Thrilling to hear Three Dances in its new version for strings

ThreeDancesStr2013scp24On Saturday, May 11th, Aaron Picht conducted the Temple University Music Preparatory Division Youth Chamber Orchestra in the premiere of the new version of my Three Dances. It was the closing concert of the Festival of Young Musicians, held at the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, which incidentally has fantastic acoustics for string orchestra.

The evening was a warm farewell to Luis Biava, who’s retiring after 27 years running this orchestra at Temple Prep. Alumna Elizabeth Pitcairn also appeared, to perform “Spring” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.

I’ve mentioned before how musical the playing was that Aaron brought out from these players, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and uplifting the performance was. Bravo to him, and to all the players.

I re-orchestrated this for strings alone, after two other versions, partly just to see if I could, after excising winds, brass, foot-stomping, and percussion. It was a fun challenge to fit everything in. However, at the forefront of my thinking was not to create an experiment, but a repertoire piece for the traditional string orchestra ensemble. A piece like, well, the gold standard of string orchestra pieces, the Tchaikovsky Serenade.

So what did they play immediately after Three Dances? Yup. The Tchaikovsky Serenade.

I saw the program and got the yips, and boy did the Tchaik live up to its reputation. It’s overflowing with everything you want in a string piece: richness, tunefulness, energy, glow. I kept thinking while they were playing it, “Oh man, this is how you write for string orchestra.”

But after all was played and done I came away elated. Three Dances held up. It sounded full and brilliant, and I felt that the music leapt from the stage. Aaron kept reaching deeper and deeper into the piece, and the players gave it. Three Dances doesn’t sound like Tchaikovsky (thankfully, since I’d make a poor Tchaikovsky), but it sounded like it belonged up there, with him and Vivaldi and Grandjany (with five harps—gorgeous!) and Paganini and Schubert. What a wonderful experience that was.

Now I get to pore over Aaron’s bowings and learn some more. And on Thursday, to hear the premiere of another string orchestra piece.


2 thoughts on “Thrilling to hear Three Dances in its new version for strings

  1. Mark


    I am struck by what a terrific pairing the two pieces were. I worked on this with the idea that you feature soloist to conclude first half and premiers to open the second. I think the 2 connect so well sonically. A good time was had by all, and I am exhausted, in a happy, good way. I hope the Three Dances appear all over the place-they should !!!!

    1. Kile Smith Post author

      Thanks, Mark–my fear of being paired with the godzilla of string orchestra works dissipated, and instead I realized what (if I may agree) a good pairing they made! It was a beautiful concert all around, a lovely honoring of Luis Biava, and so nice to be introduced to Aaron Picht’s conducting. You must be so proud of your program, the young folks, and all the staff at Temple Prep, and deservedly so! Many, many thanks,

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