New Jersey-based David T. Little is one of a new breed of classical composers coming to prominence today. Having just completed his Ph.D. in music at that establishment bastion Princeton, he finds time to play percussion regularly at New York City’s hip club Le Poisson Rouge with his ensemble Newspeak and to teach music through Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program, as well as to create music that often has a political message. He served as Dilettante.com’s digital composer-in-residence — beating hundreds of composers from 23 countries for the honor — and recently took the helm of the Philip Glass-founded MATA Festival in New York City, serving as its executive director.
Growing up as a drummer in marching bands and heavy-metal groups, Little didn’t connect at all with classical music until he was in his teens. He started with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, listening to it every day until he could follow it with the score. He then enrolled as a classical percussion performance major at Susquehanna University and subsequently earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he studied with two composers who never forget the entertainment element in their music: Michael Daugherty and William Bolcom. The renowned composer Osvaldo Golijov has also become Little’s mentor and says of him: "I think the kind of pieces he’s doing are much more real than what most young composers are doing. He’s not an ivory-tower kind of guy or a polite guy when it comes to music."
In March 2010, Little’s antic Screamer! was one of the hits of Marin Alsop and the BSO’s "Under the Big Top" festival of music inspired by the circus. While he was in town, Alsop asked him to write a new piece for this season’s Gala. Little recalls that the idea for this work came to him immediately: "I had time to walk around and explore the city — it was my first time in Baltimore — and I really loved it. So I decided to write a piece about Baltimore and the unseen energies that make it so special. Formally, it’s very cinematic. We start with a view of the city itself and then pan down, seeing a cross section of what’s underneath: the electrical grid, the foundations of the city, the bedrock underneath. Then we come back up.
"Even though I was conscious that I was writing for a gala concert, I didn’t want to oversimplify reality. Cities are complex. They are a mixture of good things and less-good things — so much like people — and this complexity is part of their charm.
"So there are high moments — the high energy opening — and low moments — the darker, more dissonant middle section. But the work ends peacefully. It says: we’ve been through a journey together, and sometimes it was difficult. But we have come out the other side into a sense of peace and reconciliation, both with the city and with ourselves as people. Since we are our cities, Charm is about all of us."
--Janet E. Bedell, written originally for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra