Monthly Archives: December 2010

Dying symphonies in the Broad Street Review

My response to Robert Zaller, “Are Symphonies Really Dying?,” has evoked some responses of its own. Karl Middleman, conductor of the Philadelphia Classical Symphony, writes in, as does Mr. Zaller, and then me again. One bit in my letter that hit the cutting room floor didn’t add much to my point (which is why it got dropped), but here it is:

For perspective, eight of the nine Vaughan Williams, or 13 of the 15 Shostakovich symphonies are hardly ever played. And what, 80 of the 104 (or more) Haydn symphonies, and 35 out of the 41 Mozart, barely register. John Harbison, John Adams, and Michael Daugherty fare pretty well in comparison.

Anyway, you can read the official version here.

Vespers is the Featured Recording of the Week

The Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music has chosen Vespers for its Featured Recording of the Week. For your last-minute Christmas shopping! They excerpt some of its reviews, and throw in lots of links for the CD and downloads. Here’s the page.

I still cringe, though, when I see the traditional formatting of composers’ dates. When applied to me, that is:

Kile Smith (1956–    )

Yikes. Just waiting to fill in that last number.

Four French Carols

The Concord Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Jamin Hoffman, performs my Four French Carols at The Basilica of St. Josaphat in Milwaukee, 2 pm Sunday December 12th, 2010.

I first wrote these for the Westminster Brass, a brass quintet, in 1988, for whom I’ve composed a number of things. These were written to be used as preludes or postludes in church services. I revised them in 1996, because Westminster was getting them ready for publication. Then I orchestrated them in 2002 for the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra in Maryland, Sheldon Bair, Music Director, who commissioned the orchestration. They premiered the orchestral version on 7 Dec 2002 (eight years and one day ago, as I write). I’ve also made a version for string orchestra.

I recall that “Saw ye never” was a tune new to me, and that I fell in love with it as soon as I heard it.

Four French Carols
3(2+pic).3(2+ehn).2.2- 12′

1. A Cry Went Up at Midnight View full score

A cry went up at midnight,
One like it was never heard there
In the country of Judea: Christmas.

2. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella View full score

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!
Bring a torch, to the cradle run!
It is Jesus, good folk of the village;
Christ is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! ah! beautiful is the mother!
Ah! ah! beautiful is her Son!

3. Saw You Never View full score

Saw you never, in the twilight,
When the sun had left the skies,
Up in heav’n the clear stars shining
Through the gloom, like silver eyes?
So of old the wise men, watching,
Saw a little stranger star,
And they knew the King was given,
And they followed it from far.

4. O Come, Divine Messiah View full score

O come, divine Messiah!
The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,

And sadness flee away.
Dear Savior haste;

Come, come to earth,
Dispel the night and show your face,

And bid us hail the dawn of grace.
O come, divine Messiah!

The world in silence waits the day
When hope shall sing its triumph,

And sadness flee away.

Four French Carols
string orchestra. 12′

Four French Carols
1988/96; brass quintet. 12′

1. A Cry Went Up at Midnight (1:15 excerpt)
2. Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella (0:39 excerpt)
3. Saw You Never (0:56 excerpt)
4. O Come, Divine Messiah (0:36 excerpt)

This Week at Pytheas

A mention in This Week at Pytheas:

David Patrick Stearns of the Philadelphia Inquirer called Kile Smith’s Vespers “breathtaking” and “ecstatically beautiful,” adding that “few have Smith’s lyrical immediacy and ability to find great musical variety while maintaining an overall coherent personality.” Kile Smith’s frequently performed music has been praised by audiences and critics for its emotional power, direct appeal, and strong voice. Listen to his “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” (2000) from the collection “Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins” . . . this week’s FROM THE PYTHEAS ARCHIVES.

The Hopkins songs are pieces I’d been working on for a long time, first for voice and piano. I then orchestrated three for Jens Nygaard‘s Jupiter Symphony. I had a wonderful association with Jupiter, writing three works that they premiered: the Hopkins, the Variations on a Theme of Schubert with piano, and The Three Graces for oboe, horn, cello, and strings. They also played Three Dances.

The Pytheas Center for Contemporary Music describes itself:

a wide ranging web nexus for contemporary concert music. Our mission is to promote contemporary composers and their music through information, understanding and performances.… Contemporary classical/art/concert music is a living art form, fed by the creativity of composers across the country and around the globe.… There are more composers writing music now than there ever have been in the history of the world, and our goal is to help you connect with them and enjoy their art.

Vinny Fuerst started Pytheas a couple of years ago and has made it awash with all things new-music, with audio, video, and information of all kinds. It ought to be checked out, over and over.

Paul Juon

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 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, December 4th, 2010, 5:00-6:00 p.m.

Paul Juon (1872-1940). Episodes concertants, Op. 45 (1912), Allegro moderato. European Fine Arts Trio, Krakow Philharmonic, Tomasz Bugaj. Musiques Suisses 6202. Tr 1, 15:45

Paul Juon. Violin Concerto No. 2 in A major, Op. 49 (1913). Sibylle Tschopp, violin, Winterthur Stadtorchester, Nicholas Carthy. Musica Helvetica 114. Tr 1-3, 31:31

Paul Juon was born in Russia and died in Switzerland, but is a German composer. His music is influenced by Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Sibelius, so of course he was called “the Russian Brahms”! Well, Taneyev, Glazunov, and Medtner have all been called that, but it was a schoolmate, Sergei Rachmaninoff, who pinned the nickname on Paul Juon.

So who is he?

Originally, Pavel Yuon. His family was in Switzerland for generations, but his grandfather Simon, a candy maker, moved to Latvia, finding a market there for his business. Simon’s son Theodor found work in Moscow as a civil servant, and that’s where Pavel was born. He studied violin and composition, first at a German school in that city, then at the Moscow Conservatory. He studied with Arensky and Taneyev, as did the one-year-younger Rachmaninoff, and then moved to Berlin for work at the Hochschule für Musik. He taught in Russia, but after one year was hired back to the Hochschule by its Director, the famed violinist Joseph Joachim (for whom Brahms wrote his concerto). Juon remained there for the rest of his career.

Along with composing, he worked with words, too. He wrote a book on harmony, and translated into German those of Arensky and Tchaikovsky. He also translated the first biography of Tchaikovsky, and edited the music of Sibelius for his German publisher. His many students over the years included Stefan Wolpe and the great Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigeroff. Juon retired in 1934 to his ancestral home of Switzerland, where he died six years later, and indeed, it is Swiss record companies that are bringing his music to a new audience.

He loved writing chamber music, especially pieces that involved his own instrument, the violin. Along with smaller works for violin and piano he wrote more substantial string trios, quartets, sonatas, and more. There aren’t an overwhelming number of orchestral works, but three violin concertos and a concerto for piano trio with orchestra, the sizeable Episodes concertants, provide a good look into his handling of large forms.

Overall, he’s a Romantic, and if his music doesn’t have the sweep of a Tchaikovsky (whose does?), we detect a craftman’s care and an honesty coming from him, with no ingratiating. His tunefulness does sound Russian, though, and the harmonic ear does seem German, doesn’t it? Maybe Rachmaninoff wasn’t too far off.