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Classical 101

Interview: Down the Rabbit Hole with Composer David Del Tredici

color side profile photo of David Del Tredici at the piano
David Del Tredici at the piano

When I told composer David Del Tredici that I had taken one of his courses at Boston University in the 1970s, he asked, "Which one? Was it my course on lesbians and music? The Gamelan course?... Did you write a fugue for me?" (Yes, very badly.)

So began my recent phone conversation with a composer who has been working at the international level in music for over 50 years.

Among Del Tredici's career posts is a lifelong obsession with Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Said fascination has resulted in a number of large-scale works by the 80-year-old composer, including his mammoth Final Alice, An Alice Symphony, Adventures Underground and Child Alice. 

"In Memory of a Summer Day," part one of Child Alice, won the Pulitzer Prize in music in 1980.

Here's a bit of my recent conversation with my music theory and composition professor from long ago.

Credit Susan Johann / daviddeltredici.com
David Del Tredici

Richard Wagner's operas were thought to be unperformable 150 years ago.​ The world eventually got over it, but Del Tredici's Child Alice is a similarly huge undertaking. There have been only two productions: at Carnegie Hall in 1986, and 30 years later by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project conducted by Gil Rose, with soprano Courtenay Budd.

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project has just released its performance of Child Alice. I can't say enough about this extraordinary ensemble based in my hometown. The production values are heaven-high, and so is the playing and choice of repertoire.

Credit Boston Modern Orchestra Project

As with Del Tredici's obsession with the world of Alice, so his music for this whimsical little girl is joyfully addictive. The complications and references in the musical texture are more delightful than tiring. I guarantee you won't be able to stop listening.

Christopher Purdy is Classical 101's early morning host, 7-10 a.m. weekdays. He is host and producer of Front Row Center – Classical 101’s weekly celebration of Opera and more – as well as Music in Mid-Ohio, Concerts at Ohio State, and the Columbus Symphony broadcast series. He is the regular pre-concert speaker for Columbus Symphony performances in the Ohio Theater.
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