Kile Smith

Classical Host

Kile Smith hosts the contemporary American music program Now Is the Time on Saturdays at 9 pm on HD-2 and the classical stream, and co-hosts Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on the first Saturday of every month at 5 pm with Jack Moore. Discoveries takes a fresh look at music in the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where Kile was curator for 18 years. He also fills in as an on-air classical host.
 
When he's not producing podcasts of CD reviews for WRTI, writing for the Broad Street Review, or teaching private composition, Kile is busy composing orchestral, choral, chamber, and liturgical works. His music is praised by critics and audiences for its emotional power, direct appeal, and strong voice. Gramophone magazine calls his Vespers "spectacular," possessing "sparkling beauty." The Philadelphia Inquirer describes his music as "breathtaking."
 
He's composed for The Crossing, Piffaro, Orchestra 2001, and the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival. He's also written for David Kim, concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jennifer Montone, Philadelphia's principal horn, and Anne Martindale Williams, principal cello of the Pittsburgh Symphony. His website is kilesmith.com.

The weeds in his ever-widening gardens hint that he needs to get outside more.

Ways To Connect

The composer Gustav Mahler once said, “A symphony must be like the world. It must contain everything.” If that is so, then Mahler’s second symphony, the “Resurrection,” is bigger, even, than that. 

Mahler had already tackled big questions in an orchestral work, called Funeral Rites. He played it on the piano for Hans von Bülow, and the conductor said that it made Wagner's Tristan und Isolde sound like Haydn. Mahler turned Funeral Rites into the first movement of his Resurrection symphony.

A caprice may be deeper than we think on Now Is the Time, Saturday, July 18th at 9 pm. Jeremy Gill’s just-released Capriccio with the Parker String Quartet is, at first glance, a series of technical exercises. But the pizzicatos, slides, duets, trios, and sound-painting are only the vehicles for deep music-making. We have time on the show for most, but not all of, Capriccio, and it’s an exhilarating ride.

This week we celebrate the birthday of the English composer Gerald Finzi, who was born July 14th, 1901 and died in 1956. His short life was filled with sorrow, but also with beauty—in his help for others, and in his music.

When Gerald Finzi was seven, his father died. Three brothers died while he was still young. His first composition teacher, who was very encouraging and who said that Finzi was shy but “full of poetry,” was killed in World War I.

This week in July of 1940, one of the most loved and most sung choral works - written by a composer living in Philadelphia - was premiered in western Massachusetts. But Randall Thompson’s Alleluia is almost the opposite of an “alleluia.”

From Randall Thompson, the composer who was then the Director of the Curtis Institute of Music, conductor Serge Koussevitzky requested a loud and festive choral fanfare. It was to open the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.

On this month’s Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, July 4th, 5-6 pm, we meet the new curator, Gary Galván. He’s worked at the Collection since 2005 on research and special projects, but this year took over the reins as the seventh curator of the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance material. Galván will discuss the composers on the program and give us an idea of some of his plans for the future of the Collection.

In Opera Philadelphia's Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, composer Daniel Schnyder illuminates the life of the groundbreaking jazz saxophonist. But, as WRTI’s Kile Smith reports, while the music is all original, the composer couldn’t help slipping in just a taste of Parker for the opera’s lead tenor, Lawrence Brownlee.
 

What composer Daniel Schnyder did not want to write in his opera about the great Charlie Parker was warmed-over bebop. His opera, Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, is original through and through.

We are all connected on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 20th at 9 pm. We just learned that composer Brian Fennelly passed away on Wednesday; his loving celebration of his granddaughter was already programmed for this week’s broadcast, so we will close our look at contemporary American music on a bittersweet note with that work, Fennelly’s “Sigol” for Strings.

I never met him, but going back a few years, to my time at the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, I had infrequent, but memorable, correspondence with Brian Fennelly. He was always warm, always sincere, and always interested in what I was doing. He was humble and kind, and when I asked him to send me some of his music for Now Is the Time, I discovered, as many already had, a composer of deep feeling and care.

Opening the program, Paul Lansky’s Threads takes the form of a Bach cantata, but for percussion quartet, mixing sonorities in ever-delightful ways. Michael Colquhon performs on flute his own You Can’t Get There From Here, and Martin Rokeach in North Beach Rhapsody sends us a postcard of San Francisco and the energy that connects all of us, no matter where we live. May music continue to connect us all.

Before Richard Strauss, before Richard Wagner, more than Hansel and Gretel, and even more than Mozart, the most German opera is, and always will be, Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber.

The Freeshooter or The Marksman tells the story of Max, a man so in love with Agatha that he sells his soul—almost. To win her hand he must first win a shooting match, accepting an offer for magic bullets, bullets that cannot miss. They are forged in the deep forest by Samiel, the personification of Evil.

Erik Satie

In June of 1912, Igor Stravinsky premiered the piano version of his daring new work The Rite of Spring, a year before its orchestral unveiling. His piano-playing partner was none other than Claude Debussy. Classical music has never been the same since the public first heard it.
 

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday June 6th, 5 to 6 pm. Since his name is not Debussy or Ravel or Satie, and since his name was not in a group called “Les Six,” the overlooked French composer of the 20th century’s first half may well be Jacques Ibert. But since 2015 is the 125th anniversary of his birth, this is a good time for Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection to assess his music.

Critics have often called Jacques Ibert “eclectic,” but that may have more to do with their not being able to pigeon-hole him into one school of music or another. What stands out most of all about Ibert, though, is that he is a remarkably resourceful composer. His efficiently scored works are always beautiful, and more often than not have a theatrical flair.

He knew what he was doing from the beginning. He had already won the top prize, the Prix de Rome, at the Paris Conservatory, but then went into the French Navy during the First World War. Even through these years, however, his compositional gifts were percolating. He began a substantial orchestral work based on the Oscar Wilde poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol,” at this time. Wilde, who had been imprisoned at Reading, witnessed the hanging of a man who had murdered his wife. One line in the poem has become famous: “Each man kills the thing he loves.”

The 1922 premiere of The Ballad of Reading Gaol was conducted by fellow composer Gabriel Pierné, and was a success. Another success immediately followed it. Escales, or Ports of Call, is inspired by Ibert’s naval experiences in the Mediterranean. He salutes Rome and Palermo in the first movement, the Tunisian cities of Tunis and Nafta in the second, and gives over the final movement to the Spanish port of Valencia.

Ibert composed Divertissement as incidental music for a 1929 theatrical comedy, but within a year produced a concert version. It and Escales are his two most popular orchestral works, and along with Reading Gaol made a name for Ibert, opened doors to publishers, and eventually led to the directorship of the French Academy in Rome, where he spent much of his life as an ambassador in Italy for all things French. He composed operas, piano music, film music (even for Gene Kelly and Orson Welles), and much else.

His life was not without setback, however. World War II interrupted his stay in Italy, and then the Nazi-allied Vichy government ruling France banned his music. He ended up in Switzerland, but returned to France—and his beloved Italy—when peace returned to Europe.

So for the 125th anniversary of the birth of Jacques Ibert it’s two familiar works, and (because it’s Discoveries) something not so. All in all, it’s the hard-to-label but nevertheless gorgeous music of Jacques Ibert.

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