Monthly Archives: April 2014

Leó Weiner on Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 3rd at 5 pm

Leó Weiner (1885–1960). Prince Csongor and the Kobolde, Introduction and Scherzo, Op. 10 (1913). Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti. London/Decca 443444, Tr 8. 10:35

Leó Weiner. Divertimento No. 2, Hungarian folk melodies for string orchestra, Op. 24 (1933). Hungarian Chamber Orchestra, Vilmos Tatrai. Hungaroton 31992, Tr 3-6. 14:25

Leó Weiner. Suite, Hungarian Folk Dances, Op. 18 (1931). Philharmonia Orchestra, Neeme Järvi. Chandos 9029, Tr 10-13. 27:33

WeinerLeoPaintingIn addition to being one of Hungary’s great 20th-century composers, Leó Weiner (left, Leo Weiner, 1911 by Róbert Berény, and below, Weiner in a more academic pose) taught generations of world-famous musicians, including cellist János Starker and conductors Georg Solti, Antal Doráti, and a certain Jenö Blau, who went on to be known as Eugene Ormandy.

The unmistakable Eastern European flavor of Weiner’s music charms today as it ever did. Its beauty is of a different kind from Béla Bartók’s and Zoltán Kodály’s, two other Hungarians we’ve already met on Discoveries. Bartók and Kodály collected and transcribed folk music, and that source material came to affect their own original music. From the harmonies and rhythms of this hidden edge of Europe, Bartók, especially, created a musical language so personal that it stands apart from traditionalists and atonalists alike.

Weiner, however, was a romantic. He uses Hungarian tunes the way Brahms uses Hungarian tunes: They are exotic yet grounded in a thoroughly Germanic soundscape. But what a soundscape! He was being noticed and was winning prizes for works in which he included very un-classical folk instruments such as the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer. By 1914, when Fritz Reiner conducted the premiere of Weiner’s early Prince Csongor and the Kobolde, based on a Hungarian fairy tale, his career was already taking off.

WeinerLeoPhotoHe started teaching at the main conservatory in Budapest, and remained there the rest of his life. In addition to composition, he accompanied and coached opera singers, and began teaching in the area where he would have the most international influence, chamber music. The musicians who came through his chamber music classes learned to develop a full-blooded yet highly accurate approach to sound. Many would become conductors, yet whether in playing or in directing the playing of others, the combination of boundless passion with razor-sharp technique ironically catapulted American orchestras (Ormandy’s Philadelphia and Solti’s Chicago, for instance), into the vanguard of European classical performance.

The 1930s saw the composing of his Divertimento and the Opus 18 Suite of Hungarian dances. America was the first to hear the Suite, now, perhaps, his most-played work. It was Reiner, again, with the Rochester Philharmonic in 1933. Weiner dedicated it to composer László Lajtha, who had introduced him to many of these Hungarian tunes. Where did Lajtha learn them? Why, from working alongside Bartók and Kodály.

Through his rigorous teaching and his brilliant music, Léo Weiner is rightly considered one of the leading lights of Hungarian music in the 20th century.

Katica Illényi plays Weiner’s Fox Dance with the Győr Philharmonic Orchestra, István Silló, 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.

Images from a Closed Ward on Now Is the Time

HerschImagesClosedWardWe remember the living and the dying on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 26th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. The music of Michael Hersch is always strong, always dark, and always provocative, but its true power lies in its vibrancy, always reaching out to us. Images from a Closed Ward refers to drawings by Michael Mazur of psychiatric patients. The lithographs and the music are tough but compelling; the sadness is deep, but the humanity, sublime. The Blair String Quartet plays this riveting 13-movement work.

A separate string orchestra piece that is also part of her second symphony, Ghosts of Judith Lang Zaimont salutes the composers Scriabin, Britten, Ravel, Berg, Christopher Rouse, and Laurie Anderson. But—and this is important—it is by no means a pastiche of other styles. Ghosts is a thoroughly integrated work of imagination and depth.

from Michael Hersch: Images from a Closed Ward 

Michael Hersch: Images from a Closed Ward
Judith Lang Zaimont: Ghosts

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, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Easter Vigil


I’ve just started a piece and I don’t know what to say. I’m trying to make something up, but it’s not working. It’s Saturday night, the Saturday before Easter, and I just got home from Easter Vigil.

This week we lost Jeff Dinsmore, and I don’t know what to say. He was a singer, a beautiful tenor voice in The Crossing and its co-founder, in fact, who in many ways ran it with director Donald Nally. (Read more about Jeff here.) Every time they sing my music I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be included. Heck, every time they sing someone else’s music I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be included. It feels like innocence restored, like standing in the dark and someone hands you a candle.

The empty furnace

Easter Vigil has lots of readings; one is from the book of Daniel. Babylon did what invaders did back then. Spoils of war. It wrenched the best and brightest out of Israel and took them back to Babylon. Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego rose so high that King Nebuchadnezzar had them run parts of his government. But jealous Babylonians dropped the dime on them when they wouldn’t worship a statue.

Nebuchadnezzar told Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that he’d have to execute them by burning them in a furnace if they didn’t change their minds. It was his law, and it was the Chaldean way: this type of execution is mentioned in the Code of Hammurabi.

What Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego then said to Nebuchadnezzar was remarkable. They said that their God could rescue them, but that “even if he does not”—that’s the remarkable part—“we want you to know, o king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

So he threw them into the furnace, but looked and saw them walking around inside the furnace, talking to a fourth person who looked like “a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar called to them to come out. They came out. Their clothes and hair weren’t singed, and—I like this part, I would never have thought of it were I making it up—there was no “smell of fire” on them. So, God had rescued them, and the “even if he does not,” you see, when they got around to writing the story, was unnecessary. But they put it in anyway. That’s the remarkable part.

The empty tomb

If I were to make it up, this isn’t how I’d do it. After his execution, Jesus was dead in the tomb, but women discovered that he wasn’t there anymore. Not the inner circle, not the disciples, not the guys who followed Jesus, the guys who wrote the stories that we now read: They didn’t discover the empty tomb. The women did, ran back, told the disciples, but the disciples didn’t believe them. Then the disciples wrote it all down, just like that, disbelief and all, just like we have it now. I wouldn’t have done it that way, were I making it up.

Christianity inherits the idea from Judaism, as it does many ideas, that the sundown before the next day is the next day. During Saturday’s Easter Vigil, Friday’s crucifixion looms but Sunday’s Easter begins. There is nothing remotely like this service, the Vigil.

The dark nave

A fire is lit, often outside, and is brought into the church by candles. Each person grips a candle and enters the dark nave. Each bright face floats down the center of the struggling-to-be-seen church. “The Light of Christ” is intoned. “Thanks be to God,” answer the faces.

Then someone walks to the lectern. It’s not an important person, in the scheme of things, not a pastor, priest, bishop. Churches with deacons, the lowest-level clerics, give the job of singing this Exsultet—what may be the greatest hymn of praise ever devised in all Christendom—to a deacon.

Our church doesn’t have deacons, but it does have cantors, who are not clerics of any kind, not even deacons. I’m a cantor, so to me falls the job of chanting the Exsultet:

To all angels, rejoice. To every created thing, rejoice. To all around the world, rejoice. To all gathered here, rejoice. This is the night, it says, that we must pass through to rejoice. This is the night, it says, where all sacrifice ends. This is the night, it says, that turns clear as day. This is the night, this is the night, this is the night, it says.

It is ancient and mystical, weirdly involving, a rambling chant, not scripture but springing from echoes of scripture. One form praises the candles, “the work of bees and your servants’ hands.” It is strange. You see angels, faces, the children of Israel, wax, all creation reflecting the light while you sing.

The Vigil

I would never have said it this way. I so often don’t know what to say. My older sister, last month. Jeff, this week. Lucky to be included, but always suspended between Friday and Sunday, it seems, in this night, in this Vigil, so often not knowing what to say, with darkness but also with a candle someone handed me. With bright faces surrounding me.

So, with this piece I started, I’ll try not to make things up. I don’t know what to say, anyway. So I’ll tell the truth, “when things of heaven are wed to those of earth,
 and divine to the human. When all wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away. How holy is this night when innocence is restored to the fallen and joy is given to those downcast.”

Passage Through a Dream on Now Is the Time

KitzkeCharacterWe dream our lives and live our dreams on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 19th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Bright Sheng’s romantic orchestral work China Dreams includes movements called The Stream Flows and The Three Gorges of the Long River. The tragedy of U.S. duplicity before and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn is the subject of We Need to Dream All This Again. Jerome Kitzke writes, “let’s dance, and call it praying,” as he honors the Native American building of a new life by dreaming that life.

Clarinet and four-hand piano unfold through digital delay in the evocative Passage Through a Dream by Phillip Schroeder, and Zeitgeist closes out the show with the humorous and quirky Getting Your Z’s (Or Not) by Janika Vandervelde.

from Phillip Schroeder: Passage Through a Dream 

Bright Sheng: China Dreams
Jerome Kitzke: We Need to Dream All This Again
Phillip Schroeder: Passage Through a Dream
Janika Vandervelde: Getting Your Z’s (Or Not)

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, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Jeff Dinsmore


Jeff Dinsmore [photo: Rebecca Thornburgh]

Many of us have now heard of the passing of our friend and colleague, Jeff Dinsmore. Tenor and co-founder of The Crossing, he was its board president for most of its existence, and always its guiding light. He was with director Donald Nally and singers from The Crossing at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Monday morning, about to rehearse a new piece for a Friday performance, when he died suddenly.

This is such a sad loss for Jeff’s partner Rebecca Siler, his family and loved ones, and for everyone in Philadelphia’s choral community. Jeff had so much to do with the rapid rise of The Crossing through his administrative and technological gifts. I’ll always remember his captainship of the front of the house—when he should’ve been relaxing before singing in a grueling concert, he was seeing to the smooth running of ticket operations. Then, when you turned your head, he was strolling onstage to sing. As Donald writes, in many ways, Jeff was The Crossing. He was a formidable musician, calm, funny, loving, and had the sweetest tenor voice. We’ll all miss him.

The story in the Los Angeles Times is here. Donald Nally’s heartfelt and moving tribute, sent to the extended Crossing family, and including so many of Jeff’s accomplishments, is here. The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, written by David Patrick Stearns, is here. The Jeff Dinsmore Memorial Fund, to help support Rebecca Siler, has been set up here.

Eric Owens Gift to The Crossing for a New Work by Kile Smith


Eric Owens (photo credit: Dario Acosta)

I’m thrilled to be working with The Crossing again, and on such an imaginitive and momentous project. The commitment of so many to Donald Nally and this outstanding group of musicians has always been inspiring, but now, to see Eric Owens joining The Crossing family in this way, to support our music-making together in this new piece, is both humbling and exhilarating.

Here’s the news release from The Crossing:

International opera star Eric Owens has made a great gift to The Crossing: a $10,000 commissioning grant by which we have invited Kile Smith to write a new and substantial work. Kile’s piece will serve as a companion to David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion and will be of equal length and similar orchestration. The texts of the libretto revolve around the moving transcript of the decade-defining Christmas Eve 1968 broadcast of Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, with the astronauts reading Genesis to the largest viewing audience to date.

“I have been a huge fan of The Crossing, since its inception. Whenever I’m able to attend a concert, it’s unfailingly an awe-inspiring experience. It gives me great pleasure to be able to assist one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures in their mission to bring new music into the world.”—Eric Owens

Conductor Donald Nally said,

“We are so grateful to Board Member Beth van de Water for bringing together our friend Eric and this project with Kile. The Little Match Girl Passion has become a signature piece for The Crossing, yet I am always frustrated that we cannot find ‘just the right’ piece to complete that concert program; so, with Eric’s support and Kile’s great talent and feel for The Crossing’s sound, we’re making our own. It is a gift in so many ways, and we’re very grateful to Eric.”

Eric is a busy man: he was just appointed as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s first Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador, as well as chairman of the artistic advisory board at the Glimmerglass Festival in New York. This is, of course, in addition to his consistently acclaimed singing in opera and oratorio as wide-ranging as Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera and Bach’s St. John Passion in Berlin.