Monthly Archives: January 2014

Performances around Philadelphia and Chicago


Sarah Shafer (photo: Pete Checchia)

I’m so fortunate to have soprano Sarah Shafer singing my Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins tonight, January 31st, 2014, at 7:30 pm, on Tenth Presbyterian Church’s concert series in Philadelphia. More about that concert here…I probably shouldn’t say it, but I’m fond of these early song! Very thankful that she’s performing these.

And around Chicago, the new group Aestas Consort will be singing two pieces from Vespers, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern and Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn in two concerts in Evanston and River Forest, tonight and Saturday night. More about the concerts here. The “Wie schön” they’re singing is in a new arrangement for strings and harpsichord. I had fun making this, and wrote a little about what that was like here.

All the best to all the performers!

Ice Canyons on Now Is the Time

TimescapeIt’s ice and echoes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, February 1st at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at and WRTI-HD2. Figure-skating and Stravinsky inspire Joan Tower’s gliding Petroushskates, and Allen Ginsberg narrates his own poem in Echorus by Philip Glass, for two violins and strings. From the CD Winter is Eric Ewazen’s Elegia, for trumpet and piano.

The Tibetan Heart Mantra is at the center of Echoes by Paul Fowler, for the women of The Crossing, and Peru echoes in the harpsichord work by Kent Holliday, Dances from Colca Canyon. Barton McLean runs environmentalist John Muir’s descriptions of glaciers through his own software to construct Ice Canyons. The echoes of minimalism by way of Steve Reich close out the program, in this recording of New York Counterpoint arranged by saxophonist Dave Camwell for his CD Time Scape.

from Barton McLean: Ice Canyons 

Joan Tower: Petroushskates
Philip Glass: Echorus
Eric Ewazen: Elegia
Paul Fowler: Echoes
Kent Holliday: Dances from Colca Canyon
Barton McLean: Ice Canyons
Steve Reich: New York Counterpoint

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Mexico and Cuba in the Fleisher Collection

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday Feb. 1st at 5 pm

Candelaria Huizar (1883–1970). Imágenes (1929). Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas, Alondra de la Parra. Sony 775555, CD 1 Tr 4. 16:46

José Rolón (1886–1945). Concerto for Piano and Large Orchestra (1935). Claudia Corona, piano, Nuremberg Symphony, Gregor Bühl. TYXart 13024. 25:57

Amadeo Roldán (1900–1939). La Rebambaramba Suite (1928). New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas. Argo 436737, Tr 3-6. 8:56

MexicanPianoConcertosThe Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music is not only the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance materials, but because of the foresight of founder Edwin Fleisher, Curator Arthur Cohn, and the adventurousness of the globe-trotting Nicolas Slonimsky, it also contains hundreds and hundreds of Latin American orchestral scores and parts.

As we’ve recounted on Discoveries before, Fleisher commissioned conductor and author Slonimsky in 1941 to travel throughout Central and South America for the purpose of adding music from these countries to the vast European and growing American repertoire already on the shelves of the Collection. Scores were shipped to the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the huge task of reproducing them began. Some of the scores were given outright as gifts; others, after photographic reproduction, were returned. Dozens of music copyists then began extracting the individual parts needed so that the works could be performed.

This would have been familiar work for Candelaria Huizar, the composer, violist, hornist, and in the 1920s, music copyist in the library of the National Conservatory in Mexico City. He had already studied music as a child with the director of the Jérez Municipal Band. At nine the band took him on as a saxhorn player. He joined other brass bands as he got older, and when one of them traveled to Mexico City, he stayed there the rest of his life. Huizar became a music copyist at the Conservatory, then librarian, and later, professor of composition, harmony, and orchestration. His Imágenes (Images) is a delightful look back at his hometown.

Joining him at the Conservatory was his countryman José Rolón. He studied music in Paris from 1904 to 1907, then came back to Mexico, and founded a music school in Guadalajara. In 1927 he returned to Paris to study with composer Paul Dukas and one of the great composition teachers of the 20th century, Nadia Boulanger. Rolón came back to Mexico again, taught at the National Conservatory, wrote music criticism and a harmony textbook, and composed the Piano Concerto we’ll hear today. This brand-new recording was made from materials housed in the Fleisher Collection.

Born in Paris to a Cuban mother and Spanish father, Amadeo Roldán, after music study in Madrid, moved to Cuba at age 19. He was concertmaster of the Havana Philharmonic, founded the Havana String Quartet, and became one of Cuba’s leading composers. Roldán broke new ground with perhaps the very first percussion-only works for the concert stage, and injected new life into Western classical music with the sounds and rhythms of Afrocubanismo. His 1928 ballet La Rebambaramba, the Suite of which we’ll listen to, is a riot of percussion, soaring melody, and audacious orchestral sound.

When Mr. Cohn suggested to Mr. Fleisher that his Collection needed to look beyond the standard repertoire and acquire symphonic works from other cultures, this is what he was talking about.

The all-percussion Ritmicas 5 and 6 by Amadeo Roldán, performed by Iowa Percussion, Dan Moore, conductor:

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

Watching What I Say

ChantNotationMy buddy Michael Lawrence is composing more and more, and the world’s a better place for that, since if nothing else it keeps him off the streets and away from the bad element, which in his case means Catholics, Episcopalians, and Lutherans. You know, all his friends.

But he also has a killer memory, so I’ve gotta watch what I say around him.

He was recounting a conversation of almost two years ago:

…a former boss of mine died suddenly. I told Kile Smith that I was thinking of writing a composition in my boss’s memory.

“But I don’t know what it is with me and composition. I can’t just write things down that I hear in my head, and I don’t wanna be a finger composer.”

Kile seemed perplexed by that comment.

“Who says you can’t be a finger composer?”

And then he stuck out one index finger, and then the other, like the way my uncle used to play chopsticks on our piano.

“I’ve been composing like this my whole life.”

It sounds like it’s probably true. One blasted note at a time. The whole recounting is at the Chant Café blog here. And check out Mike here and do your part to keep him off the streets.

Four Hands on Now Is the Time

piano4handsIt’s music for different duos on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 25th at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at and WRTI-HD2. Charles Knox’s Suite for Piano Four-Hands is puckish and not a little bold: its six movements take four minutes to play, and include an “Etude” that lasts all of six seconds. Chen Yi channels, for two violins and strings, two ancient Chinese instruments in her Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in, and George Crumb, in his Otherworldly Resonances for two amplified pianos, honors, in the “Palimpsest” movement, old manuscripts that have been erased and written over (and quotes the Gospel song “Bringing in the Sheaves”).

Van Stiefel sets poetry of Sidney Lanier for voice and two electric guitars in Souls and Raindrops, and Ursula Mamlok’s brilliant Sonatina is for two clarinets. Lance Hulme composed Manic Music, he said, for “two maniacal pianists,” and the playing seems to demand a certain craziness, as cavalier as you can be while staying in step with your duo partner.

[Update…Just heard from Lance Hulme: “Thank you for programming MM…it’s really not all that bad…if I can get through it, that means it’s doable. Fun fact: when Klammer4 played it in Karlsruhe, Germany, members of the audience got up and danced.” And here’s a link to the score:]

from Lance Hulme: Manic Music 

Charles Knox: Suite for Piano Four-Hands
Chen Yi: Romance of Hsiao and Ch’in
George Crumb: Otherworldly Resonances
Van Stiefel: Souls and Raindrops
Ursula Mamlok: Sonatina
Lance Hulme: Manic Music

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Dying, How Do I Love Thee?

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 21 Jan 2014, as “When Vic Morrow meets Vaughan Williams” and reprinted by permission.]

MorrowSaundersIt was a good death.

I sprinted toward the safe spot just past the garden, but Gary Tierney stepped out from behind the maple and opened fire. Eh-eh-eh. Eh-eh-eh-eh-eh. His tommy gun spat, the bullets crashed into my chest, and I twisted through the air, the energy snapped out of my legs. My limbs whirligigged, the rifle spun out of my grasp toward Gerry Doeffler’s fence, and, with a hopeless “Uhh” escaping my throat, I plowed into the lawn. The back of my right shoulder thudded into the turf, my head and legs crumpled in. I bounced once and an arm was pinned under me, but I didn’t move, didn’t breathe. It was a good death.

“Let me try again!” I sang out as I popped up. My chest, I thought, should’ve registered the impact of those bullets better. “Naw, it’s my turn!” said Gary, and the negotiations of playing army continued through the afternoon.

We called it playing army, but in the early ’60s that meant playing Combat! And that meant deciding who would be Sgt. Saunders—Vic Morrow—who was, and who to this day still is, the single coolest man ever to appear on television.

I wouldn’t mind being Kirby, the id with the Browning Automatic, any day. Caje, who spoke French, was swift and deadly, and you had to have a soft spot for the gentle giant Littlejohn. If there were a lot of us, I’d even agree to being Lt. Hanley.

(Nobody wanted to be Lt. Hanley, but in my ear I knew I had captured his carbine, with that sound-effect echo. With the ch from Bach or challah it was KH-chKH-ch. The Thompson machine gun, done correctly, was Tttt!-Tttt!-Ttttttt!, but Gary was only six maybe, and you needed a lot of aggression to force the air over the tongue and between gritted teeth.)

But to be Sgt. Saunders was It. Vic Morrow was the smoldering method actor who had ignited the big screen as a thug in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle. Selig Seligman, Combat!’s executive producer and a former Nuremberg Trial lawyer, made Morrow the leader of the squad endlessly fighting Germans and conscience.

Watching Saunders interpret treelines while the patrol scraped along a dirt road—or scan the rooftops of the French village they were always entering, or leaving, or defending, or avoiding—or following his veiled lids as they assessed Hanley’s latest radioed directive from HQ—or seeing him lean into a pocked wall or the socket of a tree and breathe—or gazing with an eight-year-old’s experience as he slung his tommy gun upside-down over his shoulder and rolled his hips forward for one more advance—you could believe in everything anyone had ever said in favor of fighting. Or against it.

Saunders was the hero of old. The true hero has no time for heroes, nor for antiheroes. Beowulf quaffs ale, cracks an arm out of a monster, knows he did right, and laments.

Vaughan Williams or Andy Williams?

When I set Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?,” which I just finished for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, I knew that the big moment would be in the last three lines: “I love thee with the breath,/ Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,/ I shall but love thee better after death.”

I wanted it to hit like one of my favorite moments in music hits me: the opening of the Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The text begins, “Rise heart; thy Lord is risen,” but before you hear those words there’s a succession of gathering triplets, the building up and layering of mild dissonances that finally break upon a seawall of massive stacked chords of thirds, pounding and pounding while “Rise heart” soars overhead.

My plan was that “I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears” would heat the voices to a rolling boil, washing, splashing, overlapping. But when I wrote it down, the accompaniment was merely Vaughan Williams lite; the voices, more like singers backing up Andy Williams.

Try as I might, I cannot escape the sounds of my youth, which are locked into the commercial swing I listened to on my parents’ LPs and sang in Christmas and Broadway arrangements in my junior high choir. It also centers so much of the sound of Motown, really my generation’s music. If I could sing “La La Means I Love You” with the Delfonics (OK, Sound of Philadelphia, not Motown), or back up Tex Beneke in “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” with harmonies so tight you couldn’t slip a piece of paper through them, that’d be the sweetest nostalgia.

Nostalgia soothes, all right, but it soothes you to death. It makes you a transcriber, not a composer. To create means to drill deeper, to strike the vein that energizes that nostalgia. We all grow up in our own circumstance, and mine is just one mineshaft down to the vein. Once there, we have to make something out of what we hit.

Instincts are good but they only go so far. Then the work starts. Only the thrashing of notes—after a long time, usually—brings ore out of the vein. Slowly, “I love thee” came into view. Little by little I uncovered “the breath, Smiles, tears.” No triplets, just straight quarters, KH-chKH-ch. I kept a lot of the thirds (oh boy, did I), but I switched up voice directions and completely re-engineered the bass notes. These suggested new harmonies, which I then tweaked some more.

Tttt!-Tttt!-Ttttttt! One by one, I killed off Ralph, Andy, Kalamazoo, Motown. They were good deaths. I still love them, and they’re still in there somewhere, but for better or worse, they’re dead and they’re me. And in the next piece, I can pop up and sing out to the gardens and fences and maples and treelines and rooftops, “Let me try again.”

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. on Now Is the Time

MLKJr300We reflect on a legacy of greatness on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 18th at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at and WRTI-HD2. Yehudi Menuhin said this: “I look to music to bind and heal. I think the musician can be a trusted object, offering his fellow men solace, but also a reminder of human excellence. I believe as strongly as ever that our finite world turns on finite individual efforts to embody an ideal.”

Steven Gerber’s Spirituals for strings and Curt Cacioppo’s Contrapuntal Fantasy on John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” for piano spin the teardrop crystals of an American heritage in the sunlight of varied compositional languages. Leslie Adams sets African-American poets, including Langston Hughes, in Nightsongs. And in Stèle for solo violin, Karel Husa pays tribute to Menuhin, whose greatness went beyond music. Each of these works points us to ideals beyond our finite selves, something Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us of whenever we remember his legacy.

from Steven R. Gerber: “Goin’ Home” from Spirituals 

Steven R. Gerber: Spirituals
Curt Cacioppo: Contrapuntal Fantasy on John Newton’s “Amazing Grace”
H. Leslie Adams: Nightsongs, excerpts
Karel Husa: Stèle

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream (just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page). Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, depending on where you are, from the Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Dover. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!