Music and Libretto by David T. Little
Music Direction by Todd Reynolds
Premiered at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas in June 2011
Film commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects and the Holland Festival
About the Work
SOLDIER SONGS is an evening-length multimedia event from composer David T. Little presented as part of PACE Presents at the Michael Schimmel Center. SOLDIER SONGS combines elements of theater, opera, rock-infused concert music, and animation to explore the perceptions versus the realities of a soldier, the exploration of loss and exploitation of innocence, and the difficulty of expressing the truth of war. Though music can be easily co-opted to serve a political or ideological message, it can equally be a vehicle for reflection, engagement, and emotional connection, as is seen in this gripping opera-theatre work.
The libretto, created by the composer, was adapted from recorded interviews with veterans of five wars. SOLDIER SONGS traces changing perceptions of war in our society and by those who experience it. The nameless soldier is followed through three phases of life: Youth (playing war games), Warrior (time served in the military), and Elder (aged, wise, reflective).
It is a chilling and realistic view of our media-crazed, war machine culture, and of the nature of power in war. Each of the eleven songs explores a different aspect of the experience, ranging from rage, to fear, to joy, to grief. Multi-media elements are employed as a critique of the media’s ability to both glamorize and falsify the truth of combat.
Soldier Songs asks the tough questions and tells the tough stories through its poignant libretto, driving music, and surprising visual counterpoint. The tension between the visual and aural experience of our production works to dispel the numbness felt by those lucky enough to only experience war through the comfort of our living rooms.
David T. Little’s potently dramatic music draws upon his experience as a rock drummer, and fuses classical and popular idioms to powerful effect. His music has been performed throughout the world—including in Dresden, London, Edinburgh, LA, Montreal, and at the Tanglewood, Aspen, MATA and Cabrillo Festivals—by the London Sinfonietta, Alarm Will Sound, eighth blackbird, So Percussion, ensemble courage, Dither, NOW Ensemble, PRISM Quartet, Praxis Quartet, Aeolus Quartet, Newspeak, the New World Symphony, Beth Morrison Projects, Peak Performances @ Montclair, American Opera Projects, New York City Opera, the Grand Rapids Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop, at the Park Avenue Armory, and on the Ecstatic Music Festival and the 25th anniversary Bang On A Can Marathon. 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, the Baltimore Symphony, the Albany Symphony, the New World Symphony, Third Coast Percussion, Kronos Quartet, Maya Beiser, Todd Reynolds, Alarm Will Sound, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the University of Michigan, and Dawn Upshaw’s Vocal Arts program at the Bard Conservatory.
The Wall Street Journal called Little’s first full-length opera, Dog Days, “one of the most exciting new operas of recent years,” and The New York Times cited Dog Days 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.” Little’s multi-media music theatre work, Soldier Songs (2006), based on interviews with veterans of five wars, received its New York City premiere in January 2013 in the inaugural PROTOTYPE Festival. Recent works include AGENCY for the Kronos Quartet, Haunt of Last Nightfall for Third Coast Percussion; RADIANT CHiLD for the New World Symphony; Conspiracy Theory for Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, a new music big band; CHARM for the Baltimore Symphony under Marin Alsop; haunted topography for Alarm Will Sound; and Am I Born for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Brooklyn Youth Chorus and soprano Mellissa Hughes, under Alan Pierson. Upcoming projects include new works for the London Sinfonietta, Newspeak, cellist Maya Beiser, violinist Todd Reynolds, and a new opera, JFK (working title), commissioned by the Fort Worth Opera and American Lyric Theater, and a new work commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater’s new works program. He is also currently developing a new multimedia theater work, Artaud in the Black Lodge with legendary Outrider poet Anne Waldman. From 2010-2012, Little was the Executive Director of the MATA Festival. He is currently the Director of Composition at Shenandoah Conservatory, and the founding artistic director of the amplified chamber ensemble, Newspeak.
