Groovin’ on WRTI

9131_largeKile Smith has programmed the last movement of my Sonata-Fantasia for piano and synthesizer, “Daddy-O’s New Groove”, on his WRTI new music program, Now is the Time. It will be heard tonight, January 9th, at 9 pm (Eastern Time) on WRTI’s all-classical stream, and will later be archived on the program’s web page. Lambert Orkis is the superb performer (that’s him in the middle on the cover of the Bridge recording with Dick Wernick at right).

Mid-October Miscellany

There has been a lack of posting here due to a deadline for my Philadelphia Chamber Music Society commission. But this week I sent the last movement of my new violin and piano to my brilliant editor/computer notation wizard, and I am now catching up on various neglected tasks. I’ll write about the PCMS piece in another post, for now I’ll just say it is called Five Poems – it was originally going to be a Violin Sonata, but the movements feel more like character pieces than something “symphonic” in conception.


The soprano soloist for the New Juilliard Ensemble performance of my From a Book of Hours has been named: Alexandra Razskazoff. There is a brief bio of her here (scroll down) from a press release on a Juilliard performance of Le nozze di Figaro this past spring.


So many events worth your attention this weekend in Philly:

Guthrie Ramsey’s Musiqology at Annenberg
Network for New Music has a panel and a concert for the Persichetti centennial
Bowerbird explores Julius Eastman
The Crossing is at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian with encore performances of several pieces
Kile Smith has a premiere on the first Mendelssohn Club concert under new artistic director Paul Rardin


And if you are in New York City this weekend, Mimi Stillman and Bart Feller will be doing my Badinerie Squared at a New York Flute Club program this coming Sunday.


Recent reading:

Bluets – Maggie Nelson
A Dance of Polar Opposites – George Rochberg


Music is undervalued in more ways than just through insufficient royalty payments for streaming audio – read this essay by Craig Havighurst.

Wednesday Miscellany

– Network for New Music’s 30th Anniversary celebration, featuring an “exquisite corpse” created by 30 composers, will be October 26 at 4 pm, at the Queen Street branch of the Settlement Music School here in Philadelphia. More here.

– I got into a discussion (rather tangential to the post itself) in the comments section of a Joseph Horowitz post here. I probably should have bit my tongue and gone off to practice the piano, but the notion of there being no American music worthy of comparison with that of Penderecki did set me off a bit.

– Kile Smith writes for New Music Box with customary wit and insight about music and church beginning here.

Chilly Miscellany

It’s below freezing in Philly this morning, but no snow… yet. Here are a few items for you:

– I’ve been re-reading Ralph Kirkpatrick’s book on interpreting the Well-Tempered Clavier. In a section on technical matters, Kirkpatrick says:

I built up my own keyboard technique very largely on the exercises of Hummel’s piano method of 1828, which contains an admirably organized series of exercises designed to take care of nearly everything that the ten fingers need be expected to negotiate.

(Well, maybe not everything.)

I had not heard of the Hummel and was interested to learn more about it. Perhaps this would be something to add to my bookshelf of exercise books, something to draw upon in my own practicing. A quick visit to IMSLP revealed that I might need a separate shelf for the Hummel – it runs 468 pages! Admittedly a good size chunk of that is text, but still, not exactly the concise and practical resource for which I was hoping.

– Kile Smith reveals compositional secrets here.

– Someone has clearly spent time in school rehearsal rooms. The Anne Boleyn is especially nicely named.

Now Is the Time for Secret Geometry

wrtiI just got word that Kile Smith‘s WRTI radio show, Now Is the Time, will feature my Secret Geometry for piano and electronic sound on tonight’s show – Sunday, August 25 at 10 pm on the US east coast; go here to listen.

I named my blog after this piece; my program note for the work might help explain why:

Secret Geometry can be heard as a short piano sonata, with the movements forming a typical fast – slow – fast pattern.  The electronic sounds on tape are tightly interwoven with the piano, often serving to extend and transform the piano’s sound.  The goal is to create a hybrid sound world.

The phrase “secret geometry” is used to describe the play of forms in certain paintings, referring to structural patterns that are employed to organize the pictorial elements.  Since the electronic medium permits a composer to focus on the micro-structure of individual sounds, as well as more customary concerns with patterns of pitch and rhythm, it seemed appropriate to choose a title that emphasizes the careful shaping of every compositional element.  But this is not to neglect the spiritual impulse of the work.  After all, the obscure motion of the Holy Spirit herself describes a secret geometry, what Thomas Merton called “a hidden wholeness”.

Written for the distinguished pianist Aleck Karis, Secret Geometry was composed with the assistance of a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.  The tape was realized in the Presser Electronic Music Studio of the University of Pennsylvania.

In line with the George Crumb quote above, I think of my music as being about a “system of proportions” – a secret geometry – “in the service of a spiritual impulse”.

Aleck’s recording of the piece was originally issued on a CRI (Composers Recordings, Inc.) disc. Though CRI no longer exists, their huge and important catalog has been made available once again by New World Records.

Click on the Discography link above for more of my music on disc.

Deadline Approaching

Not much posting happening lately as I am pushing to finish up the piano consortium commission. Three movements are complete; two remain – the first and last in the set. The opening movement is nearly done: a harsh, dark chorale, dark in register, bitter in affect, with ornaments that mutter or sweep upward. There will be fanfares and a toccata for the finale.

A few items before I go back to work:

– Kile Smith posts more eloquently than I – and more comprehensively – about last week’s Lyric Fest program.

– my colleague Guthrie Ramsey has been writing a series of very substantial posts springing from his course on African-American music – the first one is here. He also has a guest post by Penn grad composer Erica Ball, writing about a recent visit to Penn by Brett Sroka and his group Ergo.

– Minnesota Public Radio offers a conversation with Maria Schneider here.

-the fine composer Hayes Biggs (a friend of mine from Columbia U days) has redone his website – there’s audio and more to explore.

I’ll be back after the piano piece is done…

Upcoming in Philly, Boston, Phoenix, and NYC

– New music choir The Crossing offers three performances of Kile Smith’s Vespers, collaborating with Piffaro, The Renaissance Band. I don’t know a better contemporary piece for old instruments – for that alone the work is a remarkable achievement. But instrumentation aside, this is exceptionally beautiful music. January 7 and 8 in Philadelphia, January 9 in New York, details here.

Eric Chasalow’s new horn concerto will be heard at the Southwest Horn Conference in Phoenix on January 14, and in Boston at a BMOP concert, January 27. Eric is perhaps best known as a master of the electronic medium, but his acoustic music is just as superb.

– There will be an evening of music by Hayes Biggs at Manhattan School, January 15. I earlier wrote about the Avalon Quartet’s recording of Hayes’s touching O Sapientia/Steal Away here. Update: more info about the concert here. Susan Narucki and Christopher Oldfather will offer a new song cycle.

– The seventh and final volume of George Crumb’s American Songbook will be premiered by Orchestra 2001 on January 28 and 29 in Philadelphia.

Congrats, Kile!

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.

This Saturday, June 18, in Philly and NYC

– If you are in Philadelphia, you should consider taking your Saturday night date to the second in The Crossing’s Month of Moderns programs. Works by Kile Smith, Kamran Ince (a premiere) and Gabriel Jackson. Program notes here.

-And in New York the concert of choice is the program put on by the Washington Square Contemporary Music Society in collaboration with ICSM/League of Composers, featuring five U.S. or world premieres: Shulamit Ran, David Rakowski, Missy Mazzoli, Elliott Carter and Arthur Krieger. Program notes here.