Category Archives: new music

Bubbling Up on Now Is the Time

from the CD cover, Juri Seo: Mostly Piano

It’s the spirit of jazz on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 6th at 9 pm on WRTI.org and WRTI-HD2. We wanted to call #three “Pound Three” but our (increasingly numerous, as the years go by) younger colleagues said, “Hashtag. Duh.” Unperturbed, we contacted the composer Juri Seo (younger than some of our young colleagues), who assured us that saying “Three” was just fine. So there, colleagues. Tune in to see if we pronounced it correctly, but in any case, #three is a rollicking bit of jazz-lick-inspired fun, with riffs tumbling awry among the piano, bass, and percussion.

Allen Shawn performs his own Four Jazz Preludes, which are at the same time lyrical, entertaining, and dearly felt. Philip Thompson brings a big-band feel to a small ensemble in the propulsive yet haunting Separate Self, inspired by fabric sculptures. “Ragtime is in my blood,” says Judith Zaimont, and her Bubble-Up Rag—here, arranged for flute and piano—is a juicy example of her concert rag repertoire. All fun, thoughtful, and brilliant pieces on Now Is the Time!

PROGRAM:
Juri Seo: #three
Allen Shawn: Four Jazz Preludes
Philip Thompson: Separate Self
Judith Lang Zaimont: Bubble-Up Rag

Well, what would you call a piece for wah-wah tubes? Wah by Juri Seo:

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

Poulenc Couldn’t Believe What Ravel Said about Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday 5–6 pm on WRTI-FM… One hundred years ago, 18-year-old Francis Poulenc was looking for a composition teacher, and being recommended by the pianist Ricardo Viñes to Maurice Ravel, went to meet him, scores in hand. Ravel was already well-known, having composed much of the music for which he is famous today.

He was also part of the new breezes blowing through French music at the time of the First World War. Generations were traveling in new directions with Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Ravel, and others, away from the German symphonic tradition and away from the 19th century. Viñes and Ravel were part of a group, in fact, that met regularly to play for each other and to discuss these very issues. “The Apaches” they called themselves, the name not only of the Native American nation, but also a French word meaning “The Hooligans.” How apt for the young Poulenc, just starting, to learn from Ravel, a master in this new world.

The young man played some of Ravel’s music at the piano, but Ravel quickly stopped him to look at Poulenc’s own music. Criticizing it, he suggested he ought to consider the music of someone who was a genius: Camille Saint-Saëns.

Saint-Saëns?! That old man, was he even still alive? Yes, he lived to 86, dying in 1921. Saint-Saëns, that curmudgeon who detested everything new, who called Debussy’s music noise, who after The Rite of Spring called Stravinsky insane? Saint-Saëns, who churned out music without effort and without depth and without soul by the truckload? And worst of all, in 1917: Saint-Saëns, that most German of French composers? Ravel recommended Saint-Saëns?

What is it about Saint-Saëns? We hardly know what to make of him. Some of the best-loved music is his: the “Organ” Symphony, Danse macabre, Introduction and Rondo capriccioso, Carnival of the Animals, and piano, violin, and cello concertos. But there are hundreds of works, and he may be the composer who never had an off day (Dvořák is another). His music has an ease that can be mistaken for lack of angst, a refusal to meet emotion head-on. Hector Berlioz (while recognizing his talent) famously said about Saint-Saëns, “He knows everything, but lacks inexperience.”

But go past the famous Saint-Saëns and appreciate what might be his real genius. His First Cello Concerto is ubiquitous, but some consider the Second to be even grander. The Organ Symphony, his Third, is justly revered, but the early Second is a deft handling of contrasts and balances. Symphonies and concertos were forms as German as any, and they kept many French composers at arms-length from Saint-Saëns, but we can appreciate the elegance, the clarity, the control of forces. He isn’t baring his soul as much as he is letting us cultivate ours.

We can do that, if we allow ourselves to hear his voice, to open our hearts to Saint-Saëns. “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” is the gorgeous mezzo-soprano aria from the opera Samson and Delilah, and it can remind us that while Poulenc left Ravel disappointed, we might do well to take his advice.

PROGRAM:
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921). Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix, from Samson and Delilah (1877)
Saint-Saëns. Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 119 (1902)
Saint-Saëns. Symphony No. 2 (1859)

Lounge Lizards on Now Is the Time

from the CD

All varieties of vernacular show up this week on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 29th at 9 pm on WRTI.org and WRTI-HD2. With movements like Sip ’N Stir (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) and Ramada Inn (Exit 1, New Jersey Turnpike), it sure sounds like Michael Daugherty, and those are two of the movements from his Lounge Lizards for two pianos and two percussion. Jeremy Haladyna dips into Mayan myth for Only Armadillos They Danced, and accompanies a string quartet with scratch turntable. In her Mosquito for piano, Jing Jin Luo follows the insect closely, ending with quite a kerfuffle.

