Composer biographies:

DAVID T. LITTLE Biography (b. 1978)

David T. Little is “one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times). His operas Dog Days, JFK, and Vinkensport (librettos by Royce Vavrek), and Soldier Songs have been widely acclaimed, “prov[ing] beyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future” (The New York Times).

Other recent works include the earthen lack (London Sinfonietta / BGSU), The Conjured Life (Cabrillo Festival / Cristian Macelaru), Ghostlight—ritual for six players (Eighth Blackbird / The Kennedy Center), AGENCY (Kronos Quartet), and dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet (The Crossing / ICE). Little is currently composing a new monodrama for Grammy-winning tenor Karim Sulayman and Alarm Will Sound, based on Garth Greenwell’s celebrated novel What Belongs to You, and developing a new work commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera / Lincoln Center Theater new work program.

This season, Chicago Opera Theater presents a production of Little’s acclaimed monodrama Soldier Songs, starring renowned baritone Nathan Gunn, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra presents obscure clues and shiny objects as part of its MusicNOW series. The 2019-2020 season also sees the world premiere of Little’s hold my tongue for voice, percussion, and electronics in September by Bec Plexus as part of the Gaudeamus Music Week in The Netherlands. Bec Plexus will also release an album, Sticklip, featuring hold my tongue, in March on New Amsterdam Records. Other upcoming album releases this season include AM I BORN, recorded by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street and NOVUS NY with Julian Wachner conducting (Acis Records), and AGENCY, a thirty-two minute-long work for string quartet and electronics, recorded by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) and Third Coast percussion (New Amsterdam Records).

Little’s music has been presented by the LA Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, LA Opera, the Park Avenue Armory, Holland Festival, BAM Next Wave, and Opéra de Montréal. He has previously served as Executive Director of MATA and on the board of directors at Chamber Music America, and currently chairs the composition program at Mannes—The New School. From 2014–2017, he was Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia and Music-Theatre Group. The founding artistic director of the ensemble Newspeak, his music can be heard on New Amsterdam, Innova, Sono Luminus, Centaur, and National Sawdust Tracks labels.

September 2019
Reprinted by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes

LOU HARRISON biography (1917-2003)

After graduating from high school in Burlingame, California, studying, working and composing in San Francisco for nearly a decade, a year in Los Angeles, a hectic decade on the East Coast which led to a serious breakdown, Lou Harrison landed in the sleepy village of Aptos on a rolling hill overlooking the Monterey Bay in December of 1954. He was 37.

Aptos was the perfect climate for the ongoing recovery of his New York frantic decade. The cabin was peaceful and the few neighbors friendly. There was no phone and no deadlines. Harrison wanted only the time to study and compose, and to be employed just enough for basic expenses. He applied for several positions: flower gardener (Council for Civil Unity), full-time janitor position (Pajaro Valley school district), Reed College and Kumasi College in Ghana (no positions available). He eventually took work as a dog groomer and a forest service employee.

There was plenty of time to pursue alternate tuning systems and he composed in the next few years, incidental music for Corneille’s Cinna (“Five strict compositions on a tuning of 12 tone in the 2/1 and with each 2/1 tuned similarly”), Simfony in Freestyle (“ The exact vibrations per second of each required tone can be easily be worked out from the ratios; then by aid of Boehin’s Schema….”), Recording Piece (for percussion and electronic overlay), the Political Primer and Strict Songs, all with specified “Just Intonation” schemas.

Then in 1959, a young musician and composer, Robert Hughes, a graduate student at University of Buffalo came upon a recording of pieces by Virgil Thomson and Harrison including the Suite for Cello and Harp and the Second Suite for Strings (performed at the Cabrillo Festival in 1993). Hughes was moved by the simple beauty of Harrison’s work, began a lengthy correspondence and arranged a residency in Buffalo in May of 1959 (following the premiere of Harrison’s opera Rapunzel which received its West Coast premiere at the 1966 Festival).

Hughes soon after received a Baird Fellowship to study in Italy but became “disenchanted” and he took what was left of his money and travelled 6,000 miles to study with Harrison in Aptos. Around that same time, Victor and Sidney Jowers had opened a “roadhouse” café and bar. The Sticky Wicket began presenting chamber music concerts and dramatic productions. Several pieces of Harrison and Hughes works were performed and premiered.

In 1961, Harrison was invited to attend the East-West Music conference in Tokyo with an extended trip to Korea after he had met Dr. Lee Hye Ku and fallen in love with Korean Music. Dr. Lee came to collaborate in Aptos and Harrison returned for a second trip to Korea in 1962. Cabrillo Community College, which was operating out of Watsonville, opened an Aptos campus in 1963 and provided a larger venue for concertgoers, (Harrison’s theatre “kit” Jephtha’s Daughter was premiered there in 1963 even before the first Festival Season.)

Along with Hughes, Ted Toews, Alice Vestal and Gene Hambelton, Harrison was a part of the nucleus group that helped shape the expansion of the Sticky Wicket Concert Series into the Cabrillo Music Festival. However, as the first Festival neared, his second trip to Asia, a residency in Hawaii and the death of his father kept Harrison from direct participation, though he was able to return for the concerts which included his Six Sonatas for Cembalo performed by Margaret Fabrizio.

From then and throughout most of the Festival’s history, virtually every major work of Lou Harrison’s has been performed, including many premieres, two commissions, and several “volunteer” pieces. In the summer preceding Harrison’s death, the Cabrillo Festival staged a magnificent performance of Harrison’s opera Rapunzel, which brought the composer great joy. After Harrison’s death in 2004, a memorial tribute concert was presented at the Festival season, featuring a performance by Dennis Russell Davies reprising Harrison’s beautiful Grand Duo. Fittingly, the Cabrillo Festival has presented 72 performances of Harrison’s work, more than any other composer in its history.

For the 20th Anniversary of the Festival (1982) Harrison was commissioned to write his Third Symphony, which incorporates revisions and orchestrations from as early as 1937. As an anniversary tribute, the 2012 Cabrillo Festival season included Harrison’s Third Symphony on Saturday, August 11, with the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop.

—Charles Hansen

For more about Lou Harrison, explore:

Cabrillo Festival’s 2017 centenary tribute pages.
Lou Harrison: Composing a World by Leta E. Miller, Fredric Lieberman
Lou Harrison: A World of Music, a documentary film by Eva Soltes
Cabrillo Festival Board Member Tom Ellison’s profile of Lou Harrison on the Diversity Center’s website

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