Broad Street Review on Red-tail and Hummingbird

“The second premiere presented the results of the creative process that composer Kile Smith has described in four BSR essays. (Click here.) As Smith has explained in his essays, Red-tail and Hummingbird depicts an encounter between a hawk and an angry hummingbird determined to protect its turf. Smith composed two versions, one for Piffaro’s Renaissance instruments and one for modern brass quintet.

The Piffaro version would have been exciting even if you’d never heard of the bird fight that suggested it. The confrontation between the reedy shawms and the hollower sound of the sackbuts and dulcians provided all the drama the piece needed.

Priscilla Smith produced a bravura performance on the lead shawm, chattering away at virtuoso speed, with her fingers dancing over the surface of her instrument.

The modern version seemed dull by comparison. As Smith noted in the pre-concert discussion, Renaissance instruments possess more “character” than modern instruments. Every note has a different color. Modern brass quintets produce an even sound across all the instruments, and in this case the trumpet failed to produce the contrast that the shawm brought to Smith’s Renaissance version. The modern version might have worked better if Smith had substituted an oboe or a flute for the trumpet.

Then Piffaro’s musicians hopped to the 21st Century and played a sonata [Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!] from the brilliant Kile Smith Vespers, which they premiered in 2008.”
Tom Purdom, Broad Street Review, 26 Feb 2013

Another vote for the Renaissance instruments. As gratifying as that is, at this point I feel bound to mention that the moderns nailed their version. Also, and this is no little thing, in the modern brass (plus bassoon) version, we took the fast section faster (maybe ten ticks faster) than the early instruments did.

Priscilla was indeed bravura, but I should also mention that, since these were canons, whatever she played, Christa Patton copied on the second shawm! Shawms really do get your attention, I must admit, and it was thrilling to hear.

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