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, 5-6 pm... One hundred years ago, and the world was in upheaval. The 19th century was fast becoming a memory by 1915. The previous generation’s nationalism in classical music had catapulted new languages into the concert hall, but it was now seen as irrelevant, corrosive, or at best, old-fashioned. Nationalism was now viewed through the War, in its second year, called “Great” by some and “World” by others. In a few decades it would take on a name even more horrible than World War; it would be called the “First.”

Two very different composers who died in 1915 signify the passing century remarkably well. One was the friend of royalty; another, the friend of musical royalty.

Émile Waldteufel’s violinist brother Léon won admission to the Paris Conservatory, and the father Louis moved the entire family there, from Strasbourg in the Alsatian region of France. It was a smart move, for Louis Waldteufel conducted his own successful orchestra, and found even more fame in the country’s capital city. Émile went on to study piano at the Conservatory, soloed with the Waldteufel Orchestra, and at 27, became the court pianist for Empress Eugénie.

But the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 greatly altered royal life. Waldteufel continued to play for small elite gatherings but was otherwise little-known. The Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), however, attended one of those events, loved a little waltz he heard, and invited the piano-playing composer, Émile Waldteufel, to London. It was there that he became famous, writing dances that are still heard today, including Les Patineurs, or The Skater Waltz. He composed and conducted throughout Europe and retired to Paris. After a hugely successful career, he died when Debussy and Stravinsky were au courant.

Sergei Taneyev was also a pianist—a brilliant one—and a music critic and voracious scholar of seemingly any subject that came along. Mathematics, philosophy, science, and history all came under his intense interest, but it was composition that was his dearest love. It expressed itself for him in rigorous counterpoint, the exacting placement of note against note and line against line. Large washes of sound or simple folk tunes evoking a Russian mythos little interested him. Bach and Mozart were to be revered.

Tchaikovsky, 16 years older than Taneyev and one of his best friends, nevertheless feared his criticism. The world-famous composer would ask him sincerely to tell him what he thought of a certain work, and Taneyev obliged, in brutal frankness. He rubbed other composers the wrong way, but his friendship with Tchaikovsky remained undiminished, if needing, here and there, a couple of days’ cooling off. Taneyev, in fact, was the soloist for the Moscow premiere of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, and gave the Russian premiere of the Second as well as the world premiere of the Third.

Their outlook was indeed similar, and after Tchaikovsky’s death Taneyev completed and edited some of the unfinished works. Searching for a more international or cosmopolitan expression, they had not bought into the Russianism of Balakirev or Mussorgsky. But Taneyev’s Suite de Concert, really a violin concerto, is his most famous work, and is filled with, ironically, folk-like beauty. A heart attack killed him as he recuperated from pneumonia he caught attending the funeral of another world-famous composer, Scriabin. 1915 was certainly a year of upheaval.

Ice Canyons

Jan 30, 2015

It's ice and echoes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 31st at 9 pm Eastern on the all-classical stream at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Figure-skating and Stravinsky inspire Joan Tower's gliding Petroushskates, and Allen Ginsberg narrates his own poem in Echorus by Philip Glass, for two violins and strings. From the CD Winter is Eric Ewazen's Elegia, for trumpet and piano.

The Tibetan Heart Mantra is at the center of Echoes by Paul Fowler, for the women of The Crossing, and Peru echoes in the harpsichord work by Kent Holliday, Dances from Colca Canyon. Barton McLean runs environmentalist John Muir's descriptions of glaciers through his own software to construct Ice Canyons. The echoes of minimalism by way of Steve Reich close out the program, in this recording of New York Counterpoint arranged by saxophonist Dave Camwell for his CD Time Scape.

Winter Spirits

Jan 23, 2015

It’s time for some warmth in the midst of winter on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 24th at 9 pm. From The Crossing’s 2013 Christmas Daybreak CD is Benjamin C. S. Boyle’s Three Carols for Wintertide, holding up for our consideration a rose, holly and ivy, and rosemary. For Nothing is Fred Frith’s music considering the Buddha nature; it’s for contralto with the unusual string quartet of two violins, cello, and viola da gamba. Katherine Hoover paints the image of a Native American flutist in Winter Spirits, and Adrienne Albert offers the soft Winter Solace for saxophone and piano.

And in the middle of our winter program is a powerful statement of warmth and lyricism; it’s the Symphony No. 1 of Steven R. Gerber.

