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David T. Little


David T. Little is “one of the most imaginative young composers” on the scene, a “young radical” (The New Yorker), with “a knack for overturning musical conventions” (The New York Times). His “sharp, elegantly bristling” music (New York magazine) is potent and dramatic, drawing as much upon his experience as a punk/metal drummer and knowledge of the musical theater tradition as his classical pedigree. In his work he often undertakes political and existential themes, and has quickly garnered great success in writing for larger forces, making a mark as “a hope for the future of opera” (Washington Post).

The Wall Street Journal called Dog Days, Little’s chamber opera collaboration with librettist Royce Vavrek, “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years,” and The New York Times cited its 2012 world premiere as one of two highlights of the season, stating that the work “proved beyond any doubt that opera has both a relevant present and a bright future.” John Rockwell, writing for Opera magazine wrote “This is [Little’s] first full-length opera; it will not be his last.” Following the world premiere with Peak Performances and Beth Morrison Projects, the production and cast toured through Fort Worth Opera and Los Angeles Opera (spring 2015) and performed the New York premiere on the Prototype Festival (January 2016). Two new productions premiered in Germany in 2016 (Theater Bielefeld and Mecklenburgisches Staatstheater Schwerin). In fall 2016, VIA Records released the world-premiere recording of Dog Days, starring the original cast and Newspeak led by conductor Alan Pierson; the CD was listed as one of NPR’s Best Recordings of 2016.

Most recently, Little and Vavrek—whom the Wall Street Journal has called “one of the most exciting composer-librettist teams working in opera today”—debuted their first grand opera, JFK, to high praise. Opera News proclaimed it a “ravishing…triumphant work” and the Wall Street Journal called it “absorbing…at once grander and more intimate than Dog Days.” Commissioned by Fort Worth Opera, Opéra de Montréal, and American Lyric Theater, the piece premiered in Fort Worth (April-May 2016). Little was also recently awarded a commission from The Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater as part of their new works program.

Little’s multimedia music theatre work, Soldier Songs, based on interviews with veterans, received its New York City premiere in the inaugural Prototype Festival and was later presented by the Holland Festival. George Loomis, for Musical America, said, “[Little] has earned acclaim for the imaginative way he draws on his varied musical interests to produce arresting and coherent works. One might have expected some sort of stylistic hybrid, but Little’s music falls comfortably within the modern-day ‘classical’ idiom, his allusions to pop adding rhythmic verve and melodic appeal.” Seth Colter Walls, reviewing the commercial recording for eMusic, concluded that the piece was “thrillingly done”. The Atlanta Opera presented a new staging of Soldier Songs to rave reviews in fall 2015, directed by Tomer Zvulun, and designed by GLMMR. This production travelled to San Diego Opera in fall 2016.

Recent and upcoming orchestral highlights include the world premiere of The Conjured Life, a centennial tribute to Lou Harrison, to be performed this August by the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra and Cristian Măcelaru (during his debut season as the festival’s music director); the world premiere of Am I Born, a 30-minute oratorio incorporating shape-note hymnody, performed by the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Brooklyn Youth Chorus, soprano Mellissa Hughes, and conductor Alan Pierson in 2012; a performance of haunted topography by wild Up and conductor Christopher Rountree at the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s 2013 Brooklyn Festival; and three premieres led by conductor Marin Alsop, including the world premiere of CHARM, a 10-minute orchestral piece that nods to Baltimore’s streets and neighborhoods via its “Charm City” nickname. Speaking in The Baltimore Sun, Alsop said, “David is a real talent whose work has deservedly gained widespread recognition in recent years.

Little is currently working on a new opera commissioned by the MET Opera / Lincoln Center Theater new works program, and the music-theatre work Artaud in the Black Lodge with Outrider legend Anne Waldman (Beth Morrison Projects). Additional recent projects include Haunt of Last Nightfall, released on the bustling independent classical label New Amsterdam Records, with a tour by Chicago’s Third Coast Percussion. As part of its 40th anniversary season, Kronos Quartet commissioned and premiered AGENCY, and is planning tours in upcoming seasons. Maya Beiser commissioned Hellhound for her “All Vows” and “Uncovered” tours; the piece is included on her TranceClassical album (July 2016). Ghostlight—ritual for six players was commissioned by The Kennedy Center for eighth blackbird, who premiered the work there in March 2016. dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet, a meditation on the feet of Christ on the cross after Buxtehude, was commissioned by The Crossing and International Contemporary Ensemble, who presented the work in Philadelphia and in New York as part of the Mostly Mozart Festival in 2016, and released a recording of the piece on Innova Recordings in February 2017.

