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

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.

It’s that sound...that unmistakable straight, round sound. But even though Miles Davis has a unique voice, that isn’t the only reason he’s one of the giants in the history of jazz.

Swing turned into bebop, and while the energy was exciting, the furious notes and harmonies threatened to turn jazz into a mere showcase for virtuosos. The music was starting to be overwhelmed. So were audiences.

Miles Davis slowed down the pace, making his music—and his trumpet—sound more like the human voice. He revolutionized music by going back to its roots.

Streetscape

May 23, 2015

It's all spontaneous fun this weekend on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 23rd at 9 pm. Paavo Järvi conducts a substantial orchestral work by Charles Coleman, Streetscape, then Patrick Beckman plays his own Funky, from his all-piano CD Street Dance. On the CD Dream Streets violinist/composer Cornelius Duffalo performs with an imaginative use of electronics; we'll hear introduction and cosmic clouds.

From a piano concerto whose movements are all in the key of D, Stefania de Kenessey has assembled a solo piano work Spontaneous D-Combustion. Charles Coleman returns with another Järvi, Kristjan, conducting his Absolute Ensemble in Young Worlds.

Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook

They perform at presidential inaugurations, state funerals, public concerts, all sorts of official functions, and, of course, in parades. They are the bands of the United States military. Each of the branches is served by a number of these ensembles, and the so-called premier bands take only first-tier musicians from conservatories and schools of music around the country.

Matthew Weiner, the creator of the hugely popular TV series Mad Men - now in its final 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.



As the popular AMC series Mad Men comes to an end, listen back to a revealing and humorous interview with Mad Men Music Editor David Carbonara from March, 2012, as he shares the inside story on how he writes music for Mad Men, how creator Matthew Weiner chooses the '60s songs, and how it's all mixed together to make a hit TV series. And how did he get this gig, anyway?

David, a former trombonist, spices the show with jazz-tinged music that lends flavor as much as the crisp dialogue and mod decor.

Maurice Jerry Beznos

One of the truly great pianists on the scene for decades now is Emanuel Ax. Known for his interpretations of the classical concerto repertoire with orchestras around the world, he is also a soloist and collaborator of wide range. From Beethoven to Hans Werner Henze to contemporary music, and even to Chopin on period keyboards, Emanuel Ax is always inquisitive.

It’s an English opera composed in Hollywood by a Russian. Igor Stravinsky saw the paintings and engravings by the 18th-century William Hogarth, depicting the consequences of loose living and licentiousness, centered on the fictional Tom Rakewell.

The English W. H. Auden and the American Chester Kallman then created a libretto that introduced a new character, Nick Shadow—the Devil—who entices Tom with promises of happiness and money. Tom loses everything, and ends up, literally, in Bedlam, the insane asylum, with the faithful Anne Trulove by his side.

Unseen Sounds

May 1, 2015

We can almost see the music on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 2nd at 9 pm. Robert Moran took snippets of words from a 30-year correspondence with John Cage and worked them into this delicious three-part work for chorus, Seven Sounds Unseen.

Nicolas Scherzinger spins musical motifs within a chamber ensemble and imagines what they would sound like if held up to Fractured Mirrors. The particular sand of the Gobi Desert, they say, sings when the wind blows a certain way. Bright Sheng conducts two ensembles in The Singing Gobi Desert, Music from China and the Prism Saxophone Quartet, with whom he imagines hearing the sand and viewing a mirage—the archetype of seeing and not-seeing.

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 2nd, 5-6 pm... It’s a symphony from 100 years ago, from someone not known for writing symphonies. Or is it even a symphony? Richard Strauss calls his own 50-minute work An Alpine Symphony, and the composer ought to have some authority here, but he referred to his earlier Domestic Symphony as a tone poem. In 22 continuous movements, not four separate ones, An Alpine Symphony certainly sounds like a symphonic poem, and not a symphony.

He did write two symphonies, No. 1 when he was 16 and No. 2 when he was 20, but they hardly saw the light of day. When he was in a position to record his own music, he never bothered with them. As he became older and more adept at using larger and larger orchestral forces, Strauss looked for newer means of expression, often referring to “the symphony” as outmoded. The tone poem, with its literary and philosophical underpinnings, each one with a form unique to itself, became his signature. The sunny From Italy led to Don Juan and Death and Transfiguration, then Macbeth and Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, then his monumental grapple with Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra. They all poured out in less than 10 years. Don Quixote followed, then the autobiographical A Hero’s Life and Domestic Symphony.

Strauss created operas and many, many other works during this time, but by 1915 he was able to work on this, the final version of the Alpine Symphony. He had begun sketching it in 1899 and seems to have wanted to make it into an actual symphony, but described the process to a friend as “torturing.” Then he came up with the idea of making it a picture—with philosophical undertones—of a hike up and down a mountain. It depicts an 11-hour excursion, from night through sunrise, forests, meadows, pastures, a wrong turn, a glacier, the summit, a storm, a hurried descent, sunset, and night again.

Major themes work their way through it but what is most arresting about An Alpine Symphony is Strauss’s mastery of the orchestra. He calls for a gigantic ensemble about twice the size needed for even large orchestral works. At one point, an offstage band mimics a hunting party going by—its music has nothing to do with the onstage music and it’s never heard again—but that alone requires an extra 16 brass players. There’s a wind machine, thunder machine, cowbells, and if that were not enough, an organ.

Strauss, recognized by all as the consummate orchestrator among his colleagues past, present, and future, joked that he finally learned how to orchestrate with this piece. He would live to 1949, but this would be the last purely symphonic work he ever composed.

So whether it’s a symphony or not, An Alpine Symphony, from 100 years ago, is in many ways a summit in the career of Richard Strauss.

Pages