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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Now Is the Time
12:19 pm
Fri May 30, 2014

Notes to Self

Reaching inside helps to explain what surrounds us on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 31st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The poet and resistance fighter Avrom Sutzkever wrote the powerful words David Garner sets in Vilna Poems, for voice, clarinet, cello (Matt Haimovitz here), and piano. Paul Lansky, recently retired from a stellar career at Princeton, honors teachers, friends, and influences in Notes to Self for piano. Echoing throughout are George Perle, Milton Babbitt, Stravinsky, and Ravel, who moderates a conversation between Hindemith and Messiaen!

The blues often come around when we look inside, so we take a turn there for the final work. But even the blues can be light blue. Jazz subtle and not-so infuses Three Blues for Saxophone Quartet by Charles Ruggiero.

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Now Is the Time
10:07 am
Fri May 23, 2014

Vintage on Now Is the Time

It's a blast from the past on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 24th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. David Del Tredici threw over his cutting-edge training in 12-tone music for his aggressively tonal "Alice" pieces, works based on Alice in Wonderland. In looking back, you might say, he never looked back from then on; some have called him the first neo-Romantic. Vintage Alice is a chamber opera for one singer, and it's delightfully quirky, just like Lewis Carroll.

Physicist Richard Feynman was known for his humor as much as his smarts; Michael Gandolfi captures both in the large choral/orchestral work Q.E.D.: Engaging Richard Feynman. From Hilary Hahn's CD of encores is Ford's Farm by Mason Bates. We see the horse & buggy giving way to the first automobile in this fun, fiddling excursion: Call it a short ride in slower machines.

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Classical CD Selections
12:54 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Matthew Levy: People's Emergency Center

WRTI's Kile Smith, host of Now Is the Time, recommends...

Saxophonist and Prism Quartet founder Matthew Levy has spent his career getting other composers played; now the spotlight's on him in a new CD, and what a brilliance it reveals.

Call the Prism Saxophone Quartet contemporary-classical, call them avant-jazz, even call them omnivorous, but whatever you call them, they've been setting the gold standard for three decades. 2014 is in fact their 30th anniversary, and in that time, while centered in Philadelphia, they've been everywhere, stretching styles while inhabiting classical, jazz, world, and rock idioms.

Prism has commissioned more than 150 works, but in People's Emergency Center (Innova) they turn the entire two-disc set over to Matthew Levy.

People's Emergency Center is the first movement of Been There, and is also the name of a shelter helping women and children in West Philadelphia. It and the second movement, Gymnopedie (the word Erik Satie coined for his most famous piece), are culled from Levy's music for a documentary about the shelter. The Prism four (Timothy McAllister, Taimur Sullivan, Zachary Shemon, and Levy), bass, drums, guitar, and former Prism member Tim Ries on soprano saxophone all create magic with swirling precision.

Levy's voice is at once vernacular and otherworldly, steeped in jazz but living in—as Henry Cowell would have it—the whole world of music. Serial Mood seems to ponder that post-Schoenberg world of harmony, and in doing so reveals a tasty secret known to Dizzy Gillespie, Gunther Schuller, and a few other hep cats: If you play 12-tone music with a hard, swinging beat, it sounds for all the world like be-bop.

That's one of the unexpected treats that Levy offers. Another is the overarching spirit of generosity—to the listener and to each player. All the music of his I've heard exhibits this. Whether it's rhythmically striking, sonically challenging, or a charming tune, it is genial music offered warmly to a real world filled with real people who want something good to hear. An excellent example is Brown Eyes, which here employs the whole band, but which Levy first had played in public in a smaller version. The occasion of the premiere? His wedding.

[Been There and Brown Eyes were featured on Now Is the Time, May 10, 2014.]

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Now Is the Time
12:08 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Reinvention

New things are created out of old on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 17th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. David Gompper worked with Austrian violinist Wolfgang David on a new concerto before it was a concerto. For violin and piano, the work evolved through rehearsals and performances until Gompper felt it was ready, and then he orchestrated it as his Violin Concerto.

John King began four movements of AllSteel, for the string quartet Ethel, on September 10th, 2001. After the attacks of the following day, he added four more. A violent electric-guitar sound-world breaks through in the four 9/10 movements, but the even-numbered post-9/11 movements all have the word Peace in their titles. AllSteel ends with Peacerises.

Dan Becker pours Bach inventions through a post-minimalist filter into an electronically processed keyboard to come up with wonderfully twisting pieces. Energy and humor accompany the sand shifting under our feet in ReInvention 2C.

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Now Is the Time
10:18 am
Fri May 9, 2014

Guardian Spirit

Somebody's looking out for us on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 10th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Genius loci is the spirit of a place, guardian spirit, or guardian angel; Frank Brickle's short work Genius Loci for mandolin and guitar is both whimsical and expansive. The Stone Tower looks over the artist colony of Yaddo, and is also the name of the first movement of Ned Rorem's Flute Concerto, written for Jeffrey Khaner, who performs it here.

Prism Saxophone Quartet founder Matthew Levy begins and ends the program with music from his new CD, People's Emergency Center. That's the name of a shelter helping women and children in West Philadelphia. It, too, is a first movement title, of Been There, music from a documentary about PEC. It's for Prism plus bass, drums, guitar, and another saxophone, as is Brown Eyes, which carries with it another great spirit. Matthew Levy had it performed at his wedding.

