New Alice-Themed Music Project

We’ve just received the following note about a new indie music effort and Indiegogo campaign:

I’m writing because my band is recording an album of poem-song adaptations from “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” We’valready recorded half the tracks, and we launched an Indiegogo album pre-sale campaign on May 4th to raise the funds needecover the costs of additional recording, mixing, mastering, and duplication. Our album, “Contrariwise,” will be released on November 4th. I hope you’ll consider posting a link to our Indiegogo page, where we have a letter describing the project in more detail, as well as a 4 minute video that includes snippets fromrough demos of our versions of “Jabberwocky,” “Beautiful Soup,” “Queen Alice,” and others:

If you’re into Alice-themed music, you might want to check it out!

Unsuk Chin’s “out there” Alice in Wonderland opera in St. Louis

With only two performances left of a six-night show, Alice in Wonderland at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis seems to have been charming and challenging the critics in equal measure. “South Korean composer Unsuk Chin’s five-year-old Alice in Wonderland might be the most “out there” work I’ve seen in 22 years of coming here” says Scott Cantrell, classical music critic for the Dallas Morning News.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Ken Howard)

With prime episodes wittily adapted in a libretto by David Henry Hwang and Chin, the score matches Carroll for sheer weirdness and unpredictability — and humor. I was delighted for about an hour and a half of the nearly two-hour, no-intermission work, but found the end overly protracted.

Vocal lines often dart widely, although Alice sings a lullaby to the Duchess’ pig baby. There’s a fair bit of Sprechstimme, halfway between speech and singing, and the Duchess tosses off a streetwise rap. The Caterpillar “speaks” through an onstage, be-fezzed bass clarinetist, while the words of his exchange with Alice are merely projected on the walls. More (and some photos). . .

John von Rhein at the Chicago Tribune seemed to enjoy the evening:

Ashley Emerson made a spunky, engaging Alice, clear of voice and accurate of pitch, although her soprano sometimes failed to penetrate the thorny scoring. The Caterpillar was danced by choreographer Sean Curran and “sung” by bass clarinetist James Meyer, with members of the children’s chorus trailing behind as segments of the insect’s body. Tracy Dahl’s Cheshire Cat, David Trudgen’s White Rabbit, Matthew DiBattista’s Dormouse, Aubrey Allicock’s Mad Hatter, Julie Makerov’s Queen of Hearts and Jenni Bank’s Duchess also were standouts amid the large ensemble. Every one of them went at the blithe lunacy of their roles hammer and tongs. More. . .

The St. Louis performance is the U.S. premiere of Unsuk Chin’s work. At the world premiere in Munich in 2007 it received a decidedly mixed response, as one review recounted: “In the end, the audience divided violently. The lusty, loudly sustained boo’s seemed to overwhelm the less numerous but also sustained applause.” No such reports from the St. Louis show, just congratulations to a brave and talented ensemble.

The final performance will be on June 23rd at 8pm, at the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, 210 Hazel Avenue St. Louis, MO.


Happy Unbirthday David Del Tredici!

The composer’s 75th un-Unbirthday was actually last March 16th, but it was celebrated in style on March 25 and 26, according to Operation Brooklyn, with a performance of “Haddocks’ Eyes” at the Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, starring Amy van Roekel and with Del Tredici playing piano. The show was presented by Opera on Tap (“born as a barroom presenter of arias” according to the Times,) and American Opera Projects.

David Del Tredici

Is the White Knight, who sings Alice his famous nonsense song in “Through the Looking-Glass,” really a caricature of Lewis Carroll himself? Like the knight, Carroll had shaggy hair, mild blue eyes, a kind and gentle face. Like the knight, his mind seemed to function best when it saw things in topsy-turvy fashion. . . Of all the characters Alice meets on her two dream adventures, only the White Knight seems to be genuinely fond of her and to offer her special assistance… His melancholy farewell may be Carroll’s farewell to Alice when she grew up (became a queen) and abandoned him. With this idea in hand, David Del Tredici’s uses his post-Romantic musical style to bring a touchingly personal dimension to the Alice universe. “Haddocks’ Eyes” was commissioned by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and premiered at Alice Tully Hall in 1986.

Then there were other “Alician” pieces on offer, described by the New York Times:

The programs veer off into very different territory with “Through the Peeping Glass,” described as a “burlesque/cirque” performance by the burlesque artist Rita MenWeep. Sunday’s show includes excerpts from the opera “Dreaming of Wonderland” by Manly Romero and on Monday with portions of Susan Botti’s opera “Wonderglass.”

