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.

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Listen on Sunday, April 26 at 5 PM
12:03 pm
Wed April 22, 2015

Charles Abramovic Keeps Surprising

His own piano teacher told him he wouldn’t get into Curtis, but that he ought to audition anyway, for the experience. So, two weeks after traveling from Pittsburgh with his mother to play for Rudolf Serkin and Eleanor Sokoloff, Charles Abramovic received a letter from the Curtis Institute of Music. He was accepted.

Abramovic has been surprising people his whole life, and it’s easy to see why. His family had almost no interest in music of any kind, let alone classical, although he does remember a Dave Brubeck record in the house. What did he like most about the LP? The bass player.

He did begin piano lessons at age six after his kindergarten teacher noted that he reacted to music “differently” from the other kids, and four years later was playing in the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. Playing double bass, that is, although he would take on symphonic piano parts, too.

By this time he was studying piano with Natalie Phillips, whose husband Eugene was a violist and violinist in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra as well as composer, and whose sons Daniel and Todd would one day be renowned violinists in the Orion String Quartet. Abramovic remembers private lessons morphing into coaching and chamber music soirées with the Phillips family. Before long he was playing the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini on a Pittsburgh Symphony Young People’s Concert. It was clear that music was calling him.

Or maybe it was psychoanalysis. His “light reading” in eighth grade, he confesses, was The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. But Abramovic decided against that as a profession and went with music, although he later discovered that a large part of private teaching is helping students of all personality types and backgrounds. He wonders if it may have produced another benefit, as he did marry the daughter of a psychoanalyst, the cellist, conductor, and composer Heidi Jacob.

After Curtis (where he also played double bass in their orchestra) and Peabody, he earned his DMA at Temple University, with the music of Croatia as his research topic. The Abramović (pronounced Abramovich) family is from that area, and the music fascinates him.

Abramovic as pianist with Mimi Stillman’s Dolce Suono, here playing Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango:

He loves, and plays, the standard piano repertoire, but Abramovic likes to take surprising paths. A favorite is Charles Ives. He’s performed the monumental Concord Sonata (which hardly anyone will attempt), but knows the entire Ives catalog, which has inspired another surprise: Charles Abramovic, composer. His piece Unanswered Hands, for three pianists—piano six-hands, that is—throws in “as many musical memories from childhood” as he could fit. In the same way that Ives uses hymns, marches, and everything else in a piece like The Unanswered Question, Abramovic “out-quotes Ives,” he claims, in a work filled with nostalgia and humor.

He has been a professor at Temple since 1990, and enjoys a career in Philadelphia and beyond as a sought-after soloist, accompanist, chamber musician, and recording artist. One of the most affable and humorous of musicians, he nevertheless cannot hide a ferocious talent that has left not a few shaking their heads over the ease with which he negotiates the most blistering piano writing.

Whether it’s Ives, Babbitt, tango, jazz, rags, new music, his own music, or simply making the impossible look easy, Charles Abramovic is ever full of surprises.

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WRTI Arts Desk
6:30 am
Mon April 20, 2015

Modern Music's Debt to Philip Glass

Philip Glass with WRTI's Kile Smith at the Free Library of Philadelphia
Andy Kahan

Philip Glass is one of the most influential composers of the last 50 years. He’s not the only composer to use slowly changing repetition as a formal device, but his prolific output and the legacy of decades of performances by the Philip Glass Ensemble, have made his sound-world recognizable to millions.

He’s composed numbers well into the double digits of symphonies, operas, and film soundtracks, along with string quartets, concertos, ballets, songs, and so much more. His autobiography Words without Music recounts what Ornette Coleman told him: there was a difference between the music world and the music business. It's a lesson he never forgot.

He worked in his father’s Baltimore record store, and was a furniture mover, cab driver, and plumber. He studied at Juilliard and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris, then formed his ensemble and began touring. Operas, beginning with Einstein on the Beach, made him so famous that Peter Schickele poked fun with a P.D.Q. Bach opera, Einstein on the Fritz. Philip Glass loved it.

He's worked with Ravi Shankar, Martin Scorsese, Samuel Beckett, and David Bowie, and broke down the wall between uptown classical and downtown vernacular. The sound of contemporary music is due, in no small part, to Philip Glass.

