had settled in? That would be Portland, Maine. His star pupil in organ and composition was—well, you’ve guessed it already: John Knowles Paine.

John Knowles Paine (1839–1906): Prelude to Oedipus Tyrannus (1881)
Paine: Symphony No. 2, “In the Spring” (1883)

Who Are the 2016 Classical GRAMMY Award Nominees?

[First published in WRTI’s Arts Desk, 1 Feb 2016. Reprinted by permission.]

The recording industry gives out the GRAMMY Awards in two weeks, and WRTI’s Kile Smith looks at the classical categories, which include some local names.


Daniil Trifonov, Grammy nominee for Best Classical Instrumental Soloist

On February 15th the 58th Grammy Awards will honor “artistic achievement, technical proficiency and overall excellence.” Ten categories are reserved for classical music, including Producer of the Year and Best Engineered Album awards.

Others are for Orchestral Performance, Opera, Choral, Chamber Music and Small Ensemble, Instrumental and Vocal Solos, Classical Compendium, and Contemporary Composition.

Grammy nominees range from early-music luminaries Paul O’Dette, Stephen Stubbs, and Philippe Jaroussky to contemporary groups Eighth Blackbird and Roomful of Teeth.

Classical stars Cecilia Bartoli, Diana Damrau, Joyce DiDonato, Jonas Kaufmann, and Christian Tetzlaff are up for awards as well as lesser-known but brilliant artists such as Gil Rose, Chen Yi, and Frederic Rzewski.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin appears twice, conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and also leading the Philadelphia Orchestra with Daniil Trifonov in the Instrumental Solo category. Former longtime Philadelphia resident Marc-André Hamelin enters the lists in the Chamber Music category.

Why would locals be pulling for New York’s Trinity Wall Street Choir and the Bang On A Can All-Stars? Well, they recorded Julia Wolfe’s Anthracite Fields, and it was the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia that commissioned and premiered it last year, garnering it a Pulitzer.

Next week we’ll look deeper into the Grammy categories.

Three for Two on Now Is the Time

AraucoVistasMusic comes in threes and twos on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 30th at 9 pm. Ursula Mamlok’s music is always smart, always compelling, and in Three Part Fugue and Three Bagatelles she offers us solo piano works three decades apart. Joseph Fennimore’s piano writing also appears twice, with Three Pieces and, from his 24 Romances, the Third.

Lowell Liebermann writes three for two—two pianos, that is—in Three Lullabies, and then Three for Two gives the pianos a break. Ingrid Arauco wrote this for two Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, clarinetist Ricardo Morales and cellist John Koen. Composer James Adler then puts on his performer’s hat for two piano rags by Seth Bedford, from Three Postcards for Piano.

fromSeth Bedford: Three Postcards for Piano 

Ursula Mamlok: Three Part Fugue in A minor
Ursula Mamlok: Three Bagatelles
Joseph Fennimore: Three Pieces for Piano
Lowell Liebermann: Three Lullabies for Two Pianos
Ingrid Arauco: Three for Two
Joseph Fennimore: Third Romance
Seth Bedford: from Three Postcards for Piano

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on WRTI’s Now Is the Time, at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

I Love the Snow

[First published in Broad Street Review, 26 Jan 2016. Reprinted by permission.]

Blizzard Aftermath: The Car after 23.5″ of Snow” (Photo by Juliancolton via Creative Commons/Flickr)

You know that guy who loves the snow? That guy who loves telling people that he loves the snow? That he loves watching it, being in it, walking around in it, driving in it, shoveling it — that guy? Don’t you hate that guy?

I’m that guy.

I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I loved snow as a kid and have never outgrown it. On the flip side, I hated waking up in the morning when I was a kid, and I still hate it. Thirty years I had a 9 to 5 job, and even though I liked my job, every day I hated waking up for it. So that should make you feel better. But I did it and never complained. Okay, I complained a little.

There are three reasons I love the snow. Actually, there are only three reasons, ever, to love anything. The reasons are Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.

1. Snow is good

I’m not sure why it’s good, to tell you the truth, but I’m taking it on faith, since rain is good even though there are floods, corn is good even though there is succotash, and knowledge is good even though there are newscasts. Without earthquakes, for instance, without the tectonic plates burping a little here and there, the entire world would explode all at once — this is true — and the entire world would die, so at its very worst snow is better than that.

People die in the snow, I know; people die in earthquakes, and people die from watching the news, but all those things have good in them if you look hard enough.

Succotash, I’m still not sure about.

2. Snow is beautiful

Everyone agrees that snow is beautiful. Even the Inuit agree, I suppose, though they must call it “outside.” Snow is beautiful while it’s falling, and snow is beautiful after it falls. And in that I find a key to art.

