Composer Spotlight - David Wolfson

Welcome back to our Opera for the 22nd Century blog for another feature from the cast/creative team of Changing Fortunes - A Zoom Opera. Have you purchased your tickets yet?? We hope to see you live on Zoom on Friday, March 12 or Saturday, March 13 at 7pm. Today we're pleased to feature the composer and lyricist of Changing Fortunes, David Wolfson. HOTOpera first had the pleasure of performing one of David's operas, Maya's Ark, in 2016 at our 5th annual New in November Festival. We were so impressed with David's gift for lyricism and storytelling that we performed one of his operas at two subsequent New in November Festivals (Rapture at NIN6 and A Fine Invention at NIN7). In 2017, Hartford Opera Theater commissioned David Wolfson to write an additional chamber opera, Heaven's Gate, and combined the three other operas we had performed by the composer (Maya’s Ark, Rapture and A Fine Invention) into an evening of chamber operas centered around faith entitled: The Faith Operas. As you can probably gather from our illustrious history, HOTOpera loves David Wolfson and it is an honor to commission and premiere the sequel to Fortunes's Children: Changing Fortunes. We hope you enjoy learning about David's career and what composing Changing Fortunes means to him.

David Wolfson (1964) is a composer, music director, arranger, and pianist who lives in New York City. He holds a PhD in music composition from Rutgers University, where he studied with Charles Fussell, an MA in composition from Hunter College, where he studied with Shafer Mahoney and Richard Burke, and a BM from the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with Eugene O'Brien and John Rinehart, graduating in 1985. In that same year he was awarded the first annual Darius Milhaud Award by the Darius Milhaud Society and won the Bascom Little Musical Theatre Composition Competition for his short opera, Rainwait.

Mr Wolfson’s music has been called “brilliant” by the Cleveland Plain Dealer; the New York Times referred to it as “musically inventive” and “theatrically forceful.” His concert works have been performed by such notable performers as Margaret Leng Tan, Jenny Lin, and the Atlantic Chamber Players. Recent premieres include Daphne, a monodrama for soprano and piano, at Hunter College; Maybe We Won’t Remember How to Be Sorry, for woodwind quartet, at Music at Our Savior’s Atonement; Twinkle, Dammit!, for toy piano and toys by Margaret Leng Tan at the 1st International Toy Piano Festival; and The Faith Operas, an evening of chamber opera premiered in 2017 by Hartford Opera Theater.

Mr. Wolfson is the composer of Story Salad, a series of stage revues for children, which toured nationally for fourteen seasons beginning in 1988, and was seen by well over a million children, teachers and parents. He has supplied incidental music for several off-off-Broadway plays, created sound designs for a set of Macy’s window displays, and written songs for an amusement park big-headed-costumed-character show, Riverside Park’s Country Critter Jamboree.

In the 1990s, Mr. Wolfson was resident composer and music director of EM/R Dance Co., a choreographer’s collective, and co-artistic director (with choreographer Lynn Wichern) of Wichern/Wolfson dance & music, a company dedicated to performances involving both dance and live music. In connection with the company, Mr. Wolfson received several grants from Meet The Composer and a grant from the Music Program of the National Endowment for the Arts. From 2005-2009, he was the Associate Artistic Director, resident composer and Music Director of Experience Vocal Dance Company (EVDC). His theatrical song cycle Dreamhouse, based on the poetry of Barbara DeCesare, was produced in 2005 as part of the Sixth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City, to critical acclaim. His musical Play Like a Winner received its premiere production as part of the 2017 New York Musical Festival, while another musical, The Bet, was part of the 2017 Midtown International Theatre Festival the same week.

In 2013 Albany Records released Seventeen Windows, a CD of Mr. Wolfson’s music, featuring the suite of piano pieces Seventeen Windows, performed by Jenny Lin, and Sonata for Cello and Piano, performed by Ms. Lin and Laura Bontrager. His music has also been recorded by cellist Suzanne Mueller, soprano Michelle Murray Fiertek, and pop singer Tamra Haydn.

