Monthly Archives: December 2014

David Diamond 100th Anniversary

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, January 3rd, 5-6 pm.

David Diamond (1915-2005): Concerto for Chamber Orchestra in Two Parts (1940)
DiamondElegy to the Memory of Maurice Ravel (1938)
Diamond: Symphony No. 8 (1958-60)


David Diamond (Neal Boenzi/The New York Times)

One hundred years ago saw the birth of David Diamond, who would enter the first rank of 20th-century American composers. His most-played work, Rounds for string orchestra, is the only work of his many people have heard, so we will not play that today. Instead, a large work for orchestra, a small work for orchestra, and a memorial to a composer who was a great influence will walk us through his career.

One may wonder why someone who is held in such great esteem isn’t played more, but that points up the dichotomy of David Diamond, and the sometimes-difficult trajectory of his music. He was born in Rochester, N.Y. in 1915 and died there in 2005, but in between lived in Cleveland, New York City, France, and Italy. He was immensely talented and early on played violin and composed. His family moved to Cleveland, he studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and when the great Maurice Ravel visited the Cleveland Orchestra, Diamond visited him. The French composer looked at the 13-year-old’s compositions, recognized his talent, and told him that he must study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.

He would do that (as had many other American composers, including Aaron Copland) eight years later, after a stint at Eastman in Rochester and then in New York City, studying with Roger Sessions. Finally in Paris with Boulanger, he studied Ravel’s music as part of his training. Ravel died in 1937, and Diamond wrote the exquisite Elegy to the Memory of Maurice Ravel.
Back in the States he played violin in theaters, wrote some commercial music, and began to produce vast amounts of chamber and orchestral pieces. The earliest of his 11 symphonies appeared at this time, as did his Concerto for Chamber Orchestra in Two Parts, filled, as most of his music is, with fugues and counterpoint, every bit of it lyrical but not always warm and fuzzy at first hearing.

And he was not always warm and fuzzy at this time. Stories of his being tossed from rehearsals and of other altercations followed him. He later admitted, “I was a highly emotional young man, very honest in my behavior, and I would say things in public that would cause a scene between me and, for instance, a conductor.” Not good for a career, and yet he continued to produce.

Shifting fashions in high-octane contemporary classical music left him, for a time, without much of a profile beyond Rounds, but fortunately he lived to see a strong resurgence of interest in his music, after teaching in Italy and elsewhere and, for 25 years, at Juilliard. Conductor Gerard Schwarz’s recordings have led much of the comeback.

The Symphony No. 8 honors Copland’s 60th birthday; we’ll hear American similarities and differences in the voice of David Diamond. A National Medal of Arts in 1995, among many awards, recognized his importance to music, and 100 years after his birth, we recognize David Diamond’s voice as one we still need to hear.

David Diamond’s Rounds for string orchestra, David Hattner conducting Camerata PYP of the Portland Youth Philharmonic:

Taking Leave of 2014 on Now Is the Time

from Jan Steen, Children Teaching a Cat to Dance, c.1660–1679

from Jan Steen, Children Teaching a Cat to Dance, c.1660–1679

The sun turns and we anticipate a new year on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 27th at 9 pm. Stephen Hartke based The King of the Sun on a Joan Miró painting, itself inspired by a much older Dutch painting by Jan Steen. Chris Campbell finds sounds and creates sounds electronically in Sunface Streams Moonface. Amplified piano and soprano join in five settings of Federico García Lorca by George Crumb; he calls his Spanish Songbook II Sun and Shadow.

Nancy Galbraith features electric Baroque flute and electric cello in Traverso Mistico, and from a live recording we’ll hear the exquisite middle movement, “The Joy of Sadness.” And to say goodbye to the old year we’ll look to one of the piano rags of Brian Dykstra’s, Taking Leave.

from Brian Dykstra: Taking Leave 

Stephen Hartke: The King of the Sun
Chris Campbell: Sunface Streams Moonface
George Crumb: Sun and Shadow (Spanish Songbook II)
Nancy Galbraith: “The Joy of Sadness” from Traverso Mistico
Brian Dykstra: Taking Leave

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. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

Merry Christmas to all

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 16 Dec 2014]

reindeerantlerscarThe reindeer antlers, protruding from the car we had been following for some blocks, led us down Castor Avenue. I said to my daughters that this was an excellent example of something I would never, ever, do—stick antlers on a car—but was happy that someone else would. I said that it was good to look for such things.