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Now Is the Time
11:09 pm
Fri April 17, 2015

Available Forms on Now Is the Time

The Lark Quartet

Forms traditional, and those not so, arise on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 18th at 9 pm. Composers often wrestle over titles, hoping to trumpet putative musical originality with a never-seen-before moniker. Paul Moravec, however, writes a piece for string quartet plus piano and calls it what it is: Piano Quintet. With the Lark Quartet, with pianist Jeremy Denk, and with his keen ear for profound energy, Moravec has that ease to call things what they are, and we are rewarded.

John Hodian’s six-part MMU-14 is mysteriously-titled but engagingly entertaining. Written way back in the 1980s, it’s a work of surface repetition, but listen closely, as it’s rare that any two measures are exactly like the next two. For overdubbed acoustic instruments, MMU-14 uses just a soupçon of electronics to produce an attractive yet propulsive drive.

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WRTI Arts Desk
10:50 am
Thu April 16, 2015

Bohuslav Martinu's Memorial to Lidice: Remembering a Czech Town Obliterated by the Nazis

This photo of the children of Lidice was taken two days before the 1942 massacre of their village. Most of them were gassed to death at Chelmno.

On June 10th, 1942, Nazis swept in and obliterated the village outside of Prague. They killed the men, sent the women and most of the children to concentration camps, and burnt or leveled the entire town - even the cemetery.

Why? The week before, elite forces had assassinated one of the chief architects of the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” So Hitler then ordered the extermination of the little village, which just happened to be near that attack. Its name was Lidice.

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Philadelphia Music Makers, April 19, 5 PM
3:11 pm
Mon April 13, 2015

Three Moments of Magic for David Kim

David Kim
Ryan Donnell

“You fool,” David Kim said to himself. He looked out the window at the moon. He and his wife had just seen the movie Jerry Maguire, with Tom Cruise as the sports agent trying to make the A-level. David Kim had spent his entire life trying to make the A-level. And it wasn’t happening.

His mother, before he was born, vowed to make him a violin star. His parents came to the U.S. from South Korea, and from Rochester, N.Y. to Western Pennsylvania to South Carolina, his mother was a true “Tiger mom,” he says, constantly pushing him to excel. She got him an audition with Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard, mentor to so many of the world’s top soloists. DeLay accepted him on the spot after what he describes as a “magical” audition.

From Clarion, Pa., the family drove eight hours for David to attend the Juilliard Pre-College Division. From South Carolina he and his mother flew once a month. Of DeLay he has the “few really happy memories” of that time; she was “sweet, genuine, soft-spoken, charismatic, motivational,” and perhaps most important of all, “encouraging.”

Three to five hours every day he practiced. He went to Aspen nine weeks each summer, but his playing regressed because, alone, he stopped pushing himself. DeLay noticed, and so did his mother. But in one phone call she was uncharacteristically subdued. When he returned home at the end of the summer, he found out that his mother was sick with cancer. She died within months. He was 14.

From the award-winning movie, Music from the Inside Out, David Kim reflects on his life:

David stopped working hard and he struggled at school. But DeLay made a plan. In six years, she said, he would get into the International Tchaikovsky Competition, and he would win one of the eight medals. They made it happen, and in the second round he “felt a certain magic happening” as he played. In 1986 David Kim was the only American violinist to win a medal. He thought his career was made.

He would learn differently. There are many competitions, and many winners, and this one prize, as fantastic as it was, “wasn’t special enough to really warrant an A-list career.” So he played lots of concerts in small halls, in churches, and puffed himself up to others. “I was living this fake life,” he confesses. And he came to a decision.

“You fool,” he said in his apartment, looking at the moon, “you are never going to be a soloist.”

So he applied for orchestra jobs, and after a string of losing auditions, he realized that “there’s an art to taking an orchestral audition.” He worked harder, kept taking them, and finally, on one day, was offered two jobs. He accepted the associate concertmaster position at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He learned enormously, and a year later, The Philadelphia Orchestra called. They were having invitation-only auditions for concertmaster. David thought this was “way out of my league” but went anyway, with “zero expectations.”

