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.