That’s apparently not the first time Rita MenWeep has done Carrollian Burlesque at the Galapagos Art Space. We found this youtube featuring MenWeep from the gallarey’s Alice in Wonderland-themed 2010 Spring Ball, called “Dances of Vice.”

USC Libraries Wonderland Award submission deadline nearing

Students at the University of Southern California and affiliated institutions take note: the submissions deadline for the 2012 Wonderland Award is only two weeks away.

The goal of the annual award, now in its eighth year, is to encourage new scholarship and creative work related to Lewis Carroll. The competition is multidisciplinary and all manner of submissions are welcomed, from scholarly essays to animation, digital compositions, film, music, performance pieces, and visual artworks.

Last year, the award was won by USC Thornton School of Music student Veronique Van Pelt for her musical album, The Alice Sketches: Songs About Lewis Carroll, Alice Liddell, the Wonderland Stories and the Present. Below is a picture of Van Pelt receiving her award. Linda Cassady, founder and sponsor of the award, is pictured far right.

Submissions for 2012 USC Libraries Wonderland Award are due on April 2nd. For more information visit the USC Libraries website.

USC Libraries Wonderland Award 2011

Update: If you are coming to the LCSNA Spring Meeting in Cambridge, MA, next month, you will get the chance to hear Linda Cassady talk about her Wonderland Award and some of the many artistic and scholarly creations it has inspired. More details are available here. If you haven’t yet made plans to attend the meeting, there is still time!

Madonna Alice and Six Tweedles Living in a Disney World

You know how it is. You read an email alert which leads to a blog, which leads to a YouTube clip, which leads to you spending 6:31 minutes watching a 1987 spoof of Madonna’s “Material Girl” starring Alice and six men in Tweedle suits, shot entirely on location and out of hours in Disney World, Florida.

It’s brilliantly awful, but if for any reason you can’t quite watch it all, at least skip to the end to read the extensive credits. Prominent thanks are given to the Walt Disney World Character Wardrobe, on the principal that sometimes it is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, I assume.


New Snark choral piece charms with smiles and soap.

Naxos has released composer Maurice Saylor’s “magnum opus” The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits, on CD and where all fine digital music files can be downloaded. You can hear the excellent Cantate Singers toss lines from Carroll’s poem around in a choral whirlwind, accompanied by Saylor’s Snark Pit-Band. The other tracks on the album, music Saylor wrote for silent films and played by The Snark Ensemble, are also really fun. Listen to excerpts of Amazon’s mp3s (individual tracks for $0.89, or the whole album for $11.68), or buy from iTunes here. The Snark Ensemble pictured below, Maurice Saylor second from right:

Your Monday morning Vocaloid musical

Monday morning off to a dull start? Transform it with this Vocaloid musical created by the Japanese artist known as Oster Project.

The part of Alice (and possibly all the other parts as well – I’m shaky on the technology here) was “sung” by Hatsune Miku, a singing synthesizer application which was created using vocal samples from Japanese actress Saki Fujita. Hatsume Miku, one of many singing personas created using the Vocaloid software, has become a virtual idol: her album topped a Japanese weekly album chart and she even performed “live” in Tokyo in last year.


Gillian Welch sings “White Rabbit” on NPR

The great country revival duo, Gillian Welch (with Dave Rawlings), released their first album in almost a decade, The Harrow & the Harvest. (It’s really good.) They went on Fresh Air with Terry Gross to schlep it, and at the end of the show, Gross asked them to play a cover, “to surprise us with a song that we might not think that they like.” They chose Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and it’s a pretty damned beautiful cover of that song. Starting at 41 minutes into the show, Welch explains why they chose that song, and then their version of it gets cut off for the credits. HOWEVER, naturally, they’re hawking it as a special single on iTunes, for $1.29. Remember what the dormouse said… “That I can’t remember,” said the Hatter.

Mike Batt on the Snark: “it is whatever you want it to be.”

Mike Batt’s The Hunting of the Snark is finally getting a U.S. release on July 12th on his own label Dramatico. The original 1980′s concept album featured Art Garfunkel, Roger Daltrey, George Harrison, Stephane Grappelli, Sir John Gielgud, John Hurt, Captain Sensible, Deniece Williams, Julian Lennon, Sir Cliff Richard and a kitchen sink. Mike Batt was interviewed last week by American Songwriter’s Evan Schlanksy, about his take on “Snark” and the history of the piece:

Give us an overview of The Hunting Of The Snark album.

