After 30 years, Kile Smith is retiring from the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music. It seemed like a good moment to listen again to Kile’s Vespers, the work he created for the Renaissance wind band Piffaro and Philadelphia’s The Crossing. In the piece, Kile draws gorgeous and endlessly varied harmonies out of a surprising limited array of pitches – the score doesn’t have a single accidental until the third movement. I know of no more successful piece for old instruments by a contemporary composer (I should know, I tried it myself.) My one quibble is that although it is intended as a Lutheran Vespers and the work is full of Lutheran chorale tunes, the pandiatonic idiom seems something that springs more from am English modal tradition, or even the diatonicism of Catholic chant, rather than the darker harmonic worlds of Schütz and Bach. No matter, the vocabulary serves the texts and the expressive intent beautifully.
By the way, Piffaro has fascinating video and more about their arsenal of instruments here.