Three Things I Learned from Gregg Smith

Blues on Now Is the Time

KucharzIt’s blue and it’s the blues on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 20th at 9 pm, We pick a Blueberry Rag-A-Muffin to begin the program, one of Linda Robbins Coleman’s many delightful piano rags, and then turn to the second movement of David Amram’s Violin Concerto, called Blues, which also includes an extended saxophone solo.

Larry Kucharz is represented by two of his ambient electronic works, Blue Drawing No. 02 and 03, while Mason Bates juggles blues fragments in his piano homage to Alan Lomax, White Lies for Lomax. John King puts the string quartet Ethel through its blues paces in ’Round Sunrise, and with Symphony in Blue for solo piano, Kamran Ince interprets a painting of the same name.

Linda Robbins Coleman: Blueberry Rag-A-Muffin
David Amram: Blues, from Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Larry Kucharz: Blue Drawing No. 02
Mason Bates: White Lies for Lomax
John King: ’Round Sunrise
Larry Kucharz: Blue Drawing No. 03
Kamran Ince: Symphony in Blue

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! 

Jupiter’s Moons on Now Is the Time


Jupiter’s moon Callisto

We’re looking at the sky and beyond on Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 13th at 9 pm, Dark Clouds Bring Waters is William McClelland’s setting of John Bunyan: “Dark clouds bring waters, when the bright bring none.” Elena Ruehr follows that with lovely music for flute and piano, Of Water and Clouds.

from Elena Ruehr: Of Water and Clouds

The first of two substantial works for piano is Judith Lang Zaimont’s Jupiter’s Moons, and the composer Beata Moon (we know, it’s a stretch, but a good excuse to hear her always-appealing music!) ends the show with her Piano Sonata from 2006. In between the two piano works is a trio for clarinet, bassoon, and piano, written by Justin Rubin honoring the birth of a little boy, Night Song for Noa.

William McClelland: Dark Clouds Bring Waters
Elena Ruehr: Of Water and Clouds
Judith Lang Zaimont: Jupiter’s Moons
Justin Rubin: Night Song for Noa
Beata Moon: Piano Sonata

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! 

Pick Up the Pieces on Now Is the Time

QuartetSanFranciscoPieces of this and that country make up Now Is the Time, Saturday, August 6th at 9 pm. Two works of Mason Bates seemingly float in space, as Chanticleer sings the Maori-inspired Observer in the Magellanic Cloud, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project performs Mothership, along with electronics and a guzheng, the Chinese zither. Argentine sounds invest the lovely Dances of Mario Broeders for flute and harp, and the Cambodian American Chinary Ung brings Water Rings Overture for orchestra.

George Crumb sets one of his favorite poets, Federico Garcia Lorca, in Spanish Songbook I, or The Ghosts of Alhambra, for baritone, guitar, and percussion. In the midst of all this, Jeremy Cohen takes the Average White Band’s pop/jazz hit Pick Up the Pieces and arranges it for his band, which just happens to be a string quartet.

from Mason Bates: Mothership 

Mason Bates: Observer in the Magellanic Cloud
Mario Broeders: Dances
Average White Band, arr. Cohen: Pick Up the Pieces
Mason Bates: Mothership
George Crumb: The Ghosts of Alhambra
Chinary Ung: Water Rings Overture

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! 

Anton Seidl and New Music in the New World

On the next Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, July 2nd, 5–6 pm on WRTI-FM:

Richard Wagner (1810-1883): Die Meistersinger, Prelude (1862)
Victor Herbert (1859-1924): Cello Concerto No. 2 (1894)
Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, Prelude and Love Death (1857–59)

Conductor Anton Seidl

Conductor Anton Seidl

As we’ve seen this year on Discoveries, the rise of American orchestral music followed composers and orchestras, as you might think. And because orchestras have leaders, we’ve started looking at conductors, too.

We began last month with Theodore Thomas, who not only led his own ensemble but helped start the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In between—along with many other jobs—he directed the New York Philharmonic Society from 1877 to 1891, after having played in its first violin section since 1854. Thomas solidified classic German orchestral literature—beginning with its central voice, Beethoven—in the Philharmonic. He also brought in the new and revolutionary Richard Wagner.

Seidl and Wagner

When Thomas left for Chicago in 1891, the Hungarian Anton Seidl took over in New York. As a boy, he had thought of becoming a priest, loving to read the mass and to preach to his friends. But his love of music, and his adeptness at it, won out. He studied at the Hungarian National Academy, which Franz Liszt directed, then went to the Leipzig Conservatory, and began copying and preparing operas for performance, working with none other than Wagner himself, who launched him on his career as a sought-after opera conductor.

In 1885, after a stint at Bremen’s opera house, he accepted the call from New York and became a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde both had their American premieres at the Met under Seidl. Soon, the Philharmonic noticed, and as he took over from Thomas in 1891, New York was already America’s musical powerhouse. Many other Europeans crossed the Atlantic to perform or to set up shop there.

Antonin Dvořák was one; he ran New York’s National Conservatory for a few years and in 1893 the Philharmonic commissioned his Symphony No. 9, “From the New World.” Seidl had already been at the helm of the Philharmonic for two years, so the world premiere performance of the “New World” Symphony was conducted by Anton Seidl.

Victor Herbert

Someone else who made the American voyage (in 1886) was an Irish cellist and composer who had studied in Germany, Victor Herbert. He took a job at the Met when his new wife, a soprano, was hired there. He also taught at the National Conservatory. Operettas would later make him famous (Babes in Toyland, Naughty Marietta), but he was a gifted composer of concert music. In 1894 Seidl conducted, and Herbert soloed, in the premiere of his most successful work, the Cello Concerto No. 2, with the Philharmonic.

Seidl, being well trained in Hungary and Germany, believed strongly in education. “America does not need gorgeous halls and concert rooms for its musical development, but music schools with competent teachers,” he once said. But the role of friends to help pave the way was not lost on him. He benefited from Wagner’s influence, and he gave back, too. On the boat to America, in fact, who befriended the newlyweds Mr. and Mrs. Herbert, on the way to new jobs in New York? It would be the one who had hired them: Anton Seidl.

Summertime on Now Is the Time

MayaBeiserUncoveredAt the gateway of August, summertime looks like it will never end—but it won’t be long until it begins to fade. On Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 30th at 9 pm, Dan Becker starts us off with a cut from his Fade album that looks forward and back, ReInvention 1a. Imagine a J. S. Bach invention run through a digital piano with postminimalist leanings, and maybe you can imagine the excitement and quirkiness of this piece. Then, Jennifer Higdon’s Dash for flute, clarinet, and piano is all that and a cloud of dust.

Joseph Fennimore’s Sixteenth Romance for piano is filled with beauty and warmth, and three dances inhabit the introspective Summermusic of Robert Sirota, a pavane, notturno, and round dance. From Emma Lou Diemer’s CD Summer Day, her complete works for violin and piano, is Three Hymns. Diemer accompanies Philip Ficsor here, but as organist she may have played these any number of times for Vacation Bible School: “’Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

Higdon, also a flutist, returns to really make the solo flute fly in rapid*fire, a tour de force in the repertoire. In Summertime, cellist Maya Beiser covers Janis Joplin, one of the many who had covered Gershwin’s song from Porgy and Bess. This arrangement by Evan Ziporyn is from Beiser’s CD Uncovered.

from Dan Becker: ReInvention 1a 

Dan Becker: ReInvention 1a
Jennifer Higdon: Dash
Joseph Fennimore: Sixteenth Romance
Robert Sirota: Summermusic
Emma Lou Diemer: Three Hymns
Jennifer Higdon: rapid*fire
Gershwin/Joplin/Evan Ziporyn: Summertime

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! 

All the Hits of the ’60s

[First published in the Broad Street Review 27 Jul 2016. Reprinted here by permission.]

And the beat goes on. (Illustration for BSR by Mike Jackson of

There was work to be done at the top of the cedar, beaten by storms, and on the still-grand oak, but the main business for the professionals was the two flowering pear trees in the side yard. Those they took down to the ground.

I had planted them, just sticks, 15 years ago. They grew past the promised 30’ high and 30’ wide and kept going, into our house, into the neighbors’. I’d get into them every year with the pole saw but it became too much. So they’re gone. We’ll miss the shade, but it’s the north side, so to the ferns and butterfly bushes we’ll add wildflowers and, I don’t know, maybe a walk, just individual flagstones winding through.

The first cut is the deepest

But first, the surface roots, springing suckers all over. I took the digging shovel, the loppers, and the splitting maul from the shed. To make room for flower and vegetable gardens over the years I’ve yanked out 40 feet of privet hedge in the front, another 50 on the side, and mostly-dead japonicas and muscular, stubborn yews, all with these tools.

The splitting maul is the horse, a magnificently brutal instrument, half a sledgehammer and half an axe. Expose the root with the shovel, grab the maul, and have at it. The loppers get the finger-sized secondary roots that gnarl into the dirt, but the maul is the main event.

Sharpen it to give it bite, then lift it and drop it. Let it do the work. Give a little ictus, like a conductor bouncing the baton at the bottom of the beat, but give from your feet, and just a little. If you force it, you’ll be on a knee sucking wind in 90 seconds. Plus, forcing makes you miss, which you wouldn’t think matters since this isn’t brain surgery, but matters in a hurry if the wrong angle makes it ricochet. You don’t want to ricochet a splitting maul.

Thwack! The white flesh of the root reveals itself. Thwack! Wood chips and dirt fly. Thwack! Your body aligns, you breathe, and you remember tunes. The sweat comes. Thwack! “Hot town, summer in the city / Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty.”

Thwack. The root moves. You bend down and feel in the dirt for where to hit next. Sweat overcomes an eyebrow and drops, stinging an eye. You wipe your wet face and forehead with the bottom of your t-shirt. The beating heart and dit-dit-dit-dit of “I Think We’re Alone Now” comes, Tommy James and the Shondells. The groups sounding like they recorded at a party arrive: Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, silly but earnest, uncaringly out of tune.

The chord that cut you then

That satellite ’60s channel is in your car now, so you’re hearing them: all the Hits of the ’60s. The Beatles, Motown, sure, but a lot you haven’t heard in 20, 40, 50 years. And some leap at you as soon as they’re exposed.

Your favorite may be “You Were On My Mind,” the We Five. Bup-bup, “When I woke up this morning…” bup-bup-bup-bup. Then, here it comes. “I got troubles, whoa-oh”: that one rhythm chord, right there, simultaneously resolved and unresolved, the three burrowed into the four, the mi with the fa. That’s the chord that cut you then, and still you’re a sucker for it; how many times have you used that chord?

You chuckle, wipe more sweat, then stand and slowly straighten your back.

Thwack. The largo opening to “Let’s Hang On,” the Four Seasons. Brilliant songs, Burt Bacharach / Dionne Warwick, “Say a Little Prayer”; bleeding songs, Glen Campbell / Jimmy Webb, “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston.” “What the World Needs Now,” Bacharach again, the Jackie DeShannon version, with, of all things, a solo on…that’s got to be a euphonium. A euphonium!

Even swing vines itself into the ’60s. “I Love You More Today than Yesterday,” you won’t hear a better kick-drum. “It’s Not Unusual” from helden-throated Tom Jones. “Hot Fun in the Summertime” from that most righteous band, Sly and the Family Stone. Thwack.

The note you would always sing

Over an hour and you don’t know how much more you’ve got in you, in the sun. The roots metaphor is not lost on you, but these, you’re tearing these from the ground. The songs? You only wonder why some stuck, and why they’re in your music, because, admit it, they are.

The Left Banke and the keening “Walk Away Renée” (strings, oboe, harpsichord—what was it with harpsichords then?). It always, always catches you in the throat with backup harmonies—how you adore backup harmonies—that move, of course, in the pop lingua franca of parallel motion, except for that one note holding on for dear life through each chord-change. That’s the note you would always sing. And she always walked away.

And oh, the Association, stealing the words out of your nine-year-old head and singing “Cherish” out loud in front of everyone: “You don’t know how many time I’ve wished….” Lyrics exegeting your growing rage at a hole in the language you’d learn only later had already been filled, long ago, by troubadours: unrequited.

Thwack. One more. Thwack. The last root finally yields; you rip it up and toss it to the pile. Good thing, too, because you’re done in. Covered in sweat, you lay the splitting maul on the ground by the fence. You scrape dirt back into the scars you dug and hacked, and press them smooth with your feet.

You hold the hose over your neck, over your head. You hold it into your face and drink from it, like when you were a kid. You put it down and smile because you know the names of chords now, don’t you, but you still don’t know why one chord from the We Five cuts you in two.

But you do know more—more music, more words—and you’ve grown past nine and have kept going. You look around. You think, yes, you will put flagstones here, a walk winding through.