Monthly Archives: January 2016

Three for Two on Now Is the Time

AraucoVistasMusic comes in threes and twos on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 30th at 9 pm. Ursula Mamlok’s music is always smart, always compelling, and in Three Part Fugue and Three Bagatelles she offers us solo piano works three decades apart. Joseph Fennimore’s piano writing also appears twice, with Three Pieces and, from his 24 Romances, the Third.

Lowell Liebermann writes three for two—two pianos, that is—in Three Lullabies, and then Three for Two gives the pianos a break. Ingrid Arauco wrote this for two Philadelphia Orchestra musicians, clarinetist Ricardo Morales and cellist John Koen. Composer James Adler then puts on his performer’s hat for two piano rags by Seth Bedford, from Three Postcards for Piano.

fromSeth Bedford: Three Postcards for Piano 

Ursula Mamlok: Three Part Fugue in A minor
Ursula Mamlok: Three Bagatelles
Joseph Fennimore: Three Pieces for Piano
Lowell Liebermann: Three Lullabies for Two Pianos
Ingrid Arauco: Three for Two
Joseph Fennimore: Third Romance
Seth Bedford: from Three Postcards for Piano

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on WRTI’s Now Is the Time, at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

I Love the Snow

[First published in Broad Street Review, 26 Jan 2016. Reprinted by permission.]

Blizzard Aftermath: The Car after 23.5″ of Snow” (Photo by Juliancolton via Creative Commons/Flickr)

You know that guy who loves the snow? That guy who loves telling people that he loves the snow? That he loves watching it, being in it, walking around in it, driving in it, shoveling it — that guy? Don’t you hate that guy?

I’m that guy.

I’d say I’m sorry, but I’m not. I loved snow as a kid and have never outgrown it. On the flip side, I hated waking up in the morning when I was a kid, and I still hate it. Thirty years I had a 9 to 5 job, and even though I liked my job, every day I hated waking up for it. So that should make you feel better. But I did it and never complained. Okay, I complained a little.

There are three reasons I love the snow. Actually, there are only three reasons, ever, to love anything. The reasons are Goodness, Beauty, and Truth.

1. Snow is good

I’m not sure why it’s good, to tell you the truth, but I’m taking it on faith, since rain is good even though there are floods, corn is good even though there is succotash, and knowledge is good even though there are newscasts. Without earthquakes, for instance, without the tectonic plates burping a little here and there, the entire world would explode all at once — this is true — and the entire world would die, so at its very worst snow is better than that.

People die in the snow, I know; people die in earthquakes, and people die from watching the news, but all those things have good in them if you look hard enough.

Succotash, I’m still not sure about.

2. Snow is beautiful

Everyone agrees that snow is beautiful. Even the Inuit agree, I suppose, though they must call it “outside.” Snow is beautiful while it’s falling, and snow is beautiful after it falls. And in that I find a key to art.

You’ve seen the greeting-card illustration of Grandmother’s house at winter, cozy and inviting, nestled beneath proud pines topped with snow, a one-horse sleigh approaching over the smoothly undulating landscape to the homestead, whose puffing chimney and beckoning bright windows prophesy the joys of food and family, a perfectly constructed advertisement of goodness and beauty.

You mock that picture, don’t you? Or, in your weaker moments, you wish you could like it. But despair not. You’re not a snob.

You don’t like that picture because it isn’t true.

3. Snow is true

Snow is true; that picture isn’t. Snow melts, snow gets dirty, snow is in the way. It has to be shoveled. The picture doesn’t show that.

It doesn’t show the droop of the pine branch in that exquisite hour just before the snow melts. Art will show that; art will recall the evanescence of life, because art — if it is good — is true. Real snow has that quality. This is the heart of the matter. I love the snow because it’s true, and truth reveals truth.

Do you want to know what your neighbors are like? Snow will introduce you to them and give you an itemized list of their character. Which one waves? Which one clears the steps of the neighbor who’s on vacation so that the mailman can get through? Which one shovels your sidewalk because “it wasn’t that much more”? Which one complains?

Do you want to know what you’re like? Start shoveling, and you’ll learn. Where do you put the snow? Are you shoveling the same snow twice? When’s the last time you thought about your shoulders? Oh, and hello there, lumbar disc number 5, it’s been a while.

From romance to real life

If we want to get anything done in our life, we have to deal with the snow. Falling snow is romantic, but shoveling snow is fact. A fact isn’t heroic or special; we can be proud of our clean car and sidewalk, but look up and down the street. Everybody else’s is clean, too. Look at the plow drivers, who in four days will be collecting your trash as always. Look at the electric company folks fixing wires after the storm, as they do all year.