Mr. Wolfson has served as music director, music supervisor, orchestrator and/or arranger for numerous musical theatre, music theatre and opera productions and readings in New York and across the country. He teaches at Hunter College. More information, recordings and videos can be found at https://davidwolfsonmusic.net.



We recently interviewed David about his process composing Changing Fortunes and what's he's been up to in 2021. Here's what he had to say:


HOTOpera: We're thrilled to premiere the sequel to your highly acclaimed Zoom opera: Fortune's Children. What have you been up to since the premiere of FC Part I?


David: The same things everyone else has been doing: weathering the pandemic and the election chaos, and trying to keep making a living. In my case that’s mostly teaching; this spring I have classes at both Hunter College and Rutgers University. I did compose a piece for a virtual ensemble at Franklin and Marshall college, using some of the same techniques I developed for Fortune’s Children.


HOTOpera: When you were writing Fortune's Children: Part I, did you imagine there would be a sequel? Have you ever written two chamber operas with a continuous storyline?


David: The sequel was entirely Artistic Director, Lisabeth Miller’s idea—it was the furthest thing from my mind as I was writing the original Fortune’s Children. I don’t know that anyone has ever written two chamber operas with a continuous storyline; at least I’ve never heard of any such thing. The closest I’ve come, I guess, is writing A Woman’s Life and Loves, a companion piece to Schumann’s Fraueniebe und Leben that imagines the parts of the character’s life that Schumann skips over.


HOTOpera: Has your approach to writing for Zoom changed since composing Part I? What do you wish you knew the first time around? David: What’s changed is only having a better sense of how the singers will be able to deal with the environment, which was much better than I had initially assumed. (They’re champs!) Zoom itself has been updated, of course; I’m told that now with the premium audio settings, we ought to be able to have up to three people singing at once. So I’m trying that—but only for a short passage, in case it doesn’t work the way we think.


HOTOpera: Have you reused or expanded on any musical material when composing Part II? Or have you tailored most of the music to fit the Part II story line?


David: Almost all the music is completely new. I did reuse the harmonic material from the very opening of Part I in the opening of Part II: C minor and D-flat major chords in rapid, angry alternation become a wistful polychord using all the notes of both.


HOTOpera: Which brother do you most identify with and why? In Part II we meet a new character, the brother's Mother Sharon, who has dementia. Did you use any of your personal experiences with people with dementia to help shape her character?


David: Alex, Pat and Chris are (loosely) based on myself and my two younger sisters, and Alex, the oldest, is closest to my own role in the family. Both of my sisters told me they howled with laughter at the Pat’s line in Part I “I am so sick of playing second fiddle to Alexander the Great!” —because they knew it was based on the way they used to call me “Saint David” when we were kids.


The character of Sharon is equally loosely based on my own mother, who does not have dementia, although she does have trouble finding words sometimes, as Sharon does. I combined that with the experiences of some friends of mine whose parents have suffered with dementia, and some research.


HOTOpera: For members of our audience that might not be familiar with your works, what compositions are you most proud of and why?


David: They’re all my babies! But writing for singers really seems to be my home; besides the operas, there are a number of song cycles and musical theatre projects that I think stand up very well. Writing for singers—especially when I write the words as well—really allows me to explore what it means to be human.


HOTOpera: What additional performances do you have coming up? Any other exciting premieres in the works?


David: There’s a new theatre company in Texas that is working on presenting my musical The Bet (book by Tony Sportiello); and I’ve been commissioned to write a piece for singer and electronics for a streamed concert in the spring or early summer. It’s all a little vague at this point, but I’ll be sure to let people know when I have dates!


Thank you for visiting our Opera for the 22nd Century blog! We hoped you enjoyed learning more about David and his process composing Changing Fortunes. We hope to see you on Zoom on 3/12 or 3/13 at 7pm. Visit our website to purchase your TICKETS and learn more about Part II of the world premiere of this innovative chamber opera created for live performance on Zoom!


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