But at the Philadelphia audition magic struck again, the same feeling he had at the Tchaikovsky, the same feeling he had auditioning for Dorothy DeLay. The phone rang later, and Joseph Kluger, the Orchestra’s president at the time, asked him, “How would you feel about moving to Philadelphia?”

David admits to making mistakes early on but he grew into the concertmaster position he accepted in 1999. His Christian faith grew at the same time, and he now has a peace knowing that he wouldn’t be here if it weren’t God’s will. “Being yourself, you free yourself,” he says, and he is surrounded by an orchestra that is a positive, encouraging, and loving community.

After years of scrambling for something that didn’t exist, he is thankful for his faith, his wife, his daughters, and The Philadelphia Orchestra. In his 16th year as concertmaster, David Kim says, “I am the luckiest guy in the whole world.”

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Philadelphia Music Makers on WRTI, April 12, 5 PM
7:04 am
Sun April 12, 2015

All Work and All Play: Aizuri Quartet

Aizuri Quartet taking a coffee break

The Guarneri Quartet looks down at them from a frame hanging on the wall. There’s that and an espresso machine in the practice room of the Aizuri Quartet, the String Quartet-in-Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music. The Guarneri once taught there, but the women of Aizuri laughingly confess that sometimes they’re not sure which item in the room—the picture or the coffee-maker—is more important.

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Now Is the Time
7:29 pm
Fri April 10, 2015

Passover and Remembering

Passover passes and remembrance continues on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 11th at 9 pm. The composer and guitarist David Leisner tells the story, in Acrobats, of circus performers on a concentration camp-bound train who mistakenly end up at a circus. Life-and-death decisions are made in split seconds. Raphael Mostel was concerned with the Second World War destruction and eventual liberation of Rotterdam, but as he composed in September 2001, a plane headed to the World Trade Center flew over his building. Shofars and brass shudder in Night and Dawn.

John Morton recalls, by way of a modified music box, a Passover meal’s interlude in The Parting. Conductor Gerard Schwarz is also a composer, and wrote In Memoriam for the passing of a friend. It premiered at a Holocaust memorial concert, and featured as soloist Schwarz’s cellist son Julian. The Hebrew term for the Red Sea actually translates to “Sea of Reeds,” so that may be the body of water that the Israelites crossed in their Exodus from Egypt. From the Sea of Reeds CD by Gerald Cohen is a work for violin, clarinet, and piano, an extended blues called Variously Blue.

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Now Is the Time
10:56 am
Fri April 3, 2015

The Women at the Cross

Two Philadelphia composers explore sacred themes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 4th at 9 pm. Holy the Firm is the song cycle by James Primosch on texts by Denise Levertov, Annie Dillard, Susan Stewart, and the 7th-century John Climacus, whose monastic treatise The Ladder of Divine Ascent takes its inspiration from the angels in Jacob's dream. From Primosch's Sacred Songs CD, this is magical and colorful writing for soprano and small orchestra.

Curt Cacioppo's Women at the Cross, from his recent CD Ritornello, is a suite for string quartet and piano focused on the week of the Passion of Christ. The movements are Maria gratia plena (Mary, full of grace), Procula, Veronica, Maddalena, La terza Maria, Salome, and Sons of Thunder; the finale refers to James and John, called "Boanerges" or "Sons of Thunder" by Jesus, and thought to be the sons of one of the women disciples, Salome.

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Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
12:12 am
Wed April 1, 2015

The 150th Anniversary of Paul Dukas

Paul Dukas, age 30

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, April 4th, 5-6 pm... There’s one Paul Dukas work that overshadows everything else he wrote, and that’s a shame because there’s much more to him, the 150th anniversary of whose birth is in 2015, than that.

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Philadelphia Music Makers, March 29, 5 PM
1:28 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

Composer Jennifer Higdon Tells Her Story: Part 2

Jennifer Higdon and her cat, Beau
Candace diCarlo

The door closed behind Jennifer Higdon. She was in the office of her college conducting professor, Robert Spano, seeking advice about what to do. She had just heard back from the Curtis Institute of Music - they had accepted her application for graduate studies, but so had other music schools. She needed guidance.  "I'm not letting you out of here," Spano said, until she agreed to accept the spot from Curtis.

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