Monthly Archives: November 2010

Thrice Blest at Penn

The string trio Ensemble Epomeo recently finished up a tour through New England, Canada, Philadelphia, and Princeton, playing Bach, Beethoven, Hans Gál, Alfred Schnittke, Richard Strauss, and my Thrice Blest. I was able to catch them at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. How they got there in time for the show is a story in itself, which the cellist Kenneth Woods recounts here. We all repaired to the White Dog afterward: I, for just a cup of coffee, but they, for their first meal, I take it, in about 400 miles and 14 hours.

How they could play my little piece, let alone Schnittke—let alone Beethoven—is beyond me.

Alfred Schnittke

They were alternating the Gál and Schnittke on their concerts; I had heard the former at Christ Church in October, and am glad to have gotten a hearing of the latter at Penn. Both were my first exposures to these pieces (I think nobody’s playing the Gál, as it’s only recently been discovered, but everyone ought to; for why, see here and here).

I can’t say that I really liked the Schnittke String Trio at first hearing, but I haven’t worried about liking in a long time. We rate it much, much too highly. This is an irony, since liking mostly concerns things over which we have no control.

I was, however, entranced. Caroline’s lyricism took on urgency and magnetism. She was drawing the viola and cello and me all to her. David’s tone deepened and was beautiful and sad. Ken was inexhaustible, portraying lightness and a gorgeous strength simultaneously.

Entranced? Maybe I was altered. It’s too soon to tell, but I’ll take it over liking.


Stokowski, Serebrier

My latest CD mini-review for the WRTI E-newsletter. You can read all my CD reviews here.

Bach, Mussorgsky, Wagner – the Stokowski Transcriptions
José Serebrier, The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.505086
CD 1: Wagner: Symphonic Syntheses by Stokowski. 8.570293
CD 2: Bach, Palestrina, Byrd, Clarke, Boccherini, Haydn, Mattheson: Stokowski Transcriptions. 8.572050
CD 3: Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition; Boris Godunov (Stokowski Transcriptions) 8.557645
CD 4: Bach, Purcell, Handel: Stokowski Transcriptions 8.557883
CD 5: Serebrier on Stokowski (not available separately)

Stokowski, Serebrier conducting Ives 4th

When Leopold Stokowski put together the first performance of the labyrinthine Symphony No. 4 of Charles Ives, he turned to the Uruguayan-born José Serebrier, just 27, to help conduct one extremely knotty passage. Years later, Serebrier returns the favor by recording these lush Stokowski transcriptions.

Re-working music—often non-symphonic—for different orchestral needs was a normal task for conductors in years past. Stokowski, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director from 1912 to 1938, comes right out of this tradition. Since then, the quest for historical accuracy has driven transcribing out of favor. However, scholars are now coming around to see how astute and nuanced these transcriptions are. Serebrier’s emotional intelligence opens our ears to Stokowski’s superb artistry.

The five-CD set include four discs with transcriptions of Bach, Wagner, Mussorgsky, Handel, Haydn, Purcell, Palestrina, and others. The final disc is an enlightening interview with Serebrier by record producer Raymond Bisha, touching on why Stokowski made all these transcriptions. This would be a fantastic addition to any CD collection.

Gallery of Success

A month ago I was honored to be the recipient of the Gallery of Success award from Temple University’s Boyer College of Music. It’s ”given annually to a graduate of each of the university’s schools and colleges, noting the success and distinction of Temple alumni.”

I lunched with sixteen other recipients from Temple’s schools and colleges, and a large roomful of guests. A highlight was to be seated with Maurice Wright and other Temple music folks, who took the time to come out. Another highlight was to be introduced to the assembly by longtime KYW radio personality Harry Donahue. What a voice, what a pro.

