Monthly Archives: October 2013

Reformation Day

[First published in the Broad Street Review 29 Oct 2013 as What do artists want?]

HammerWhenever artists pick up pens or brushes or instruments, or jab fingers at computer keyboards, they start a reformation. They are—whether they realize it or not—closer to Martin Luther, who grabbed a hammer and pounded debating points into a church door, than to Pete Seeger, who sang only “if” he had a hammer. Artists are active, not subjunctive.

It was 496 years ago today, on October 31, 1517, that Luther hammered the 95 Theses onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Each one of his “disputations” was a shot across the bow, stating, in so many words: You think it’s that, but I say it’s this.

Every artist does the same. A poet, a composer, a writer, a performer, a sculptor says, “You may think you’re fine in your silence or your noise or your play or your labor, but I say you’re no such thing. You may think it’s that, but no. Look over here, it’s this.”

What artists want

Every critic follows Luther. Everyone writing for the Broad Street Review hopes to reform you, to take you from your path and show you another one. BSR has just scuttled and rebuilt its website, just so that your path to reformation is easier, so that BSR is easier to read, and is quicker to poke around in and respond to.

It’s not too much to say, I don’t think, that artists want to make better people. If that sounds too high-minded, think of it this way. We want to rouse you—and our own selves, of course—out of the complacency that incessantly attends our ways.

We all have different, perhaps contradictory, ways to do it. But we all grab a hammer every time we play, sing, write, mold, tint, build, or speak.

Searching for transformation

And doesn’t every reader or audience member hope for the same thing? We go to a play or a concert or a museum starry-eyed, hoping against hope that, by the end, we’ll be changed somehow.

The artist, writer, or reviewer should be free to express whatever is necessary to achieve that transformation. But “self-expression” isn’t the goal; what a silly idea. The goal is to make better people. To do that, the artist must serve others.

In The Freedom of a Christian, Luther wrote, “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.”

Two ideas, not contradictory, but complementary. Luther beautifully holds them in tension, and so does the artist.

Happy Reformation Day!

Shakespeare, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Elgar: Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection broadcasts Saturday, November 2nd, 2013, 5-6 pm on WRTI and wrti.org.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895–1968). Antony and Cleopatra Overture (1947). West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Penny. Naxos 572500, Tr 3. 17:49

Edward Elgar (1857–1934). Falstaff, Symphonic Study in C minor (1913). Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Colin Davis. Nederland 6004, Disk 2, Tr 5. 35:34

Falstaff

Falstaff and His Page, Adolf Schrödter (1805–1875)

Since the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia is the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, and since it holds more than 21,000 titles, it should be no surprise that conductors make use of its resources for almost any concert theme imaginable.

Searching the Collection’s catalog is easier than ever. Access it through the Free Library’s website, freelibrary.org (in the top left corner of the home page, under Find, in the “Search for…” box, type a title, composer name, or anything you like, include “fleisher” in the search, and off you go).

Over the years, Fleisher staff have also compiled lists of works for popular requests. So, there are lists of Latin American works, women composers, and so on, which Fleisher provides to anyone who asks. Recently, it put together a list of every title in the Collection associated with the works of William Shakespeare.

On this Discoveries we begin to explore the dozens and dozens of such pieces in the Fleisher Collection. Tone poems or other orchestral works with background “programs” are thought to be the particular province of the Romantic period in music—that is, a 19th-century phenomenon. But from before Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons until now, composers have always used extra-musical prompts. Literature plays a big role, and the greatest English writer inspires not only composers from his own country, but from around the world.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is a perfect example. He fled his native Italy in 1939 after the Fascist government banned his works, along with those of other Jewish artists. Ending up in Hollywood, as many European refugees did, he excelled at film composing (check out a list of titles he worked on here), but continued to produce concert pieces, including eleven overtures to Shakespeare plays.

He loved Shakespeare throughout his life, so it would be cart-before-horse to call this music cinematic, as if Hollywood caused him to compose a certain way. Rather, he always had a flair for color, emotion, and the precise gesture. The Antony and Cleopatra Overture captures this gift of expression, evident in all the music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco.

For an English take on Shakespeare, we could hardly do better than to call on Edward Elgar. It’s something of a head-scratcher, though, why Falstaff isn’t more well known since its premiere exactly 100 years ago. Elgar thought this to be his finest orchestral work, but whatever the reason for its scarcity from the concert stage, it repays a hearing with variety, humor, pathos, and a formidable orchestral palette. The composer divides up the score this way:

I. Falstaff and Prince Henry
II. Eastcheap—Gadshill—The Boar’s Head. Revelry and sleep—Dream Interlude: ‘Jack Falstaff, now Sir John, a boy, and page to Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk’ (Poco allegretto)
III. Falstaff’s march—The return through Gloucestershire—Interlude: Gloucestershire. Shallow’s orchard (Allegretto)—The new king—The hurried ride to London
IV. King Henry V’s progress—The repudiation of Falstaff, and his death

Two 20th-century works from two different composers offer a glimpse into the vast Fleisher holdings of works indebted to Shakespeare. The Collection is happy to provide a list of all its Shakespeare works; just call (215-686-5313) or write (fleisher@freelibrary.org).

Many know Castelnuovo-Tedesco for his important contributions to the literature of the classical guitar; Asya Selyutina performs his Tarantella:

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

Vespers goes to school

vespersHappy to report more than a mild thrill coming thisaway from Minneapolis, where this morning Andy Morgan (Facebook and Twitter) is lecturing on Vespers as part of his graduate conducting seminar at the University of Minnesota.

It’s hard to describe the feeling. All good, certainly, but mixed. The first thought is wonderment at my music being chosen to be presented. I mean, it still surprises me when someone else likes my music (I spend so much time crafting and expecting, but when it happens: wonderment). Even more, to like it so much to go to all the trouble of preparing a lecture on it.

I’ve been asked to talk about Vespers a few times, but when someone else thinks it worth the effort—and a few people have already, at various schools—it’s wondrous.

Then, another feeling mixes in. I think of the students sitting there, having to sit through a lecture. Having been on both sides, that is, having sat through, and having given class lectures, I’m aware of the pitfall a lack of engagement on the students’ part creates. They’re tired, they’ve been up late, they have a dozen things to get done. But students as well as teachers need to put effort into a lecture to make it go. I never appreciated the grading of “class participation” so much until I began teaching. Andy’s an energetic and engaging fellow, though, so I’m sanguine—jolly, actually—about his part in the Vespers lecture.

I guess that’s what I’m feeling. I’m jolly…well!, that’s not so mixed. Thanks, Andy!

Here’s a taste of movement 2, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.” More audio from, and details about Vespers are here.

Around Halloween on Now Is the Time

ShakeTheTree600The spirit of Halloween hovers over Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 27th at 10 pm. Strings, bells, melodicas softly accompany waning desert sunlight: such is Drift of Rainbows by Dan Visconti. William Moylan’s setting of the Yeats poem The Stolen Child tells an Erlkönig-like story: “Come away, O human child! / To the waters and the wild / With a faery, hand in hand, / For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.”

Benjamin Broening processes out-takes of recordings over and over until they sound hardly electronic anymore, but more, perhaps, like ghosts, in Traces (ii). Acoustically to Shake the Tree is Robert Carl’s business at hand—for piano four-hands—and the fruit from the overtone series brilliantly litters his landscape. And William Bolcom wraps the program with one of his fortes in the Graceful Ghost Rag.

from Dan Visconti: Drift of Rainbows 

PROGRAM:
Dan Visconti: Drift of Rainbows
William Moylan: The Stolen Child
Benjamin Broening: Traces (ii)
Robert Carl: Shake the Tree
William Bolcom: Graceful Ghost Rag

Every Sunday night at 10, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at wrti.org. Here are the recording details and complete schedule.

My Symphony, in two weeks

SymLumenPosterJust got the poster from John Sall, director of the Abington Symphony Orchestra, for the November 8th concert including my Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem. Also on the program is the exquisite Nänie of Brahms, coincidentally the piece that, when I was in high school, triggered my interest in becoming a composer.

I believe music by Edward Elgar and Reynaldo Hahn round out the evening. The concert’s at 8; John and I will discuss amongst ourselves and all present things of interest at 7.

The piece touches on the Song of Simeon, Psalm 84, and 9/11, literally or aslant, but you can read about my machinations here, if you like. I did things in that symphony, musically, I don’t do anymore, but for which I have a soft spot. It was given a wonderful premiere by the late, lamented Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, and this performance will be its second airing since 2002. The opening of the finale serves as the theme music for Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, because I know you were wondering. Here it is:

This is a beautiful poster, I think. I’m looking forward to this performance very much…thank you, John and the ASO!

Introduction to Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square

HolyTrinityRittenhouse

Sunday morning at 11 is my official introduction to The Church of the Holy Trinity in my capacity as Composer-in Residence; Organist/Choirmaster John French has placed my anthem Unto the Hills in the service. It’s a setting of the Sandon hymn on the appointed Psalm of the day, 121.

I wrote this in, yikes, college, for the choir I was in (now Cairn University) and touched it up just a bit last year or so ago. It’s older, even, yikes, than O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or did I say yikes already?

Thank you, John, choir, Rev. Neale, and The Church of the Holy Trinity!

Inspired by Bach on Now Is the Time

HagertySoliloquy480J. S. Bach continues to illuminate us, on Now Is the Time, Sunday, October 20th at 10 pm. Mark Hagerty’s Cello Suite 2 does not ape the suites of the great master, but rather is lit from within by the spirit of Bach. It’s a large-breathed, optimistic suite, given a luminous reading by Douglas McNames.

The third Quintet for Winds by David Maslanka is so dedicated to the spirit of Bach, that even a chorale confidently unfurling in its midst is caught up in the spirit—though it’s an original tune. Still, quotes and feints abound, and the deft handling of these chamber forces not only warmly counterpoises Hagerty’s solo cello suite, it introduces us to an appreciation for Maslanka, for Bach, and for the never-dying muse illuminating all music of good will.

from Mark Hagerty: Cello Suite 2 

PROGRAM:
Mark Hagerty: Cello Suite 2
David Maslanka: Quintet for Winds, No. 3

Every Sunday night at 10, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at wrti.org. Here are the recording details and complete schedule.