Little is the founding artistic director and drummer for the amplified chamber ensemble, Newspeak. Hailed as “potent” (Alex Ross), “innovative” (New York magazine), and “fierce” (Time Out New York), Newspeak explores the relationship of music and politics, while confronting head-on the boundaries between the classical and the rock traditions. Newspeak released its first CD of commissioned works in November 2010, to critical acclaim. “You could call this punk classical,” Lucid Culture proclaimed, noting that the disc is “fearlessly aware, insightfully political (and) resolutely defiant.” The Washington Post wrote of their 2013 Washington DC performance, “Newspeak pretty much rules.” They have been featured at the Park Avenue Armory, on the Ecstatic Music Festival, on the 25th anniversary Bang on a Can Marathon and made their international debut at the 2014 Holland Festival.

Little’s music has been performed throughout the world—including in Dresden, London, Leipzig, Edinburgh, Milan, Zürich, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, MATA and Cabrillo Festivals—by such performers as the London Sinfonietta, Alarm Will Sound, eighth blackbird, So Percussion, Sentieri Selvaggi, wild Up, ensemble courage, Dither, NOW Ensemble, PRISM Quartet, the New World Symphony, Third Coast Percussion, Beth Morrison Projects, Peak Performances, American Opera Projects, the New York City Opera, the Grand Rapids Symphony and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop. He has received awards and recognition from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Meet The Composer, the American Music Center, the Harvey Gaul Competition, BMI, and ASCAP, and has received commissions from Carnegie Hall, Kronos Quartet, Maya Beiser, the Baltimore Symphony, the Albany Symphony, the New World Symphony, the Kennedy Center’s Fortas Chamber Music Concerts, Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the University of Michigan, and Dawn Upshaw’s Vocal Arts program at the Bard Conservatory, among others.

He holds degrees from Susquehanna University (2001), The University of Michigan (2002), and Princeton University (PhD, 2011), where his research explored the intersection of music and politics. His primary teachers have included Osvaldo Golijov, Steven Mackey, Paul Lansky, William Bolcom, and Michael Daugherty. He has taught music in New York City schools and shelters through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, and served as the inaugural Digital Composer-in-Residence for the UK-based DilettanteMusic.com. He is a founder of the New Music Bake Sale, fostering contemporary classical community annually in Brooklyn. From 2010-2012, he served as the Executive Director of New York’s MATA Festival. From 2012-15, he served as the Director of Composition and Coordinator of New Music at Shenandoah Conservatory, where he is now Distinguished Guest Composer and Senior Lecturer in New Music. In 2015, he joined the composition faculty at Mannes-The New School in New York City. Since 2014, he has served as Composer-in-Residence with Opera Philadelphia and Music-Theatre Group, and in 2016 he served as a Composer-in-Residence with the Apples and Olives Festival in Zürich. He received a 2017 Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. This season he holds the William Bolcom Residency in Composition at the University of Michigan. His music is published by Boosey & Hawkes and can be heard on New Amsterdam Records, Innova Recordings, and VisionIntoArt’s new VIA Records imprint. www.davidtlittle.com

DOG DAYS (excerpt: Act I, Scene 2)

Act I, Scene 2 “Friends” from DOG DAYS (2012), featuring Lauren Worsham (Lisa), John Kelly (Dogman/Prince) and Marnie Breckenridge (Mother). Live performance from the world premiere production at Peak Performances @ Montclair, directed by Robert Woodruff and produced in association with Beth Morrison Projects, from October 2013. Set and video by Jim Findlay, lighting by Matthew Frey, costumes by Vita Tzykun. The ensemble is Newspeak, conducted by Alan Pierson.

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SOLDIER SONGS (two excerpts)

Two excerpts from David T. Little’s SOLDIER SONGS (from Part II: Still Life with Tank and iPod and from Part III: Two Marines ), performed by David Adam Moore and Newspeak conducted by Todd Reynolds. Video taken from the world premiere production at the 2011 International Festival of Arts and Ideas, produced by Beth Morrison Projects, and directed by Yuval Sharon. (Lucas Krech, lights; Chisato Uno, set/costumes; Corey Michael Smithson, video).

SOLDIER SONGS was commissioned by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble.

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A “ghost opera in two acts” for percussion quartet and electronics, HAUNT OF LAST NIGHTFALL uses deconstructed narrative based on historical research to explore the horrific 1981 massacre of the village of El Mozote, El Salvador by US-trained and funded Salvadoran government troops. Commissioned by Third Coast Percussion, this video of the full work was taken at the world premiere performance at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago in December of 2010.

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NewMusicBox Articles

Articles August 15 2007 | By David T. Little
Memories Are Better Off Sung

Although memory is suggested in much of the prolific output of The Fiery Furnaces, nowhere is it more focused than in their 2005 release Rehearsing My Choir, which tells the...