The portraits of me and some truly amazing people, the 2010 awardees, are displayed in the lower corridor of Mitten Hall, the very Gallery itself, for the next year. Along with boring bio stuff that I provided, this is some of what they wrote about me:

Kile is not the only member of the Smith family who is a Boyer alum. Jacqueline Smith (MM ’85), his wife, is a singer, organist, and the music director at Holy Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abington, PA. Priscilla Smith (BM ’05), his daughter, is an oboist pursuing a master’s degree in Historical Performance at The Juilliard School. She performs with many ensembles, including The Waverly Consort, Piffaro, Concord Ensemble, The Crossing, and others.

Now I know what put me on the short list!

Horace Silver

Filling in at WRTI, midnight to 6, my first-ever on-air jazz shift. At 1:05 a.m., the phone rings. Two and a half minutes to end of CD.

“WRTI, Kile Smith.”

“Hey, who’s this?”

Um… “This is Kile, hi.” Silence “How’re you doing?”

“Hey, you’re new there.” Is that a question? “I haven’t heard you before.”

“That’s right, I’m filling in tonight. Usually I’m over on the classical

“You takin’ requests?”

“Ah, no, sorry, I have a list I’m playing from. But we do take re

“Yeah, I call here all the time, they know me. Could you play some Horace Silver?” Two minutes to end of CD.

“Well, I haven’t looked through everythingThat is, I’ve glanced at everything but don’t remember seeing his wait, wasn’t he on that Joe Henderson CD? 1:15 to go. “You know, after 3 o’clock there’s a new playlist, I might have seen him on a Joe Henderson

“Yeah well if you can’t take requests that’s cool you gotta do what you gotta do.”

0:55. “Mm-hm that’s true, OK, thanks for calling, keep listening.”

“You know my ex-wife, my first one, she really liked that Horace Silver (laughing), yeah, ain’t that somethin’, she liked him too, how about that, you know what I mean?”

Strangely, I think I do know what he means. “Ha, that’s great.” 0:30. “Hey listen, take care, I’ve got a break coming

“Oh yeah, I call here all the time, they know me. Me and Horace Silver, ha.”

0:20. “Yeah, OK, and we’ll try to get some on for you. I’m going to have to go now, all right, I appreciate it.”

“All right man, cool, keep the peace.”

Well, all right. Just made the break, and the shift’s going well. I’m discovering why they invented the term “disc jockey”; with the constant shuffling of CDs, back-announcing in the right order, getting in and out without a fuss, and getting everyone’s name (I hope) right, it’s like classical announcing, but… well, it’s faster. The shift flies by, I’ll have only one cup of coffee the whole night. I hit NPR news at 3:01:00, feeling good; there’s an NPR window at around 3:05 a.m., I jump back in, back into the music again. 3:07 a.m., the phone rings.

“WRTI, Kile Smith.”

“What, you still there?”

Behold the Best, the Greatest Gift

This anthem, commissioned by the First Presbyterian Church of Phoenixville, is part of the dedicatory recital for the newly installed Kegg Pipe Organ, Sunday, November 7, 2010, at 4:00 p.m. Music Director David Nicol will conduct the Senior Choir, accompanied by Mary Nicol, the church’s organist.

More information and directions here.

I wrote an original tune for the anthem. The text is an eighteenth-century hymn from the Church of Scotland, based on Romans 8, and I added an American shape-note refrain: “And I’ll sing Hallelujah / And you’ll sing Hallelujah / And we’ll all sing Hallelujah / When we arrive at home.”

Gordon Turk will give the organ recital. Dr. Turk is Organist and Choirmaster of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Wayne, Pa., Resident Organist at the historic Ocean Grove Auditorium in New Jersey, and a critically acclaimed international concert organist. He was consultant to the Organ Committee of First Presbyterian for this fine instrument.

See a news clip on Channel 6 ABC News about the installation of the organ this summer.

Now is the Time: the 100th Show!

We started WRTI’s HD2, Sunday night, 10:00 to 11:00 p.m., all-contemporary, all-American show on June 1st, 2008. Program #100 airs next Sunday, November 7th. Hard to believe I’ve done a hundred of these! Folks around the world tune in to hear all types of contemporary American music.

