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.
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.
A native of Bohemia, Antonín Dvořák (1841-1904) was a minority in the Austrian Empire and in the classical music world. But he had risen to the top of it all when a millionaire patroness hired him to direct the brand-new National Conservatory of Music of America in New York City. It would train all students without regard to race or ability to pay. There, in 1893, Dvořák’s eyes were opened to the possibilities of an "American" music.
The tango spins and snaps to a halt on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 25th at 9 pm. If there’s a meaning behind Mean Old Pony Tango by Michael Kurth, we’ll let it go by to revel in the string quartet antics, and Adrienne Albert combines rock energy with the smooth ride of L.A. Tango Nuevo. A solo piano is overcome with romance in Robert Elkjer’s En-tango-ed, and James Adler gnarls a Twisted Tango with his own self at the piano, accompanying saxophone.
Ingrid Arauco’s Divertimento for an unusual trio includes a tango among its movements. Kenneth Froelich has no obvious tango in Clockwork Automata, but do we detect its spirit among the spinning and clicking? Finally, a string quartet returns to play Tanguori by Jeremy Cohen, snapping the program to a close.
Pianist Charles Abramovic speaks about, and performs, Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp minor.
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.
Kile Smith discusses the importance of Philip Glass
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.
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.
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.
Listen to an excerpt of David Kim's episode of Philadelphia Music Makers. He talks about his participation in the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition. We hear a snippet of his performance from 1986, as well as a more recent performance of Sarasate's Carmen Fantasy.
“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.”
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.
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.