Nickitas Demos brings together clarinets and saxophones, but only two players, in Citizens of Nowhere, and David Rakowski has one player perform on both piano and toy piano—sometimes simultaneously—in his 88th Etude for piano, subtitled Toyed Together. Kamran Ince’s Two-Step Passion is an elemental romp in this arrangement for chamber orchestra, and the always entertaining Eric Moe somehow suggests a mackerel, a catfish, and Catch and Release as Three Ways to Relieve Tension.

PROGRAM:
Michael Daugherty: Lounge Lizards
Jeremy Haladyna: Only Armadillos They Danced
Jing Jing Luo: Mosquito
Nickitas Demos: Citizens of Nowhere
David Rakowski: Etude No. 88, Toyed Together
Kamran Ince: Two-Step Passion
Eric Moe: Three Ways to Relieve Tension

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

Easter Weekend on Now Is the Time

Gravestone detail from Evan Chambers CD, The Old Burying Ground

Life awaits its birth this Saturday before Easter on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 15th at 9 pm on WRTI.org and WRTI-HD2. Evan Chambers walks through a graveyard and is inspired by inscriptions and poetry in the Introduction to The Old Burying Ground and its last section, Paths of Peace. Then, an empty building in a Memphis night wonders if the sun will ever return, in Abandoned, a monodrama by Kamran Ince.

“Will There Really Be a Morning?” is the first of Four Dickinson Songs by Lori Laitman, and Bora Yoon goes to the chant of Hildegard of Bingen for the Hymn to the Virgin O viridissima virga, “O branch of freshest green.” Justin Rubin turns to Native American flute, modern flute, viola, and cello for Breath of Life. Its three sections are The Yellow Light of Dawn, Beautiful Clouds Arising, and Incantation.

PROGRAM:
Evan Chambers: The Old Burying Ground, excerpts
Kamran Ince: Abandoned
Lori Laitman: Four Dickinson Songs
Bora Yoon: O viridissima virga
Justin Rubin: Breath of Life

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

From Pi to Prime on Now Is the Time

Another Pi Day, 3/14, just slipped by, so let’s hear the magic of numbers on Now Is the Time on WRTI this Saturday, March 18th at 9 pm. Reginald Bain based his Pi Day on… well, you’ll hear as much of the 3.1415926… sequence that can fit into four minutes and 50 seconds, read aloud over his inventively pulsing music. You can check here to see if he got it right.

From a number the end of which is unattainable we then go to Unattainable Spaces by David Laganella, abstract music based on an abstract painting. We see a recognizable number in Daniel Schnyder’s The Iron Tetrapod, but have no idea what a Quiptych is, until we enjoy a piece with that title by David Evan Thomas, performed by Zeitgeist.

For pianist Jerome Lowenthal, Ned Rorem wrote 75 Notes for Jerry, and for the Baroque/new music ensemble Mélomanie, composer and lutenist Mark Rimple composed Partita 622. Mark Zuckerman’s Proverbs for Four at Fifty sets Hebrew scriptures to celebrate the jubilee of 50th birthdays. Then our numbers program, which started with pi, closes by circling back to Reginald Bain and his entertaining piece The Music of the Primes.

PROGRAM:
Reginald Bain: Pi Day
David Laganella: Unattainable Spaces
Daniel Schnyder: The Iron Tetrapod
David Evan Thomas: Quiptych
Ned Rorem: 75 Notes for Jerry
Mark Rimple: Partita 622
Mark Zuckerman: Proverbs for Four at Fifty
Reginald Bain: The Music of the Primes

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

Overtures, Fanfares, and Brass on Now Is the Time

whitacre

Eric Whitacre

On Saturday, February 18th at 9 pm, Now Is the Time presents a taste of the upcoming Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia “Sounds of America” concert. We hope you can join us for a different look at some of the composers who will be represented on those February 26th and 27th concerts.

On Silver Wings for band is by Kenneth Fuchs; so is the overture for orchestra Discover the Wild. Eric Whitacre’s Her Sacred Spirit Soars finds a place here, as do three short works by John Corigliano for brass quintet, Antiphon, Fanfares to Music, and the Overture from his Gazebo Dances. All these come from a brand-new CD by the Gaudete Brass, celebrating Corigliano’s 75th birthday a few years ago.

Daron Hagen’s Concerto for Brass Quintet centers the program, and is a tour de force. In five movements for brass quintet alone—Sennets, Melodia, Invention, Romance, Tuckets—it’s a brilliant, strong work.

