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, 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
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 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.
The two most interesting portions of the program came on either side of its intermission. Prior to the interval, Piffaro’s shawms, sackbuts and dulcians played Kile Smith’s Red-tail and Hummingbird. Following the break, it was the chance for a brass quintet plus bassoon from Orchestra 2001 to perform the Philadelphia-based composer’s score. Piffaro’s musicians played without a conductor while Smith led the modern players.
Piffaro then paired an excerpt from Smith’s Vespers (commissioned in 2007) with Praetorius’ “Christ lag in Todesbanden.” Played from the church’s loft, the sound of the old instruments floated out over the audience as it must have done in centuries past in the Praetorius and with a sweetness in the Smith that reminded me just how lovely a work his Vespers truly is.
The Three Graces Orchestral (original) version: oboe, horn, cello soloists, string orchestra. 11′. Full score
Premiere of original version:
Chamber version: oboe, horn, cello soloists, piano, double bass. 11′. Score
Premiere of chamber version, first 8 minutes:
I composed The Three Graces over the chord changes to the chorus of “Wait Till You See Her” by Richard Rodgers. After the introduction and statement of the tune (original to The Three Graces), the soloists take turns on the choruses, ﬁrst playing two choruses each, then trading off in various ways.
This started out to be a concerto grosso, but a timely immersion into the complete recordings of Miles Davis got me to thinking how like a jazz combo the concerto grosso formula can be. So I decided to try to compose a work of straight jazz (not a piece with jazz elements, which I’ve always found unsatisfying). I grew up listening to my parents’ popular jazz albums, so the sounds of random slices from the 1940s and ’50s—of the Hi-Lo’s (from whom I learned “Wait Till You See Her”); Lambert, Hendricks & Ross; Dave Brubeck; Maynard Ferguson’s A Message from Newport 1958; Billie Holiday; Stan Getz; and of every solo on the 1947 “Star Dust” by Lionel Hampton with the Just Jazz All Stars (especially bassist Slam Stewart’s)—all these sounds inform The Three Graces, which is an homage to them all.
It was my intention for the solos to come across as improvisations. The strings (or piano and bass in the chamber version) take the role of a drummer-less rhythm section, playing what I take to be a mix of swing and early be-bop. I hoped to capture the excitement of something that sounded like it was being made up on the spot, although there is also a great tradition of written-out ensemble jazz.
This is especially an homage to our three daughters, each of the soloists taking on the character of one of the girls. Priscilla, the oldest, was just starting to learn the oboe when I wrote this. Nellie, then six, was the soulful horn. At four, Martina was to be the cellist in this fantasy piece, and cuts in with her ﬁrst (Slam-inspired) solo before her turn. The two younger girls did not play instruments then, but each later decided to play, in real life, exactly the instrument I assigned to the other one.
Original version for soloists with string orchestra premiered 2,3 Apr 2001 by Gerard Reuter, oboe, Karl Kramer, horn, Wolfram Kössel, cello, and the Jupiter Symphony in New York City, Jens Nygaard conducting. Chamber version (soloists with double bass and piano) premiered 15 Feb 2008 by soloists Priscilla Smith, Patrick Hines, Rajli Bicolli, with Leon Boykins and Jeremy Gill at Rock Hall, Temple University, Philadelphia. Duration, about 11 minutes.
Sharon Torello is an active observer of Philadelphia’s music scene, a great booster for all things music here. She points out that this is not a “critical review,” but rather “the viewpoint of a ‘regular member’ of the audience. I think her comparison of the early and modern instruments is about as good as it gets.
“Kile Smith’s Red-tail and Hummingbird followed in the first of two performances. Piffaro played first and Orchestra 2001 repeated the performance following an intermission. I had read Smith’s wonderful blog series that described the inspiration and creative process for his work. This greatly enhanced my experience in hearing it for the first time, and provided me with visual images to match the music. The first thing that struck me was a new appreciation for the talent of the Piffaro musicians. Of course, when Smith composed the work he needed to make sure it was playable by Renaissance instruments, but they are notoriously tricky and temperamental, so I never expected such a rock solid performance. Orchestra 2001′s modern instruments provided a more refined version of the piece that helped me to appreciate not only the beautiful tones of the modern instruments but their fine dynamic control as well. The musicians enhanced portions of Smith’s work through crescendos in tight formations that were not apparent with the ancient instruments. Truth be told, however, I preferred the ancient instruments. Their more rustic construction made for an edgier sound, and since I’m not as familiar with their sonority, the new piece sounded even newer with old instruments. Go figure.
Music next emerged from the rear of the church as Piffaro surprised us by setting up in the choir loft. They performed old and new music again with another work ["Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!"] by Kile Smith from Vespers.“