For this show, I look back to my state of mind as I assembled the first broadcast, so the first piece is Steven Burke’s Nervosa, oh yes. Then, two works from Show #2, with one of my favorite composers from my parents’ record collection, Dave Brubeck. We’ll hear his Strange Meadow Lark (what an affecting tune!) and It’s a Raggy Waltz, but arranged for string quartet.

Philip Koplow’s Variations on a Hymn Tune is next (the tune is “Amazing Grace”), followed by Patrick Beckman’s celebratory Stomp, for solo piano. Denman Maroney’s cabaret-like song I’m Yours is followed by something I have never done on any of these programs: I’m playing a piece of mine, the American Spirituals, Book One, written for Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster David Kim. And finally, Eric Whitacre’s setting of the e.e. cummings poem, i thank you God for most this amazing day rounds out the hour.

Listen on HD Radio or online here. For links to all the recordings, and listings for all 100 shows, click here.

Xaver Scharwenka

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 nine years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

Saturday, November 6th, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Xaver Scharwenka (1850-1924). Piano Concerto No. 4 in F minor, Op. 82 (1908). Stephen Hough, piano, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Lawrence Foster. Hyperion 66790. 39:18

Scharwenka. Andante religioso, Op. 46a (1881). Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Christopher Fifield. Sterling 1060. 7:36

Xaver Scharwenka was a composer, educator, conductor, editor, impresario, and world-famous pianist born in Poland, who established his career in Germany and founded a conservatory in New York City. Two quite different pieces, the formidable Fourth Piano Concerto and an utterly gorgeous Andante religioso for strings, organ, and harp, show the depth of his creativity.

(As an aside, German names can be a puzzle. His full name is Franz Xaver Scharwenka, but, as J.S. Bach was called Sebastian, not Johann, during his life, Scharwenka is properly known as Xaver. Bach, though, is so universally known nowadays as J.S. or Johann Sebastian, that anyone referring to him today as Sebastian—outside of the smallest of musicological circles—would sound a bit precious. Not so with Scharwenka or, for that matter, Franz Joseph Haydn. Call him Joseph and you’ll be just fine.)

(Just in case you were wondering.)

Xaver’s older brother (Ludwig!) Philipp was also a composer and teacher, and he ended up working for Xaver at the Scharwenka Conservatory in Berlin. Xaver founded this after teaching at the New Academy of Music in Berlin and achieving celebrity as a pianist. He played not only his own music, which was well received, but he was highly admired as a keen performer of Chopin, Mendelssohn, and Liszt. He soon was touring beyond the continent, with more than two dozen trips to the U.S. and Canada. The first time he visited America, in 1891, he liked it so much that he decided to stay, living here for seven years and opening a branch of his school in New York City.

He still had ties to the city after he moved back to Berlin. Scharwenka performed his Fourth Piano Concerto in 1910 with the New York Philharmonic under their newly hired Music Director, Gustav Mahler (just a year before Mahler’s death). This work is the summation of his creative output, but it fell into oblivion, with most of his music, after his death. One reason may be that, even for imposing romantic piano concertos the Scharwenka Fourth is an especially difficult piece to play.

For this recording, Hyperion scoured the world for the music of this once-renowned pianist/composer. They came up empty until looking across the Atlantic and finding it in the Fleisher Collection. There has since been a small renaissance of Scharwenka’s music, and deservedly so. This recording was named 1996 Record of the Year by Gramophone magazine.

A very unpianistic work is the Andante religioso, a re-orchestration of part of a cello sonata. From that unlikely beginning Scharwenka crafts a luminous work far removed from the grand statements of the concerto. Niceties abound. He divides the first violins, unusually, into three groups, giving the melody to the lowest ones. He doubles them with the cellos and weaves the remaining violins around and above them, creating a work of nuance and charm.

It stuns in its own small way, and may be one of those pieces where you say, “Why have I never heard this before?” It’s hard to imagine an orchestra not loving this work, but it’s becoming easier to see why more and more people are beginning to notice Xaver Scharwenka.