The Singing Guitar — Kile Smith

‘The Singing Guitar,’ 12 guitarists, 26 singers and a cellist, in new works by four American composers. Exploring the unique connection of voices and strings.

Listeners experience an unusual musical journey on the Delos Music recording; ‘The Singing Guitar.’ Combining voices, guitars, and cello with Native American and non-native pioneer stories, it is hard to overstate the power, challenge, and difficulty of this unique collaboration that expresses these exquisitely crafted compositions by Reena Esmail, Nico Muhly, Kile Smith and Craig Hella Johnson.

On this episode of The Singing Guitar, composer Kile Smith. LISTEN

Grammy-nominated composer Kile Smith has gained international acclaim with commissions from The Crossing, Conspirare, Piffaro, Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble, Santa Fe Desert Chorale, Chor Leoni, Helena Symphony, Choral Arts Society of Washington, Lyric Fest, Westminster Choir College, Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia, Newburyport Chamber Music Festival, the Pennsylvania and iSing Girlchoirs, Choral Arts Philadelphia, and Gaudete Brass, with major choral works heard in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Dallas, Canada, England, and New Zealand. Gramophone called Vespers “spectacular” and Audiophile Audition, “easily one of the best releases of the year of any type… a crime to pass up.” Ten CDs with his music have been released since 2018.

The Arc in the Sky with The Crossing received a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Choral Performance, and his Canticle with Cincinnati’s Vocal Arts Ensemble helped win the 2020 Best Classical Producer Grammy. The Philadelphia Orchestra featured The Bremen Town Musicians in their 2021 “Our City, Your Orchestra” chamber music series.

Kile has also been performed by the L.A. Guitar Quartet, Seraphic Fire, The 24, the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Sofia Philharmonic, the Grand Rapids and Delaware symphonies, Orchestra 2001, and Network for New Music. His first opera, The Book of Job, will premiere in multiple cities in the 2022/23 season.

About the Album — The wonderful Conspirare chamber choir, known for its interpretive depth and otherworldly sonic lushness, offers another of its captivating programs-this time joined by three superb guitar quartets-in a program remarkably relevant to our time.

Conspirare’s 2019 Delos album, The Hope of Loving (DE 3578), was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award for Best Choral Performance in 2020. The concert version of The Singing Guitar was performed to full houses in 2019. The combination of guitar quartet and chorus is so successful it’s surprising that more composers have not written for it. Four recently written compositions feature the voices of Conspirare accompanied by guitar-twelve guitars in Nico Muhly’s How Little You Are, a compelling composition telling of the struggles of pioneer women. Kile Smith’s The Dawn’s Early Light ponders our national anthem in the writings of a Native American woman, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins. The album is rounded out with compositions by Reena Esmail and Conspirare’s founder and director Craig Hella Johnson.

A Chicago Tribune Best Classical Recording of 2020, A WRTI Best of 2020 Album, Apple Music Featured New Album, and Qobuz Grand Selection.

“The singing of Craig Hella Johnson’s ensemble Conspirare combined with the delicacy of shifting textures of twelve guitars is intriguing and emotionally effective. … I found this a really moving setting for an unusual ensemble. You’ll find it alongside other new pieces for choir and guitar quartet.” — Andrew McGregor, BBC Record Review

“Johnson and Conspirare continue to create indelible work, as in “The Singing Guitar,” which pairs Conspirare’s sublime voices with guitar accompaniment. The melismatic chant of Reena Esmail’s “When the Guitar,” the poignant tone painting of Nicol Muhly’s “How Little You Are,” and the storytelling character of Kile Smith’s “The Dawn’s Early Light” illuminate Conspirare’s versatility and singular sound.” — Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

Music for choir and guitars with Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Texas Guitar Quartet, Austin Guitar Quartet, and cellist Douglas Harvey.
Johnson curated a program woven together by exquisitely crafted music for voices, guitar, and stories of women.

Nico Muhly’s musical mediation How Little You Are evokes powerful landscapes of American pioneers in a compelling work for choir and 12 guitars; soprano Estelí Gomez is a featured soloist. Kile Smith’s The Dawn’s Early Light sets selected text from Native American Sarah Winnemucca’s autobiography that addresses the significant divisions in our human family. The texts present contrasting perspectives of Sara Winemucca, the first Native American to publish and English language narrative, and the pioneer women whose texts are set in Muhly’s piece.

Indian-American composer Reena Esmail’s “When the Guitar,” in a new instrumentation created for Conspirare and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, opens the CD. Conspirare’s sopranos and altos join cellist Douglas Harvey in Craig Hella Johnson’s “The Song That I Came to Sing”.

Conspirare gratefully acknowledges the following for their support of this recording: Anonymous, Dale and Tina Knobel, Legacy of Sound 2, Hella Circle, CAPTRUST: STMM, National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, City of Austin Economic Development Department, Cultural Arts Division and St. Luke’s Methodist Church.

Produced by Max Horowitz — Crossover Media, This content, as well as the related podcast, are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) for redistribution and adaptation.




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