We were driving to a Christmas concert at St. Anne’s. People will tell you that St. Anne’s Church is in Kensington, or in Port Richmond, or in Fishtown, but in any case, it’s on Lehigh at Aramingo, and I had guessed Castor as the way to get there. But I wasn’t sure if Castor kinked somewhere, so I checked with my buddy, who worked for PECO and knows Philadelphia streets like his own driveway. He said yeah, Castor’s best, it turns but don’t worry, you’re good once you’re on it. But take Oxford to Summerdale to Castor, and as soon as he mentioned “Summerdale” I remembered Betty and knew I was in good hands.

Years before we moved to our part of Northeast Philadelphia, Betty let me in on the secret: “Summerdale will take you anywhere.” Betty brought Cheerios in a baggie to church for my daughters to nibble on, so she’s, well, you could leave $50,000 with her and pick it up a year later, that’s who she is. And of course my buddy of his own accord has crawled under my car and he’s cried during Bruckner, so this is somebody, a policeman once put it to me this way, this is somebody you’d go through a door for.

So you bet that’s how I drove down there.

Unexpectedly good

The antlers reminded me that I was to narrate “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” with the Delaware Valley Wind Symphony in a week. I was surprised by how good the poem was, after being reacquainted with it. Odd, also. (I’ve seen that some people don’t think Clement Clarke Moore is the author, but I don’t buy it any more than that Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare, but that’s for another time.)

The poem is earnestly odd. It’s a Christmas poem without religion, a mythical poem careless of myths, a popular poem filled with archaic references, a moral poem without a moral. But it is filled with emotion and acute observation and, most of all, love. It’s a father telling a story to his children, which is why Clement Moore wrote it.

All on the good Earth

Earnestness is also a major part of what attracted me to the message of the Apollo 8 astronauts on Christmas Eve 1968. At the end of their televised broadcast, showing the Earth rising over the moon, they closed with: “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you…all of you on the good Earth.” I set it to music in The Consolation of Apollo for The Crossing, combining astronaut words and Boethian philosophy. One element I tried to evoke in it is Clement Moore earnestness, with visions of the creation of the world and TV Christmas specials dancing through my head. In 1968, I was 12.

I don’t know when I stopped believing in Santa Claus, but I do remember exactly when I stopped being a child. It was before one of our visits to my aunt and uncle’s, which meant playing with my cousin Walt. These were highlights of my childhood. At some point, though, years before age 12, a gloom descended on the anticipation. It arrived one afternoon before leaving for their house. In the midst of the giddy imagining of what games we would make up, the knowledge dawned on me, the knowledge that the fun would end. And at that moment I knew that my childhood was over.

Perhaps we write poems or compose music or stick antlers on cars or say “Merry Christmas” because we’re trying to go back to when it was just us and Cousin Walt, before games would end and we would have to go home.

All the meanings of “all”

If that’s so, then we’re wrong. We’re wrong because ignorance doesn’t create happiness any more than knowledge creates despair. After the initial shock (which I’ve forgotten) of losing Santa Claus, I went back to loving Christmas (if I’d ever stopped), because Christmas doesn’t depend on Santa Claus. Clement Moore, a theologian, knew exactly what Christmas was, but he wrote his poem about St. Nick because he loved his children. He ended it with “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” because he loved “all.” The astronauts said, “God bless all of you” for the same reason.

The “all” is that person on Castor Avenue with a belief in Christmas so earnest it requires antlers on a car. It’s my buddy, who places me there as nice as you please—Betty and the secret of Summerdale—a wind symphony playing behind “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”—Cousin Walt, during and after childhood—The Crossing and astronauts and Boethius and 1968 TV specials—a Christmas concert in Kensington or Port Richmond or Fishtown. It’s my girls.

And I love music so odd you wonder what neighborhood you’re in, music with reindeer antlers sticking out of it. It’s good to look for pieces like this, weird Messiaen music on the Trinity or the end times, wild-eyed Bruckner motets praising the Virgin Mary, and Bach, always Bach—Bach with kinks but don’t worry, you’re good—with impossible music rising, like the Earth, over a party that will end when the knowledge dawns on you that where you want to be is home.