Three of a Kind

Jan 10, 2015

Everything's coming up threes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 10th at 9 pm. Childlike simplicity is deceptive in creativity but Brian Belet achieves that goal in Drei Kinderstücke for solo piano. John Corigliano fascinatingly pairs soprano with flute for his Three Irish Folksong Settings, and for soprano with piano are settings of a Scottish poet in Three Tannahill Songs of Evan Chambers.

Philadelphia's own David Bennett Thomas comes along with Three Pieces for Clarinet and Piano, and for violin, cello, and piano is the Trio of Lera Auerbach. And to honor the memory of Fred Sturm, who just passed away in August, a saxophone quartet closes the program with one of his wonderful jazz-inspired compositions, Picasso Cubed.

Prelude and Excursion

Jan 3, 2015

We turn the corner into a new year of Now Is the Time, Saturday, January 3rd at 9 pm. Kevin McCarter's Prelude and Excursion for orchestra leads into a sacred new year's dedication for chorus by Carson Cooman, Set Me As a Seal. And then the pianist Marc-André Hamelin performs Twelve New Etudes, Book 4 by William Bolcom.

Robert Honstein snips dialog from an online dating service to entitle the electronic chamber works in his CD RE:you; we'll hear I know the feeling…. For violin and piano is Eric Moe's Preamble and Dreamsong from the 4-5 a.m. REM Stage. The last movement of Symphony of the Universe by Wendy Mae Chambers comes to us in a live recording from the cavernous Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, and what better way to listen to Evolution, music for 100 timpani?

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday 5-6 pm... One hundred years ago saw the birth of David Diamond, who would enter the first rank of 20th-century American composers. His most-played work, Rounds for string orchestra, is the only work of his many people have heard, so we will not play that today. Instead, a large work for orchestra, a small work for orchestra, and a memorial to a composer who was a great influence will walk us through his career.

One may wonder why someone who is held in such great esteem isn’t played more, but that points up the dichotomy of David Diamond, and the sometimes-difficult trajectory of his music. He was born in Rochester, N.Y. in 1915 and died there in 2005, but in between lived in Cleveland, New York City, France, and Italy. He was immensely talented and early on played violin and composed. His family moved to Cleveland, he studied at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and when the great Maurice Ravel visited the Cleveland Orchestra, Diamond visited him. The French composer looked at the 13-year-old’s compositions, recognized his talent, and told him that he must study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger.

He would do that (as had many other American composers, including Aaron Copland) eight years later, after a stint at Eastman in Rochester and then in New York City, studying with Roger Sessions. Finally in Paris with Boulanger, he studied Ravel’s music as part of his training. Ravel died in 1937, and Diamond wrote the exquisite Elegy to the Memory of Maurice Ravel.

Back in the States he played violin in theaters, wrote some commercial music, and began to produce vast amounts of chamber and orchestral pieces. The earliest of his 11 symphonies appeared at this time, as did his Concerto for Chamber Orchestra in Two Parts, filled, as most of his music is, with fugues and counterpoint, every bit of it lyrical but not always warm and fuzzy at first hearing.

And he was not always warm and fuzzy at this time. Stories of his being tossed from rehearsals and of other altercations followed him. He later admitted, "I was a highly emotional young man, very honest in my behavior, and I would say things in public that would cause a scene between me and, for instance, a conductor." Not good for a career, and yet he continued to produce.

Shifting fashions in high-octane contemporary classical music left him, for a time, without much of a profile beyond Rounds, but fortunately he lived to see a strong resurgence of interest in his music, after teaching in Italy and elsewhere and, for 25 years, at Juilliard. Conductor Gerard Schwarz’s recordings have led much of the comeback. The Symphony No. 8 honors Copland’s 60th birthday; we’ll hear American similarities and differences in the voice of David Diamond. A National Medal of Arts in 1995, among many awards, recognized his importance to music, and 100 years after his birth, we recognize David Diamond’s voice as one we still need to hear.

Taking Leave of 2014

Dec 26, 2014

The sun turns and we anticipate a new year on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 27th at 9 pm. Stephen Hartke based The King of the Sun on a Joan Miró painting, itself inspired by a much older Dutch painting by Jan Steen. Chris Campbell finds sounds and creates sounds electronically in Sunface Streams Moonface. Amplified piano and soprano join in five settings of Federico García Lorca by George Crumb; he calls his Spanish Songbook II Sun and Shadow.

Nancy Galbraith features electric Baroque flute and electric cello in Traverso Mistico, and from a live recording we'll hear the exquisite middle movement, "The Joy of Sadness." And to say goodbye to the old year we'll look to one of the piano rags of Brian Dykstra's, Taking Leave.