Todd is a composer, conductor, arranger, violinist,and a long time member of Bang On A Can, Steve Reich and Musicians and an early member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project. His commitment to genre- bending and technology-driven innovation in music has produced innumerable collaborations with artists that regularly cross musical and disciplinary boundaries, regularly placing him in venues from clubs to concert halls around the world. A forerunner in the expansion of the violin beyond its classical and ‘wood-bound’ tradition, Reynolds electrifies in concert, weaves together composed and improvised segments, and makes use of computer technology and digital loops to sculpt his sounds in real time, seamlessly integrating minimalist, pop, Jazz, Indian, African, Celtic and indigenous folk musics into his own sonic blend. As a cross-genre improviser and collaborator, he has appeared and/or recorded with such artists as Anthony Braxton, Uri Caine, John Cale, Steve Coleman, Joe Jackson, Dave Liebman, Yo-Yo Ma, Graham Nash, Greg Osby, Steve Reich, Marcus Roberts and Todd Rundgren, and has commissioned and premiered countless numbers of new works by America’s most compelling composers, including John King, Phil Kline, Michael Gordon, Neil Rolnick, Julia Wolfe, David Lang, Evan Ziporyn and Randall Wolff. His interdisciplinary work includes ongoing collaborations with SoundPainter Walter Thompson as well as media artists Bill Morrison and Luke DuBois and sound artist Jody Elff. Reynolds is a founder of the band known as Ethel, a critically acclaimed amplified string quartet, with whom he wrote and toured internationally. He has also produced Still Life With Microphone, an ongoing theater piece which incorporates his own written and improvised music, compositions written for him, and elements of video and theatrical arts. Nuove Uova [new eggs], new works for violin and electricity, another Todd Reynolds production is a ‘new-music cabaret’ of sorts, having as its home Joe’s Pub in Manhattan. He is the recipient of ASCAP awards, an American Composers Forum Grant for Still Life with Microphone and a 2003 Meet-the-Composer Commissioning Music/USA award. His current string quartet featuring all-stars from New York’s new music scene is currently on tour with Meredith Monk’s Songs of Ascension and engaged in collaborations with composers and performers such as Kenny Werner, Neil Rolnick and Theo Bleckmann. Current commissions include music for dance, theater and orchestra, as well as a double CD to which was released on March 29th, 2011. toddreynolds.wordpress.com
NEWSPEAK has been featured as a part of the Tune-In Festival with Eighth Blackbird at the Park Avenue Armory, the Ecstatic Music Festival In NYC, on New Sounds Live, and at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas. They have headlined on the MATA Festival, shared bills with The Fiery Furnaces as part of Wordless Music, and performed as part of John Zorn’s Full Force festival. Newspeak released their first CD with New Amsterdam Records in November 2010.
“You could call this punk classical,” Lucid Culture says of the New York-based amplified octet, Newspeak. “Fearlessly aware…(and) resolutely defiant.” “If more groups played music with such life, power, and passion,” says Sequenza21 “nobody would think this music is “dead.” New Sounds host and tastemaker John Schafer has called them ”important players on the new music scene here in New York” and Danny Johnson, of the New Haven Advocate has proclaimed: “these players are so great! …first-rate.” Newspeak’s debut album, sweet light crude “could easily keep a whole nation full of chamber rock lovers well lubricated for a whole year.” (Arcane Candy) It “is a provocative recording that’s also fun and satisfying to listen to, and it may be as seminal for the next generation of composers as Icebreaker’s debut CD was for this one.” (George Grella, The Big City). They “inhabit a world in which all genres are on an equal playing field. And that’s the way they like it.” (The Silent Ballet)
Named after the thought-limiting language in George Orwell’s 1984, Newspeak is a powerhouse ensemble that blends the anthems of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai with the frenetic and politicized aggression of Black Sabbath and the Dead Kennedys. Fusing the music-for-use directness of Louis Andriessen and Frederic Rzewski,the ornate complexity of King Crimson and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and the emotional depths of Elliot Smith and The Cure, they create a mysterious, nuanced, and compelling sound.
Comprised of violinist/composer Caleb Burhans, composer/drummer David T. Little, singer Mellissa Hughes, clarinetist Eileen Mack, guitarist Taylor Levine, cellist Brian Snow, pianist James Johnston, and percussionist Peter Wise, Newspeak is actively committed to the music of its time. In addition to band member/composers Little and Burhans, Newspeak has commissioned, work-shopped, and premiered work by some of the most exciting composers of the new generation, including Corey Dargel, Darcy James Argue, Oscar Bettison, Sean Friar, Ted Hearne, Judd Greenstein, William Brittelle, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Matt Marks, Lisa Coons, and Missy Mazzoli, as well as established composers like Frederic Rzewski and Paul Lansky. An early standout within New York’s “indie-classical” scene, members of Newspeak met in New York City in the 2005. The current ensemble began performing together in 2008.
They have received financial support from the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Meet The Composer (the Cary New Music Performance Fund, the Commissioning Music/USA program, the JPMorgan Chase Regrant Program for Small Ensembles) the Cheswatyr Foundation, the New Spectrum Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, and Fractured Atlas.
CONCERT VERSION WITH FILM
Full production photos by Jill Steinberg
Film production photos by Noah Stern Weber
“Mr. Little’s gifts for setting text comfortably and effectively, and for writing music informed by Minimalism and rock but slavishly indebted to neither, are evident throughout the briskly paced work. … The presentation provided further evidence of Mr. Little’s fast-rising stock as a vital theatrical creator.”
– The New York Times
“Shock and awe took on a new meaning: that of staging aesthetic.”
-The New York Times
”Little’s kaleidoscopic score includes jaundiced nods to both Aaron Copland’s Americana and 19th-century orientalist music, minimalist chirps and chants in “Real American Hero” and “Hollywood Ending,” and blistering, Hendrix-style strings in “War After War.”
“[Little] has earned acclaim for the imaginative way he draws on his varied musical interests to produce arresting and coherent works. Soldier Songs, for which Little wrote his own libretto, sustains that reputation.”
Soldier Songs with Film by Bill Morrison is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.