Merry Christmas to all.

Less Than a Week Before Christmas

from Nativity, Domenico Ghirlandaio, c.1480

from Nativity, Domenico Ghirlandaio, c.1480

We’re counting down the days on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 20th at 9 pmLess Than a Week Before Christmas is David Golub’s work for chorus and orchestra: about the cold, about a friend. Morten Lauridsen contemplates the wonder of animals at the nativity manger in one of our time’s most-sung pieces, O Magnum Mysterium.

Composer Jennifer Higdon becomes her own poet for Deep in the Night, pondering “this season of love with full brilliant lights.” Daron Hagen combines two melodies we recognize with a beautiful one we don’t—because he just wrote it—in a work for choir with cello, At Bethlehem Proper. Rounding out the choral works on the program is While All Things Were in Quiet Silence by Ned Rorem.

Two instrumental works find their way in, though. Advent has the same feeling that imbues Yearning, the lovely work for violin and strings by Shulamit Ran, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin. For solo guitar is the suite of Rick Sowash, helping us count down the days, For an Old Friend at Christmas.

from Rick Sowash: Guitar Suite: For an Old Friend at Christmas 

Peter Golub: Less Than a Week Before Christmas
Morten Lauridsen: O Magnum Mysterium
Shulamit Ran: Yearning
Jennifer Higdon: Deep in the Night
Rick Sowash: Guitar Suite: For an Old Friend at Christmas
Daron Hagen: At Bethlehem Proper
Ned Rorem: While All Things Were in Quiet Silence

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. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

Cello concerto parts are finished


Almost as good as hitting the double bar on the full score of the new cello concerto, And Seeing the Multitudes, is to hit the double bar on the last part to be extracted. They’re all finished now and off to the orchestra librarian. As if composing isn’t obsessive enough, copying parts is a preciously inner delight. Of course, the software “makes” the parts automatically, even as you construct the score, but the parts are never good. They’re quite awful, actually, out of the box, so there’s a good bit of manual labor needed to get them into shape.

Which I love doing, ever since I did this, with ink and paper, when I started at the Fleisher Collection. People who do this for a living—engravers—have my unfettered respect. Figuring out page turns, cues, overall spacing, whether to place phrases on one stave or where to split them… goosebumps, I’m telling you. And did I love putting the music for all three percussionists into one part, or what?

Now, okay, now I can get the Christmas tree.

Cellist Ovidiu Marinescu performs this with the Helena Symphony, conducted by Allan R. Scott, on January 31st. And Seeing the Multitudes is based on the Beatitudes, is for full orchestra, is in one movement, and is 20 minutes long. More information about it is here.

The new Fleisher Collection curator

GaryGalvanGreat news about a place where I was fortunate to spend 30 years, the last 18 as curator, and great news about a person I’ve been happy to know since 2006. Gary Galván will be a wonderful curator of the Fleisher Collection, the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance material. As Gary’s picture testifies, it’s at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

From the news release:

The Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music is pleased to announce the appointment of its new and seventh curator, Dr. Gary Galván. A graduate of the University of Florida musicology program, he came to Fleisher as a researcher and has worked with the collection as a musicologist and the digital projects coordinator since 2006. He has written and lectured extensively on the Fleisher Collection and the Symphony Club and is currently writing a biography on our founding philanthropist, “From Cradle to Grave: Edwin A. Fleisher and the Pan American Symphonic Coming of Age.”
Congratulations and welcome, Dr. Galván!

Consolation of Apollo in Philadelphia 2014 list

phillycomlogoAmong the milestones selected by David Patrick Stearns in the Philadelphia Inquirer for a year-end appreciation is The Consolation of Apollo, “an ingenious melding” of Boethius and the Apollo 8 astronauts. Along with shout-outs to my colleagues Robert Maggio and James Primosch, he rightly hails The Crossing as the impetus behind these pieces of ours: “Would these works have been written were there not a choir like this to sing them?”

It’s a great honor to be in this company. Thanks to David Patrick Stearns for this mention, and to Donald Nally and the awe-inspiring singers of The Crossing. Upcoming concerts of Consolation, with David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion, January 3rd and 4th, Chestnut Hill and Wilmington.