I made this album in the early eighties, – purely on a whim, and having fallen in love with Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem. I wrote all new lyrics (and utilized his poem as narration between the songs). It’s a mad story of 10 characters who all go off looking for the SNARK, whatever it is, – and it is whatever you want it to be. Some might see it as money, some as religion, some as love, some as just a beast of flesh and blood. That’s what the album and subsequent stage show explore – the different points of view many people can take about the same thing. I made the album using the London Symphony Orchestra, and a great cast of stars, from Art Garfunkel to Roger Daltrey, Deniece Williams and even a cameo from George Harrison. It was a fantastic experience.

Why put it out now?

It’s never been out in the States – and in fact never had a full release in the UK either, way back, because of a dispute with the record company. I’ve now reacquired it and am issuing it on my own label, Dramatico. I think it is among my best work as a writer, arranger and orchestrator – and it would be a pity for it never to have seen the light of day.

Any favorite memories or interesting stories from the theatrical performance?

We played some fun concerts of it in Australia, – and also in the UK. Costumed concerts with the whole orchestra dressed up in nautical outfits, and the cast working in front of them, oratorio style. Then it progressed to the West End, like a full “Broadway” production. We had a 50 piece orchestra live on stage every night – so consequently we couldn’t afford to keep it on for long (7 weeks) but it was a hugely rewarding experience. We did things like plant dancers in the orchestra and so suddenly the cello section would start doing backflips, – we even had someone “fish” a viola player out of the orchestra from a bridge, above, using a fishing rod (and a flying harness!). It was totally insane.

Tell us how you went about putting the album together from a songwriting perspective.

I literally scored it straight onto full orchestral manuscript, starting with an empty page and working from front to end. It was before the days of Finale and Sibelius, so the good old 2B pencil and eraser were my tools. I had 3 months in which to write it, having given myself that deadline in order to perform it at an LSO concert I had been invited to conduct. I allowed myself a lot of freedom, but didn’t steal any lyrics from Lewis Carroll. I do, as I said earlier – quote him verbatim, as verse between the songs. I wanted to write something that was intriguing, originaland commercial. I think the fact that I was brought up on The Beatles has something to do with both my choice of subject matter and the whimsical quality of the songs.

Among all the projects you’ve worked on, what are some of your personal favorites? Which ones do people say moved them the most?

Snark is right up there as one of my favorites. [continue reading the interview...]

Here’s Captain Sensible performing the Snooker Song at the Royal Albert Hall performance:

David del Tredici’s Final Alice at Pittsburgh Symphony

If you’re in Pittsburgh this weekend, the symphony will perform Final Alice (1972) by David Del Tredici, the Pulizer-winning American composer who spent much of his earlier career being inspired by Carroll’s writings. Final Alice is “an opera in concert form for soprano, folk ensemble, and orchestra.” Leonard Slatkin conducts and Hila Pitmann sings the Soprano Alice part at the Heinz Hall, tonight and Sunday. There’s a nice profile on Del Tredici and the piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today: ‘Wonderland’ led composer through looking glass preview by Andrew Druckenbrod.

Soprano Hila Plitmann as Alice in "Final Alice"

As Mr. Del Tredici started to traverse the fantastical world of Carroll (the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832-98), he slowly began to shift from 12-tone music to the lush tonal style that occasionally recalled the Romantic sound of the 19th century.

“I did it very gradually,” he said. “My first ‘Alice’ work — ‘Jabberwocky’ (from ‘Pop-Pourri’ of 1968) — was atonal. It was a monster and it could be atonal, but there was a chorale in it; I was using found tonal objects.”

“An Alice Symphony” (1969) cast tonality “like a visitor from another planet.” “Vintage Alice” (1972) went further — it is tonal, but with different keys competing with each other. It was only in “Final Alice” (1976), which the Pittsburgh Symphony will perform in its rare full version this weekend, that Mr. Del Tredici took his biggest step. Written for soprano-narrator, folk group and orchestra, he felt “it had to be really Romantic and tonal.”

It was “Final Alice” that really jolted the orchestral community in the United States. No less than the Chicago Symphony Orchestra premiered it in 1976.

The 1980 recording with Sir George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is on Amazon here. There are some extensive program notes here by Slatkin about the piece when he performed it at the Kennedy Center.