Category Archives: Dance Music

Nobility & Melomanie on WWFM

listenliveDavid Osenberg interviews my friends in the Baroque/new music chamber group Mélomanie tonight on WWFM’s Cadenza, Thursday at 10 pm Eastern, with a rebroadcast at 7 am Saturday January 31st.

Two movements from my dance suite The Nobility of Women will air. This sextet for Baroque instruments is from their new CD Excursions; read more about their new all-contemporary CD at Mélomanie’s website here.

The Nobility of Women

The Nobility of Women
2011; Baroque fl, ob, vn, viola da gamba, Baroque vc, harpsichord; 20′
Commissioned and premiered by Mélomanie

excursions-500x500This 20-minute work takes its name from the 1600 dance instruction manual Nobiltà di Dame by Fabritio Caroso. The name of the book alone captivated me. I used none of the music from Nobiltà di Dame, but rather imagined a piece that would grow out of a work with that title. I also wanted to write legitimate dance music, that is, music that people could really dance to if they liked. Mélomanie is skilled in Baroque and new music, and I’ve enjoyed writing for historical instruments in the past. The sound-world is entrancing, so I’ve tried to compose a work that would release the beauties of these fabulous instruments, including some short and not-so-short solos throughout.

Here’s where you can purchase the CD Excursions which includes Nobility!

“Kile Smith’s eight-movement The Nobility of Women completes the recording, going beyond references to dance suites, paying direct homage to a 16th-century dance manual for women. More than the others, Smith is comfortable with close imitation of 17th-century techniques and tonality.”—Early Music America

Here’s a post on the first rehearsal, and here are reviews of the premiere in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chestnut Hill Local. Below are excerpts from the premiere.

Branle Reprise 

The Red Book of Montserrat premieres at Kimmel

KimmelI could hardly have been happier at the premiere of The Red Book of Montserrat last night at the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia. This newest string orchestra work is a 20-minute suite commissioned by the Philadelphia Sinfonia, Gary White, music director. There’s more information here about the work and how I went about composing it.

One of the things I wanted to make sure to mention in my remarks from the stage before the performance was how fortunate I felt in having these young people play my music. I said that I was looking over my shoulder a bit, because The Red Book was sandwiched between Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov, and Scheherazade, composed by Rimsky-Korsakov.

I hold R-K in the highest reverence as a composer and most especially, as an orchestrator (you can’t really separate the two, but that’s another article), and so, as I felt Tchaikovsky’s presence last week with Three Dances, I was certainly aware of Rimsky last night. He can spring an orchestra’s sound off the stage like nobody else. I was laughing and shaking my head at all the brilliant instrumental chess moves he was making all evening.

But, as I said before my piece, I had an ace in the hole: the players of Sinfonia and their conductor. They were marvelous. Red Book made its impact with their impassioned performance. The many small (and not so small) first-chair solos were lovely, the overlapping washes of sound in the fourth movement were delicious, the dance rhythms were crisp, the sound was big and juicy.

As I also said, I’m honored and humbled by being allowed to compose, and to compose for the Philadelphia Sinfonia. A thrilling performance, a thrilling concert!

The Red Book of Montserrat


The Red Book of Montserrat is a suite for string orchestra commissioned by the Philadelphia Sinfonia, the excellent youth orchestra Gary White directs. It sets five of the ten songs from the Llibre Vermell de Montserrat, the 14th-century book of music and texts from the monastery in Spain. Montserrat is a holy site of pilgrimage, a shrine to the Virgin Mary; the songs praise her and appeal to her for guidance. The tunes are well-known to early-music aficionados and played often in various guises by many ensembles. I wanted to see how they might dance in a string orchestra.

One of the challenges in composing this was to maintain interest in a strings-only setting of repeated verses meant for singing. I employed a variety of string techniques to do this, by no means avant-garde: some harmonics, divisi, pizzicato, solo writing. But they were enough, I thought, to keep the players on their toes while playing archaic rhythms in a modal harmonic language.

My hopes were that they would enjoy learning a new, energetic work, and that I would have used the traditional string ensemble to full advantage.

The piece is about 20 minutes long. The Philadelphia Sinfonia premiered 16 May 2013 at the Perelman Theatre, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia. A sneak preview of movements 2 and 3 was performed 17 Feb 2013 at St. Stephen’s Church, 10th Street below Market in Philadelphia.

These are the movements and descriptions, with the original Llibre Vermell order of songs and titles, the full score, and recorded excerpts from the premiere:

Full score

1. Empress of the Joyous City of Paradise 

#9, Imperayritz de la ciutat joyosa de paradis. Uses solos and half-sections to alter the color. Prominent is the hemiola rhythm, typical of early music, which splits the 6/4 bar two different ways, 3+3 and 2+2+2.

