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
4:38 pm
Sat June 14, 2014

Miniatures on Now Is the Time

Miniatures are big on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 14th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The Pastiche of John Biggs is a riot of tunes you already know, skillfully arranged, while Miniatures are original offerings from Louis Anthony deLise's brand-new CD for flute and piano. A concertino is a small concerto, but Harold Schiffman's, for oboe, is the biggest work on the program and a lyrical treat.

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Now Is the Time
10:12 am
Fri June 6, 2014

Songs With and Without Words

Inscape's CD Sprung Rhythm, including Joseph Hallman's Three Poems of Jessica Hornik

Singing can be vocal or instrumental on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 7th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. A tribute to a family, carved in cemetery marble, is the choral Notturno in Weiss (Nocturne in White) by Robert Moran. Joseph Hallman's Three Poems of Jessica Hornik uses voice with an expanded chamber ensemble, while Anthony Iannaccone selects a solo piano for his Song without Words.

An Uruguayan legend or Leyenda comes from Sergio Cervetti for voice and orchestra, and from her ten-year-old daughter's poem about a Cape Cod berry-picking excursion, Elena Ruehr creates the all-instrumental Blackberries.

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Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection
3:10 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Opening and Closing Centuries: Prokofiev, Reger

Max Reger at the organ, 1913

On Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday, 5 to 6 pm. For convenience, we divide time with round numbers and mark the beginnings of eras with an 800 or 1600 or 1900. But that convenience may hide real divisions, those watershed moments before which something ends and after which something begins.

One hundred years ago, June 1914 marked the end of the world as it had been known, with the shooting of an archduke precipitating the First World War. Then, the Russian Revolution of 1917 began much of what we know as the 20th Century. This ridge of history may be symbolized by two familiar works, heard with new ears.

In his early twenties and at the cusp of a brilliant career, Sergei Prokofiev outdid himself in 1917. He began a cantata and the Third Piano Concerto, and completed, along with this Violin Concerto No. 1, major piano works and the evergreen First Symphony, called the “Classical.” But premieres were canceled because of the upheaval of the Revolution. The violin concerto, the first of two, would not be performed until 1923.

Feeling artistically stymied, Prokofiev left Russia for America to try to make his way as a composer, performer, and conductor: to make a living, in other words. He received permission from a People’s Commissar, even though he was told that, as a “revolutionary” composer, he should remain with the Revolution. He would indeed return to his country, renamed the Soviet Union, as one of the most famous composers in the world, but not until 1936, after years in Paris.

If Prokofiev looks forward, Max Reger looks back, which even his most fervent admirers grant. He was a contrapuntalist when harmony was—in any of its clothes—king. While Debussy invented evanescent wisps of sound, while Schoenberg forged new, gray girders of pitches from the lava of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, Reger composed interlocking lines of relentless notes that recalled Bach. In a world of uncertainty Max Reger wrote fugues.

Like Bach, and like Bruckner and Messiaen, composers of earlier and later generations whom we still don’t know what to make of, Reger was an organist. His fugues and toccatas and variations are scarcely known today except by cognoscenti, as are his many songs, choral works, and other pieces. This is regrettable. The mighty Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart has often been performed, but not as much now as in the recent past.

The theme is from a Mozart piano sonata and the music is redolent of Brahms, his model, with Beethoven, of “absolute” music, or music that need not refer to any art outside itself. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms: Reger inhaled them all and breathed out, in a relatively short time, a volume of work that is remarkable. In 1914 he wrote the Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart; in 1915 it was premiered; in 1916, at the age of 43, he would be dead. It was almost as if he was not supposed to see 1917.

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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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