On David Del Tredici

Last week’s events with the Albany Symphony and David Alan Miller, including the premiere of my work, Unite in Song, were too big to fit into just one post, so I wanted to say a bit about the distinguished American composer, David Del Tredici, who was was one of the featured composers at this year’s American Music Festival.

I first came into contact with Del Tredici’s music as part of my weekly listening assignments during composition lessons with Christopher Rouse in my freshman year at Eastman.  The first work I heard, Final Alice (1976), is a huge, hour-plus piece and one of many connected with Lewis Carroll’s Alice tales.  During last week’s concerts, the Albany Symphony performed his Pop-pourri (1968), which Del Tredici describes as “a kind of Cantata of the Scared and Profane.”  I also got to hear a performance of his chamber work, Bullycide (2013).  Del Tredici’s work encompasses vast stylistic and sonic space, making use of massive orchestras, rock groups, crazed singing styles, Bach chorales, Schubertian harmonic progressions, noise, and everything in between.  After hearing his Pop-pourri, a non-composer but highly-informed musical amateur asked me: “Was that crazier than Ligiti?”  And, in fact, I believe it was!  (There is a whole issue of American composers not getting the “credit” the European “Masters” have more easily received.  Hint: Copland, Piston and other mid-century symphonists, Druckman, Rochberg, and others.  But I digress…)

Beyond the musical interest and joy in listening to his music, I must say that hearing David Del Tredici speak to us “young” composers about his life and work—his struggles, fears, triumphs, hopes—his Composer’s Ten Commandments—was the most touching aspect of my time in Troy.  Regardless of style, I have always felt the greatest honor in meeting composers “of a certain age.”  Anyone who has managed to survive the harshness of a creative life has my highest respect.  Especially when they are kind.