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Now Is the Time
10:33 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Gardening at Gropius House

Two violin concertos breathe the air of outdoors on Now Is the Time, Saturday, May 3rd at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Neil Rolnick at Harvard was looking for extra work, and answered an ad for a gardener. It happened to be at the house of the world-famous Bauhaus architect, Walter Gropius. In Gardening at Gropius House, for chamber ensemble with computer, Rolnick combines his love of two things in art that he hopes are not in conflict: avant-garde modernism and a good tune.

Twilight, Midnight, Romance, and Dawn are some of the movement titles in Ned Rorem's Violin Concerto. He almost named the piece Concertino or Variations, since there is no real program behind the music. Still, that combination of lightness and gravity, which suffuses all of Rorem's works, breathes of spring, and of air.

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Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
5:59 am
Wed April 30, 2014

The Influence of Leó Weiner

"Leo Weiner, 1911" by Róbert Berény

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday May 3rd, 5-6 pm... In addition to being one of Hungary’s great 20th-century composers, Leó Weiner taught generations of world-famous musicians, including cellist János Starker and conductors Georg Solti, Antal Doráti, and a certain Jenö Blau, who went on to be known as Eugene Ormandy.

The unmistakable Eastern European flavor of Weiner’s music charms today as it ever did. Its beauty is of a different kind from Béla Bartók’s and Zoltán Kodály’s, two other Hungarians we’ve already met on Discoveries. Bartók and Kodály collected and transcribed folk music, and that source material came to affect their own original music. From the harmonies and rhythms of this hidden edge of Europe, Bartók, especially, created a musical language so personal that it stands apart from traditionalists and atonalists alike.

Weiner, however, was a romantic. He uses Hungarian tunes the way Brahms uses Hungarian tunes: They are exotic yet grounded in a thoroughly Germanic soundscape. But what a soundscape! He was being noticed and was winning prizes for works in which he included very un-classical folk instruments such as the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer. By 1914, when Fritz Reiner conducted the premiere of Weiner’s early Prince Csongor and the Kobolde, based on a Hungarian fairy tale, his career was already taking off.

He started teaching at the main conservatory in Budapest, and remained there the rest of his life. In addition to composition, he accompanied and coached opera singers, and began teaching in the area where he would have the most international influence, chamber music.

The musicians who came through his chamber music classes learned to develop a full-blooded yet highly accurate approach to sound. Many would become conductors, yet whether in playing or in directing the playing of others, the combination of boundless passion with razor-sharp technique ironically catapulted American orchestras (Ormandy’s Philadelphia and Solti’s Chicago, for instance), into the vanguard of European classical performance.

The 1930s saw the composing of his Divertimento and the Opus 18 Suite of Hungarian dances. America was the first to hear the Suite, now perhaps his most-played work. It was Reiner, again, with the Rochester Philharmonic in 1933. Weiner dedicated it to composer László Lajtha, who had introduced him to many of these Hungarian tunes. Where did Lajtha learn them? Why, from working alongside Bartók and Kodály.

Through his rigorous teaching and his brilliant music, Léo Weiner is rightly considered one of the leading lights of Hungarian music in the 20th century.

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Now Is the Time
11:08 am
Fri April 25, 2014

Images from a Closed Ward

We remember the living and the dying on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 26th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The music of Michael Hersch is always strong, always dark, and always provocative, but its true power lies in its vibrancy, always reaching out to us. Images from a Closed Ward refers to drawings by Michael Mazur of psychiatric patients. The lithographs and the music are tough but compelling; the sadness is deep, but the humanity, sublime. The Blair String Quartet plays this riveting 13-movement work.

A separate string orchestra piece that is also part of her second symphony, Ghosts of Judith Lang Zaimont salutes the composers Scriabin, Britten, Ravel, Berg, Christopher Rouse, and Laurie Anderson. But—and this is important—it is by no means a pastiche of other styles. Ghosts is a thoroughly integrated work of imagination and depth.

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Donald Nally's Message to the Community
9:08 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

The Passing of The Crossing's Jeffrey Dinsmore

Tenor Jeffrey Dinsmore (1972-2014)

Jeffrey Dinsmore, co-founder and integral member of the Philadelphia choral ensemble The Crossing, died suddenly on April 14th in Los Angeles at age 42. The Crossing's conductor Donald Nally sent out this email message (below) about Jeff's passing. This is such a sad loss for Jeff's family and loved ones, and for everyone in Philadelphia's choral community.

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Now Is the Time
12:45 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

Passage Through a Dream

We dream our lives and live our dreams on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 19th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Bright Sheng's romantic orchestral work China Dreams includes movements called The Stream Flows and The Three Gorges of the Long River. The tragedy of U.S. duplicity before and after the Battle of the Little Bighorn is the subject of We Need to Dream All This Again. Jerome Kitzke writes, "let's dance, and call it praying," as he honors the Native American building of a new life by dreaming that life.

Clarinet and four-hand piano unfold through digital delay in the evocative Passage Through a Dream by Phillip Schroeder, and Zeitgeist closes out the show with the humorous and quirky Getting Your Z's (Or Not) by Janika Vandervelde.

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