We're counting down the days on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 20th at 9 pm. Less Than a Week Before Christmas is David Golub's work for chorus and orchestra: about the cold, about a friend. Morten Lauridsen contemplates the wonder of animals at the nativity manger in one of our time's most-sung pieces, O Magnum Mysterium.

Composer Jennifer Higdon becomes her own poet for Deep in the Night, pondering "this season of love with full brilliant lights." Daron Hagen combines two melodies we recognize with a beautiful one we don't—because he just wrote it—in a work for choir with cello, At Bethlehem Proper. Rounding out the choral works on the program is While All Things Were in Quiet Silence by Ned Rorem.

Two instrumental works find their way in, though. Advent has the same feeling that imbues Yearning, the lovely work for violin and strings by Shulamit Ran, dedicated to Yehudi Menuhin. For solo guitar is the suite of Rick Sowash, helping us count down the days, For an Old Friend at Christmas.

El Niño

Dec 13, 2014

It's John Adams's Nativity oratorio El Niño on Now Is the Time, Saturday, December 13th at 9 pm. We'll fit in as much as we can, since the concert-length work is too long for our one-hour show.

Adams says that the birth of his daughter in 1984 was like a miracle. "Four people were in the room, and then there were five," he says, and that became the inspiration for his take on the Christmas story. Along with Latin and English, much of El Niño is in Spanish. The director Peter Sellars, who worked closely with the composer to create this, says that it's like a triptych that cannot be seen all at once. Unfold a panel to see what's there, and you hide another.

Dawn Upshaw, Willard White, and the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing alongside chorus and orchestra in this grand Christmas-time pageant.

Bach Secular and Sacred

Dec 6, 2014

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, December 6th, 5 to 6 pm. Does the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music have vocal works? It does now, although it didn’t originally. The Symphony Club had no singers, so it didn’t require vocal or choral music. But as its library expanded, became a part of the Free Library of Philadelphia, and began circulating to orchestras, the need to look beyond purely instrumental works increased. Requests came in for Handel’s Messiah, the Brahms German Requiem, a Schubert or Mozart Mass, opera arias here and there, and so by the late 1970s the Collection started purchasing some of the great voice with orchestra literature.

We'll wrap up our three-program excursion into the music of Johann Sebastian Bach with two of his works for voices. Last month we looked at concertos using harpsichords, which first saw the light of day in the 1730s at Zimmermann’s Coffee House in Leipzig, but the work most associated with that place, of course, is the Coffee Cantata. Bach wrote no operas, but this secular cantata is, in effect, a mini-opera.

“Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht” are the first words sung by the father Schlendrian to his daughter, and are a great beginning to any concert, as they mean, “Be quiet and stop yakking!” (more or less). Schlendrian, literally, “stick in the mud,” wishes to get his daughter out of the newly fashionable but addicting activity of coffee-drinking. She will not yield until he offers to get her—if she quits—a husband. She agrees, but lets us know that she’ll only marry a man who lets her drink coffee. And that’s the story, the libretto by a frequent collaborator of Bach’s, Christian Friedrich Henrici who wrote under the name “Picander.”

In 1716, Bach, at Weimar, composed the original version of Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, “Heart and Mouth and Deed and Life,” a cantata for one of the weeks leading up to Christmas. When Bach moved to Leipzig to become Kantor, or music director, of the prestigious St. Thomas Church, he started to compose cantatas for each week of the church year. He needed one for a July Sunday, the Visitation of the expectant mother Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (soon to be the mother of John the Baptist), and remembered his old Weimar cantata.

It was a studied choice. Because of differences in the observance of Advent between Weimar and Leipzig, the old cantata wasn’t useable for him anymore, so instead of letting it sit in a desk drawer, he took it out and revised it. About half of it worked perfectly—it was already Marian in nature—but he added more sections. The last movement of it, however, will be recognizable to anyone who has ever heard Bach.

Alon Goldstein performs Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, arranged for piano by Dame Myra Hess:

“Jesus bleibet meine Freude” means “Jesus remains my joy,” but we hear this music at weddings, at Christmas, at Easter, and all through the year in every kind of arrangement, as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” (the words by English poet Robert Bridges, 1844–1930). The chorale melody, unadorned by Bach’s bubbling triplets, is by Johann Schop (c.1590–1667), reminding us that there really is no such thing as a “Bach chorale tune.” He excelled in these chorale movements at taking old Lutheran hymn melodies and, in settings of exquisite craftmanship, creating new works of genius. Vocal works with orchestra indeed have a place in the Fleisher Collection.

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