All this character-building sounds good, but we resist it because we’d rather build character on our own timetable, thank you. Snow, instead, does all that self-help for us. We don’t have to sign up for a class, we don’t have to buy a book. And yet we resist because, even though its benefits are clear, snow didn’t ask our permission first.

And that’s the best part. The best thing snow teaches us is that we are not in control. That galls at first but then liberates. Because it’s true.

I love the snow. But if that was the last storm for the year, that’d be kind of okay, too.

Spheres on Now Is the Time


Pianist Jenny Q Chai

Spheres, of sorts, are in line for Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 23rd at 9 pm. A solo piano chases itself canonically in all in due time by Nils Vigeland; Jenny Q Chai is the pianist. The Infinite Sphere is the name Lawrence Dillon gives to his Fourth String Quartet. He spins rondos and rounds within two movements, hailing a Blaise Pascal quote: “Infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

Semordnilap is “palindromes” backward spelt, and is also a word I think I pronounce correctly in less than half of my attempts in the show. Charles Knox writes fun and inventive music for a chamber group with voices. Ethel closes out the program with John Halle’s bluesy heavy-metal string quartet Sphere[’]s.

from Charles Knox: Semordnilap 

Nils Vigeland: all in due time
Lawrence Dillon: String Quartet No. 4: The Infinite Sphere
Charles Knox: Semordnilap
John Halle: Sphere[’]s

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on WRTI’s Now Is the Time at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

The Metamorphosis of Paul Hindemith


Paul Hindemith

[First published in WRTI’s Arts Desk 18 Jan 2016.]

It’s an odd name for an odd work that almost wasn’t written. But it premiered 72 years ago this week, and as WRTI’s Kile Smith reports, this piece by Paul Hindemith is one of the most popular orchestral works of the 20th century.

Choreographer Léonide Massine approached Paul Hindemith in 1940 with a new project. They had already worked together, so this time, why not create a ballet on music by the 19th-century composer Carl Maria von Weber? Hindemith liked it, but when he played him some ideas, Massine couldn’t hear the Weber. For his part, Hindemith saw some of the dancer’s latest work and didn’t take to it.

So the project fell through. Hindemith kept working on the music, though, wanting to create an American orchestral showpiece, as he and his wife had just settled in the U.S. He finished it in 1943 and the New York Philharmonic premiered it in 1944.

The Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber is a mouthful of a title, but it is accurate. It’s more than an arrangement, and something other than variations, either of which would have suited Massine. Hindemith actually stays fairly close to the piano duet melodies he uses—usually—but he transforms everything else. Sometimes Weber is clearly heard and sometimes not, but Hindemith creates orchestral magic.

It was an immediate success. Hindemith became an American citizen in 1946, and one of the great 20th-century composers, with no small help from the Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber.

A New Year on Now Is the Time

CoomanNew is the word of the day on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 9th at 9 pm. David Ludwig set The New Colossus, the famous words by Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty, after 9/11, and its timeless message always resonates. From David Starobin’s New Music with Guitar, Vol. 8 is the always smart and attractive music of Paul Lansky; we’ll hear his Partita. James Primosch gets down with “Daddy-O’s New Groove,” the last movement from his Sonata-Fantasia for piano and synthesizer, here played by the brilliant (and Grammy®-Award winning) Lambert Orkis.

Starobin returns as guitarist and composer with Three Places in New Rochelle, hearkening to the richness, humor, and tunefulness of Ives. William Bolcom exhibits, and Marc-André Hamelin elicits these same attributes in Book III of Twelve New Etudes for piano. Carson Cooman closes the program with a modern fuguing-tune, an apt choral bookend, The Welcome News.

from James Primosch: Daddy-O’s New Groove 

David Ludwig: The New Colossus
Paul Lansky: Partita
James Primosch: Daddy-O’s New Groove
David Starobin: Three Places in New Rochelle
William Bolcom: Twelve New Etudes, Book III
Carson Cooman: The Welcome News

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith plays new American classical music on Now Is the Time, on WRTI’s at and on HD-2. At click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

Steht auf, ihr lieben Kinderlein!

I’ll be writing a Magnificat for this excellent ensemble, Gaudete Brass later this year—yes, a Magnificat for brass quintet. They sound fabulous! Listen to them playing here, one of the instrumental sections from Vespers.

The original is for Renaissance instruments, which are pitched a half-step higher, so Gaudete played this Sonata up one half-step, in Eb. So it sounds in the same key as what Piffaro plays. This page has all the notes, and audio samples, for all of Vespers.

Thank you Paul Von Hoff and Gaudete Brass, for this opportunity! I’m looking forward so much to working with you!