Gay bullying inspires composer David Del Tredici’s ‘Bullycide’

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Music Critic

You can’t seemingly find a more insider composer than David Del Tredici, whose “Bullycide” was commissioned by La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest and will have its premiere Friday night in Sherwood Auditorium of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

He’s won a Pulitzer Prize and been composer-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic. He’s on the faculty of City College of New York and is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He has been, in his music, obsessed with “Alice in Wonderland.” “Paul Revere” has been a subject of interest. He is very good at dazzling audiences.

And yet, Del Tredici is really one of our most flamboyant outsider composers. His musical excesses are extreme. He pioneered neo-Romanticism in the 1970s not as an act of commonplace communication but as one of rebellion against Modernism. In that, he was doing essentially the same thing at the same time as the Minimalists. A native Californian, Del Tredici, in fact, was a UC Berkeley classmate and close friend of Minimalist founders Terry Riley and La Monte Young.


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In the last few years, Del Tredici writes in his program note for “Bullycide,” it has been his mission “to create a body of musical compositions that unambiguously celebrate the gay experience — happy, sad, horrible, or bizarre.”

“Bullycide,” which is a piano sextet, is sad. The inspiration is the suicide of persecuted gay teenagers. The model for the composition is Schubert’s “Trout” quintet, although Del Tredici, who will always choose more over less, adds an extra violin.

“Bullycide” will sit Friday beside two more premieres, both by former composers-in-residence of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The works are Steven Stucky’s Violin Sonata (for violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pianist Jon Kimura Parker) and John Harbison’s “Crossroads,” a setting of poems by Louis Glück for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble which will feature Jennifer Johnson Cano as soloist.


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