You’ve seen the greeting-card illustration of Grandmother’s house at winter, cozy and inviting, nestled beneath proud pines topped with snow, a one-horse sleigh approaching over the smoothly undulating landscape to the homestead, whose puffing chimney and beckoning bright windows prophesy the joys of food and family, a perfectly constructed advertisement of goodness and beauty.

You mock that picture, don’t you? Or, in your weaker moments, you wish you could like it. But despair not. You’re not a snob.

You don’t like that picture because it isn’t true.

3. Snow is true

Snow is true; that picture isn’t. Snow melts, snow gets dirty, snow is in the way. It has to be shoveled. The picture doesn’t show that.

It doesn’t show the droop of the pine branch in that exquisite hour just before the snow melts. Art will show that; art will recall the evanescence of life, because art — if it is good — is true. Real snow has that quality. This is the heart of the matter. I love the snow because it’s true, and truth reveals truth.

Do you want to know what your neighbors are like? Snow will introduce you to them and give you an itemized list of their character. Which one waves? Which one clears the steps of the neighbor who’s on vacation so that the mailman can get through? Which one shovels your sidewalk because “it wasn’t that much more”? Which one complains?

Do you want to know what you’re like? Start shoveling, and you’ll learn. Where do you put the snow? Are you shoveling the same snow twice? When’s the last time you thought about your shoulders? Oh, and hello there, lumbar disc number 5, it’s been a while.

From romance to real life

If we want to get anything done in our life, we have to deal with the snow. Falling snow is romantic, but shoveling snow is fact. A fact isn’t heroic or special; we can be proud of our clean car and sidewalk, but look up and down the street. Everybody else’s is clean, too. Look at the plow drivers, who in four days will be collecting your trash as always. Look at the electric company folks fixing wires after the storm, as they do all year.

All this character-building sounds good, but we resist it because we’d rather build character on our own timetable, thank you. Snow, instead, does all that self-help for us. We don’t have to sign up for a class, we don’t have to buy a book. And yet we resist because, even though its benefits are clear, snow didn’t ask our permission first.

And that’s the best part. The best thing snow teaches us is that we are not in control. That galls at first but then liberates. Because it’s true.

I love the snow. But if that was the last storm for the year, that’d be kind of okay, too.

Spheres on Now Is the Time


Pianist Jenny Q Chai

Spheres, of sorts, are in line for Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 23rd at 9 pm. A solo piano chases itself canonically in all in due time by Nils Vigeland; Jenny Q Chai is the pianist. The Infinite Sphere is the name Lawrence Dillon gives to his Fourth String Quartet. He spins rondos and rounds within two movements, hailing a Blaise Pascal quote: “Infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Semordnilap is “palindromes” backward spelt, and is also a word I think I pronounce correctly in less than half of my attempts in the show. Charles Knox writes fun and inventive music for a chamber group with voices. Ethel closes out the program with John Halle’s bluesy heavy-metal string quartet Sphere[’]s.

from Charles Knox: Semordnilap 

Nils Vigeland: all in due time
Lawrence Dillon: String Quartet No. 4: The Infinite Sphere
Charles Knox: Semordnilap
John Halle: Sphere[’]s

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on WRTI’s Now Is the Time at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

The Metamorphosis of Paul Hindemith


Paul Hindemith

[First published in WRTI’s Arts Desk 18 Jan 2016.]

It’s an odd name for an odd work that almost wasn’t written. But it premiered 72 years ago this week, and as WRTI’s Kile Smith reports, this piece by Paul Hindemith is one of the most popular orchestral works of the 20th century.

Choreographer Léonide Massine approached Paul Hindemith in 1940 with a new project. They had already worked together, so this time, why not create a ballet on music by the 19th-century composer Carl Maria von Weber? Hindemith liked it, but when he played him some ideas, Massine couldn’t hear the Weber. For his part, Hindemith saw some of the dancer’s latest work and didn’t take to it.

So the project fell through. Hindemith kept working on the music, though, wanting to create an American orchestral showpiece, as he and his wife had just settled in the U.S. He finished it in 1943 and the New York Philharmonic premiered it in 1944.

The Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber is a mouthful of a title, but it is accurate. It’s more than an arrangement, and something other than variations, either of which would have suited Massine. Hindemith actually stays fairly close to the piano duet melodies he uses—usually—but he transforms everything else. Sometimes Weber is clearly heard and sometimes not, but Hindemith creates orchestral magic.

It was an immediate success. Hindemith became an American citizen in 1946, and one of the great 20th-century composers, with no small help from the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.