2. O Virgin, Shining Brightly 

#1, O Virgo splendens. “O resplendent Virgin, here on the high mountain, glowing with miraculous wonders, where the believers from everywhere ascend. Ah, with your gentle loving eye behold those caught in the bonds of sin, to let them not suffer the blows of Hell, but let them be with the blessed by your intercession.” A chant-like, rolling melody. The three-part canon is indicated in the original manuscript; I underlaid it with simple, musing bass lines.

3. Splendid Star on the Mountain 

#2, Stella splendens. The repeating verses are interspersed with a chorus of the same music, heightening the need for unflagging interest in the orchestration. Solos with varying degrees of embellishment are used throughout.

4. Our Queen above All Heavens 

#6, Polorum Regina. Meditative and static with simple imitation of a glowing melody, this splits some string sections into three parts over a ruminating bass.

5. We Hasten to Death 

#10, Ad mortem festinamus. A sermon in the decidedly non-morbid, rollicking, Totentanz tradition: “We hasten to death, let us desist from sin. I have resolved to write about the contempt of the world, so that this degenerate age will not pass in vain. Now is the hour to rise from the evil sleep of death. Life is short, and shortly it will end; death arrives faster than anyone believes.” Everyone from king to priest to rich to pauper joins hands with Death. And dances.

Thank you, Mélomanie, for Nobility of Women encore

Had a blast at Mélomanie’s season opener last night: Telemann, Boismoitier, a Chris Braddock world premiere, and selections from recent commissions, including The Nobility of Women, which they had premiered in January.

I always enjoy hearing the music of Ingrid Arauco, Mark Hagerty, and Chuck Holdeman. I love hearing Priscilla play… anything, or anything of mine, or that Boismoitier, which was a delight. The audience loved everything.

Nobility was represented by the Sarabande (Priscilla’s solo, with cello and harpsichord) and the closing Canario (which also closed the concert), with the whole band. Immanuel Church Highlands in Wilmington is a jewel of a venue for concerts: live, but not too, and beautiful. Mélomanie sounded terrific.

Truth be told, you do take a chance with so many live composers on one concert. Many came up after, in the sanctuary or at the Columbus Inn reception, to tell me how much they were transported by Nobility. Especially did I appreciate the comments of one woman, who was moved by my ingenious picturing of the river. She could really feel the movement of the water, and all I could do was thank her. She was so dear and inspiring with her compliments that I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t Mark Hagerty.

(He deserved those compliments for Trois Rivières, so I happily passed them along to him!)

The Nobility of Women, Mélomanie season opener

Mélomanie’s 2012-13 season begins tomorrow night at Immanuel Church, Highlands in Wilmington with a potpourri of excerpted recent commissions. The Nobility of Women will be on the program, along with music by Ingrid Arauco, Mark Hagerty, Chuck Holdeman, and the premiere of The Grease in the Groove by Chris Braddock. Boismortier and Telemann are on tap, and Priscilla’s playing, too!

I cannot be objective about the Braddock piece, because it has a 12-string guitar, and I automatically love anything with a 12-string guitar.

Mélomanie always puts on a great show, and it’ll be great seeing them all again.

Mad Men CD, David Carbonara

My latest CD mini-review for WRTI, including podcast with musical excerpts. You can read all my CD reviews here

Matthew Weiner, the creator of the hugely popular TV series Mad Men—now in its fifth season—works very hard at going beneath the surface to capture the look of the 1960s, from company logo typefaces to office equipment tints to the shine in a pair of trousers. Mad Men composer David Carbonara labors just as much on the show’s music to express that era; he’s a composer of acutely original pieces.

Mad Men, Original Soundtrack from the TV Series, Vol. 1 is filled mostly with standards from artists such as Gordon Jenkins (“Caravan”), Vic Damone (“On the Street Where You Live”), and Ella Fitzgerald, who makes an appearance with “Manhattan.” “Fly Me to the Moon” is Julie London’s luscious pizzicato-tinged string version, not Frank Sinatra’s better-known big-band hit.

But for lovers of music in the cracks—not pop, not concert, but what, exactly—the reason to look for this CD may be David Carbonara himself.

Weiner chooses most of the period songs, but “Lipstick” by Carbonara is a distillation (if you will, given all the imbibing in the series) of music in the twilight: slightly lounge, slightly jazz, and as rebellious as one may appear while keeping one’s hair in place.

 It’s the sound of muted trumpets, punchy trombones, low flutes, snapping fingers, walking bass lines, one-handed laconic piano playing (necessary while stubbing out a cigarette), and that child of the time, the Hammond organ. His “Mad Men Suite” is likewise all delicately drawn atmosphere.

A big surprise is the inclusion of the traditional round “Babylon,” known by many (anachronistically for the show) from Don McLean’s 1971 album American Pie. In one episode it was worked into a Village mandolin-strummed folk happening (with Carbonara briefly on camera, playing autoharp!). Its text comes right out of Psalm 137, “By the waters of Babylon, we laid down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

What that has to do with the advertising world, legions of die-hard Mad Men fans will know. There’s a lot going on here beneath the surface.