Category Archives: Chamber Music

The Nobility of Women

The Nobility of Women
2011; Baroque fl, ob, vn, viola da gamba, Baroque vc, harpsichord; 20′
Commissioned and premiered by Mélomanie

nobiltaThis 20-minute work takes its name from the 1600 dance instruction manual Nobiltà di Dame by Fabritio Caroso. The name of the book alone captivated me. I used none of the music from Nobiltà di Dame, but rather imagined a piece that would grow out of a work with that title. I also wanted to write legitimate dance music, that is, music that people could really dance to if they liked. Mélomanie is skilled in Baroque and new music, and I’ve enjoyed writing for historical instruments in the past. The sound-world is entrancing, so I’ve tried to compose a work that would release the beauties of these fabulous instruments, including some short and not-so-short solos throughout.

Here’s a post on the first rehearsal, and here are reviews of the premiere in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chestnut Hill Local. Below are excerpts from the premiere.

Branle Reprise 

Bremen in Harrisburg March 29th

bremen1Wish I could be there! My children’s piece for narrator, violin, and cello, The Bremen Town Musicians, is being played Saturday morning at 11, March 29th, at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pa., as part of the big Book Festival there. The players are Cary Burkett, narrator, Peter Sirotin, violin, and Fiona Thompson, cello, and the event is produced by Market Square Concerts.

Here’s more about the piece, and here’s the text I wrote from the Brothers Grimm story. I wrote this in 2008 for David Yang and Auricolae. Glad to see Market Square taking this on, and I hope everyone has a great time with it!


The Bremen Town Musicians Come to Harrisburg

bremen1I’m happy to report that Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pa., has programmed my children’s work The Bremen Town Musicians for a performance on Saturday morning, 29 Mar 2014, at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, 11 am. It’s part of a big book festival going on then, and should be fun.

WITF’s Cary Burkett narrates the story of the four animals (those be they, left) waylaid on their way to fame and fortune (by playing music, natch) in the big city. Joining Cary are violinist Peter Sirotin, who is also Market Square Concerts’ artistic director, and the Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist Fiona Thompson.

Thank you, everyone!

Philadelphia Brass takes Red-tail and Hummingbird on the road


Delighted to report that the Philadelphia Brass has been playing the newest version of Red-tail and Hummingbird, just finishing up two festivals where they featured it. On June 29th they played it at the Sam Maitin Summer Chamber Music Festival in Cape May, N.J., and on July 6th, at the Wildflower Music Festival in the Poconos, White Mills, Pa.

The guys couldn’t decide between the beach or the mountains, so they chose both!

In a short time Red-tail is now up to five versions: Renaissance sextet, brass quintet + bassoon, brass sextet (2 horns), brass sextet (2 trombones), and brass quintet. That’s right, after the Piffaro/Orchestra 2001 premieres, which included players from the Philadelphia Brass, they asked if it’d be possible to make a quintet version. While I was speaking the words “Of course!” my mind was saying “No. No. No. No. No.”

But I worked it out, looking at it as an orchestration challenge, which was a neat trick because it was originally a piece for three duos. Then I made a lower-key version, so that the D trumpets wouldn’t be necessary to haul along on tour. That was easily done, with just a few minor changes to some notes for trumpets and others.

Oh man, that makes six versions, doesn’t it.

Well, this page has more information about the story behind the title, and this page begins a 4-part series I wrote in the Broad Street Review about the process of composing the work.

Thank you, Brian Kuszyk and the Philadelphia Brass!

Elena Smith and Her Graduation Recital

NelliePostElena Smith, finishing 12th grade and entering Temple University in the fall as a student of Jeffrey Solow, gave a recital May 31st to celebrate her graduation. She is home-schooled, so this served in lieu of a cap-and-gown graduation ceremony. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Abington filled up with friends on this Friday evening to hear her not only on cello, but also on viola da gamba in the Abel.

Our good friend and colleague Kenneth Borrmann accompanied at the piano; we’re so fortunate to be surrounded by lovely musicians who are lovely people as well. Thanks also to Charles Tolton for recording this (the entire recital is below), to Pastor Tavella for his heartfelt invocation, to the Donnellys and everyone for the reception, and to our church for opening its doors. All these people are blessings to us.

Nellie honored me by playing my Spirituals for cello, and so beautifully. My thoughts about our middle daughter, and about her music-making, are included in my, well, baccalaureate sermon I suppose it was, at the end. To say that Jackie and I are proud of her is woefully to understate the case, as it is true of her two sisters.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Suite II in D minor, BWV 1008


Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787). Allegro in D minor, WKO 208, from 27 Pieces for Bass Viol  

Robert Schumann (1810-1856). Fantasiestücke, Op. 73

1. Zart und mit Ausdruck
2. Lebhaft, leicht
3. Rasch und mit Feuer

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1942). Elégie, Op. 24 

Kile Smith (b. 1956). American Spirituals, Book Two, for Cello and Piano

1. Jesus, Master, O Discover
2. When the Stars Begin to Fall
3. Little David, Play on Your Harp

(Encore) Schumann. Träumerei 

Nellie’s Dad’s speech 

Red-tail and Hummingbird, all-brass version, in Delaware

RedtailThanks to the fine brass players of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra for including Red-tail and Hummingbird in their Chamber Series concert last night at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington. This was the premiere of one of the new versions for all-brass sextet: 2 trumpets, 2 horns, trombone, tuba (I’ve also made a 2 tpt, hn, 2 tbn, tba version).

There’s now even a brass quintet version—more about that later.

It was an exciting performance, with Music Director David Amado conducting. The brilliance of this version, and the balance of the performance, filled the Gold Ballroom nicely. I’m grateful for all the warm comments from the musicians and audience, especially so from the players who came to this new. Old hands at it (from the original version) were the two Brians, trumpeter Kuszyk and tubist Brown. I’m indebted to them for their faith in the piece.

I invited the audience to our front porch, in case we can catch sight of the hawk and his tormentor again (program notes here). From the response after the concert, I think I made a bunch of new friends! Must lay in provisions.

Chant, for trombone, bassoon, and piano

ChantChant was commissioned by the Philadelphia trombonist Thomas Elliott to perform with his daughter, bassoonist Rachel Elliott, for her senior recital at Carnegie Mellon University. The music sets, after a fashion, 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of service, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God who works all in all.”

The music is based on the Greek text, converting each of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet into pitches, framing them within shifting overtone series, themselves determined by the letters. For the wind instruments each of the three sections is one of the verses. The piano, however, repeats the first verse throughout. Each letter of each word is represented, although they don’t always follow in strict order.

But ultimately this is music inspired from the chant tradition: it moves slowly and simply, often in unison or in octaves. Its musical challenges for the performers demand close communication and listening, to present—as in chant—a unified voice. It suggests unity, diversity, and relationship over immediate virtuosity.

Chant, excerpt: