Monthly Archives: May 2014

How Do I Love Thee?

SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

HowDoILoveTheeP1Setting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, I knew that the big moment would obviously 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 that to hit as one of my favorite moments in music hits: the opening of the Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. (More about the whole process of composing this is here.) The text begins, “Rise heart; thy Lord is risen,” but before 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 while “Rise heart” soars overhead.

“I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears” ought to have unfolded similarly, heating the voices to a rolling boil, washing, splashing, overlapping. After a disappointing start, where I composed only Vaughan Williams lite, it slowly came into view. No triplets, just straight quarters. I kept a lot of the thirds but changed many other aspects. Yet the spirit of Vaughan Williams hovers, for me, over this passage.

It’s a calm work, even for that loudness. At first the passion of the words ruled, but then their precision came to the fore, almost as if the poet stops, takes a breath, and wishes to reason with herself. It’s why the first line is repeated at the end of this setting. Capturing first love and lasting love, innocence and wisdom, and the voice of Elizabeth Barrett Browning sung by the young women of the Pennsylvania Girlchoir was foremost in my thoughts.

As I write this, the sound of their voices, directed by Vincent Metallo at one of their last rehearsals before the premiere, rings amazingly. They are able to sing with so much subtlety around tip-toeing harmonies and yet then can unleash a breathtaking wall of sound. They are a remarkable choir, Vincent brings a wonderful vision, and there was no need for me to say anything at the rehearsal: it was that beautifully in hand. I’m thrilled to have been asked to be a part of their tenth anniversary celebrations.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

Notes to Self on Now Is the Time

LanskyNotesToSelfReaching inside helps to explain what surrounds us on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 31st at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. The poet and resistance fighter Avrom Sutzkever wrote the powerful words David Garner sets in Vilna Poems, for voice, clarinet, cello (Matt Haimovitz here), and piano. Paul Lansky, recently retired from a stellar career at Princeton, honors teachers, friends, and influences in Notes to Self for piano. Echoing throughout are George Perle, Milton Babbitt, Stravinsky, and Ravel, who moderates a conversation between Hindemith and Messiaen!

The blues often come around when we look inside, so we take a turn there for the final work. But even the blues can be light blue. Jazz subtle and not-so infuses Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet by Charles Ruggiero.

from Charles Ruggiero: Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet 

David Garner: Vilna Poems
Paul Lansky: Notes to Self
Charles Ruggiero: Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 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. 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.

Review: Khorikos at Carnegie Hall (and Where Flames a Word)

NYConcertReviewKhorikos receives a rave for last week’s concert, and for Where Flames a Word, it’s nice company to be with! From the New York Concert Review (you can read the entire article here):

Khorikos, led by founder Jesse Mark Peckham, took the stage to close the night. Khorikos is an a cappella group that is one of New York’s elite choral ensembles. Indeed, to judge by the performance tonight, that reputation should include anywhere! This listener has heard many excellent a cappella groups, but Khorikos was truly a cut above in a performance that was stunning from start to finish. For the record, the works performed were No llores, paloma mía (Do Not Weep, My Dove), by Guillermo Martinez, Where Flames a Word, by Kile Smith, Miserere, by Frank La Rocca, and A Song of Joys, by Nick [Omiccioli]. Mr. Smith and Mr. La Rocca were in attendance and took well-deserved bows for their fine works.

Well-deserved reception, also, from the audience for my composer colleagues, whose pieces were outstanding, and for Jesse Mark Peckham and Khorikos, who sounded as good as the reviewer states. I had heard them a few months earlier in Where Flames a Word and all these pieces, but “stunning” was indeed the word for the ensemble sound from the Carnegie stage. Thank you, Jesse and Khorikos!

The Alice (Texas) High School Honors Band mentioned in the full review, by the way, raised eyebrows, let me tell you. Arnold Garza has a powerhouse there. And it was a pleasant surprise to meet composer Neil Rolnick after the concert. I’ve played a number of his works on Now Is the Time, but had never met him, so chatting afterward was an unexpected delight. He said, I believe, that he knew a parent of a Khorikos singer, and was also there to hear music by his college friend Frank La Rocca, whose Miserere, again, knocked me out.

Two Laudate Psalms with the iSing Girlchoir

iSingPosterI wish I could be in California to hear the iSing Girlchoir‘s performances of my Two Laudate Psalms! Jennah Delp-Somers and Shane Troll are the artistic directors of this Silicon Valley choir for girls in grades 2-12. The first concert was last night, Friday May 23rd; they had to add another one tonight since Friday’s sold out. Jennah told me tonight’s is sold out, too!

Originally for the Pennsylvania Girlchoir in collaboration with Lyric Fest, the two Psalms are 113 and 150. The music for this Psalm 113 is the same music for the Psalm 113 in Vespers, but re-arranged for the high voices and with piano accompaniment. I explain all about how that came to be, and about the entire piece here. Thank you, iSing, and thank you, Jennah!

Here are excerpts from the premiere, with mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis; from Psalm 113:

and from Psalm 150:

Where Flames a Word at Carnegie Hall

KhorikosCarnegieSo happy to be on the bill tonight at Carnegie Hall! Khorikos will sing Where Flames a Word, my setting of Paul Celan texts, which  The Crossing premiered and recorded.

Back in March Jesse Peckham conducted Where Flames a Word with Khorikos, the group he founded in New York City nine years ago. They sound great!

When the opportunity came up for Khorikos to be on this concert, Jesse wanted to bring Where Flames along. I’m honored to be included, with the absolutely wonderful music of Frank La Rocca, in this concert.

How fortunate I am to know these people. Thanks, Jesse, and thanks, Khorikos!

Vintage on Now Is the Time

HilaryHahnEncoresIt’s a blast from the past on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 24th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. David Del Tredici threw over his cutting-edge training in 12-tone music for his aggressively tonal “Alice” pieces, works based on Alice in Wonderland. In looking back, you might say, he never looked back from then on; some have called him the first neo-Romantic. Vintage Alice is a chamber opera for one singer, and it’s delightfully quirky, just like Lewis Carroll.

Physicist Richard Feynman was known for his humor as much as his smarts; Michael Gandolfi captures both in the large choral/orchestral work Q.E.D.: Engaging Richard Feynman. From Hilary Hahn’s CD of encores is Ford’s Farm by Mason Bates. We see the horse & buggy giving way to the first automobile in this fun, fiddling excursion: Call it a short ride in slower machines.

from David Del Tredici: Vintage Alice 

David Del Tredici: Vintage Alice
Michael Gandolfi: Q.E.D.: Engaging Richard Feynman
Mason Bates: Ford’s Farm

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!

Matthew Levy: People's Emergency Center

[CD review for WRTI; published 22 May 2014 and used here by permission.]

LevyPrismSaxophonist and Prism Quartet founder Matthew Levy has spent his career getting other composers played; now the spotlight’s on him in a new CD, and what a brilliance it reveals.

Call the Prism Saxophone Quartet contemporary-classical, call them avant-jazz, even call them omnivorous, but whatever you call them, they’ve been setting the gold standard for three decades. 2014 is in fact their 30th anniversary, and in that time, while centered in Philadelphia, they’ve been everywhere, stretching styles while inhabiting classical, jazz, world, and rock idioms.

Prism has commissioned more than 150 works, but in People’s Emergency Center (Innova) they turn the entire two-disc set over to Matthew Levy.

People’s Emergency Center is the first movement of Been There, and is also the name of a shelter helping women and children in West Philadelphia. It and the second movement, Gymnopedie (the word Erik Satie coined for his most famous piece), are culled from Levy’s music for a documentary about the shelter. The Prism four (Timothy McAllisterTaimur SullivanZachary Shemon, and Levy), bass, drums, guitar, and former Prism member Tim Ries on soprano saxophone all create magic with swirling precision.

Levy’s voice is at once vernacular and otherworldly, steeped in jazz but living in—as Henry Cowell would have it—the whole world of music. Serial Mood seems to ponder that post-Schoenberg world of harmony, and in doing so reveals a tasty secret known to Dizzy Gillespie, Gunther Schuller, and a few other hep cats: If you play 12-tone music with a hard, swinging beat, it sounds for all the world like be-bop.

That’s one of the unexpected treats that Levy offers. Another is the overarching spirit of generosity—to the listener and to each player. All the music of his I’ve heard exhibits this. Whether it’s rhythmically striking, sonically challenging, or a charming tune, it is genial music offered warmly to a real world filled with real people who want something good to hear. An excellent example is Brown Eyes, which here employs the whole band, but which Levy first had played in public in a smaller version. The occasion of the premiere? His wedding.

[Been There and Brown Eyes were featured on Now Is the Time, 10 May 2014.]

from Matthew Levy: Brown Eyes