David Del Tredici, among the bravest composers I've come to know over the years — and among the most personable, too, as this candid and chatty 2012 interview with Seth Colter Walls shows — celebrates his 79th birthday today, March 16. Next year, with luck, will bring a plethora of round-anniversary-year performances, but right now the biggest and best opportunity to hear his idiosyncratic style at its most potent is fast approaching here in Boston. On Friday, March 25, at 8 p.m., conductor Gil Rose will lead the intrepid Boston Modern Orchestra Project, joined by soprano Courtenay Budd, in an almost unthinkably rare complete account of DDT's evening-length magnum opus, Child Alice.
Like so many of DDT's works, Child Alice is based on the fantastical fables of Lewis Carroll. Scored for an orchestra of Mahlerian proportions and an amplified soprano falls into two big halves: In Memory of a Summer Day (incidentally the first DDT I ever heard — both childlike and lurid, gentle and ecstatic, and a source of instant intoxication) and the triptych Quaint Events — Happy Voices — All in the Golden Afternoon.
Scanning around the web for sources to share here, I was startled to learn that almost none exist. You can still buy the terrific Nonesuch recording of Summer Day through ArkivMusic, Amazon, iTunes, and so on, but it's not available on any of the usual streaming sources, nor through an unauthorized YouTube post. Of the rest, I found no evidence...
...until I visited Del Tredici's website, which includes — miracle of miracles! — streaming recordings of the pieces that together comprise Child Alice. Which recordings these are is anyone's guess; Summer Day likely is the Nonesuch version, while the others evidently are live accounts. (If anyone can identify the performers with certainty, I'd love to know.)
[UPDATE 3pm: The recording of All in the Golden Afternoon is the premiere by Benita Valente and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Eugene Ormandy conducted, as revealed by the radio announcement at the end.]
Will Crutchfield's perceptive if not always positive New York Times review of the premiere complete performance of Child Alice — John Mauceri conducting the American Symphony Orchestra, with sopranos Dawn Upshaw, Victoria Livengood, and Tracy Dahl, at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April 27, 1986 — is well worth reading. Of course.
One more thing: The BMOP concert at Jordan Hall is being presented free of charge, and tickets reportedly are going quickly. You can reserve yours here.
If you need any more persuasion, try this video of Courtenay Budd singing Del Tredici's "This Happy Child" (from his cycle Miz Inez Sez) with the composer at the piano, presented at Bargemusic in Brooklyn on Sept. 24, 2010.
And another taste, one with ample local interest: Oliver Knussen conducting the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, joined by the incomparable soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, in DDT's An Alice Symphony, issued on CD by the late, lamented CRI label, but happily still available.