PROGRAM:
Kenneth Fuchs: On Silver Wings
John Corigliano: Gazebo Dances, Overture
Daron Hagen: Concerto for Brass Quintet
John Corigliano: Antiphon
Eric Whitacre: Her Sacred Spirit Soars
Kenneth Fuchs: Discover the Wild
John Corigliano: Fanfares to Music

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

Susquehanna

Susquehanna, An Overture for Orchestra. 2 Flutes, Piccolo, 2 Oboes, English Horn, 2 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 Trumpets, 3 Trombones, Tuba, Timpani, 3 Percussion, Strings. 8 minutes. Commissioned for the 40th Anniversary of the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra, Sheldon Bair, Founder and Music Director. Premiered 4 March 2017, Bel Air, Maryland.

Thanks to Paul DeLuca for putting this together!

Susquehanna was the first and last title I chose for this piece. Well, every title is the last choice, I suppose, but while Susquehanna was commissioned to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra, I rejected the title as soon as it had occurred to me.

susquehannatitlepage

Click on the page to view and download the score.

We’re used to Native American place names in this part of the country, but I wasn’t sure if Susquehanna would hold any attraction to anyone outside of Pennsylvania and Maryland. I cast about for other ideas. The 40th is the ruby anniversary, but Ruby reminded me of the Kenny Rogers song. It also sounded like I was trying to steal a title from Michael Torke, he of the many excellent color titles for his brilliant pieces, so I let it go. Generic, celebratory titles also did not appeal to me.

Going back to the Susquehanna River for which the orchestra is named (it empties into the Chesapeake very near the orchestra’s home in Bel Air, Maryland—I also toyed with Bel Air and Havre de Grace, come to think of it), I found that the Lenape words making up the name mean “oyster river.” I love oysters, especially raw, but I had hoped for something more appropriate to the occasion. My research brought me to the realization that I knew next to nothing about the Susquehanna. I knew it came from somewhere in New York State, went through Harrisburg, Pa., to the Chesapeake. That’s true, but an oversimplification. The closer I looked, the more fascinated with the Susquehanna I became.

It begins exactly in Cooperstown, exiting from Lake Otsego (also called Glimmerglass), not all that far from where my wife grew up. (Jackie was east of there, at the headwaters of the Delaware, and I grew up near the Delaware in South Jersey, but those are other stories.) The Susquehanna then slants southwest and drops, indeed, into Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania seemed to be so happy to welcome it, that it built a town right there and called it Susquehanna. But the river changes its mind and jumps right back into New York. This is what I never got before. It goes back up, to Binghamton, and then meanders around in South Central New York for a while, before swinging back, southeast, finally into Pennsylvania and coal country.

Between Scranton and Wilkes Barre it tacks southwest again, and is soon joined by the Susquehanna West Branch, having risen up well over in west central Pennsylvania, almost as far as DuBois and Punxsutawney. Up and down it winds, and just above Selinsgrove and Sunbury is where it decides to join the main branch. By now this is one seriously large waterway, barreling past Harrisburg, where Sheldon Bair grew up, and past Elizabethtown, where he went to college. Under Rt. 81 and under the Pennsylvania Turnpike is where most people will see the grand expanse of this river, as it heads in a fairly straight and wide southeastern shot, on into Maryland and the Chesapeake.

It is the longest East Coast river in the U.S. that empties into the Atlantic. It is also (I have no idea how they calculate this) one of the oldest rivers in the world. The river is older than the mountains it snakes through; how do they know that. Susquehanna, I now thought, was an excellent title.

The music follows an emotional traversal of the river’s course, but the main tune at letter H, introduced by the solo horn, has another source. Last year I wrote a hymn tune for the dedication of a new division of pipes in our church. I was in the early stages of thinking about the orchestra commission, and a few days after I finished the hymn, I knew that the tune was exactly the type of thing I needed for that spot in (what would be called) Susquehanna. There are some meter changes in the hymn because of how I handled the text, which I thought I would even out for Susquehanna, but it resisted every attempt at smoothing. So the meters stayed.

The music at the beginning of the piece I composed on top of, as it were, the hymn tune, with the idea that they could be played together near the end. The beginning is in D, the hymn is in G. Getting back to D should be an easy task, but my first attempts were unsatisfactory. I solved it with an unusual modulation. At letter K, at the full restatement of the beginning D major music, I underlay it with a strong pedal point of G, not D, which continues until the G major chord already in the theme arrives, nine bars later. Then it proceeds as normal, feeling, I do believe, as if it carries everything along with it, into Havre de Grace and the bay.