By Anne Midgette, Published: April 4, 2014 Read online here.
Most accounts of the composer David T. Little mention prominently that he used to be a punk rock drummer. This fact is highlighted as if it were interesting, quirky, odd and a radical anomaly in the classical music world. But this isn’t quite correct.
For one thing, this description implies some great conversion experience that never happened. Little didn’t “used to be” a drummer; he still is a drummer. Being a drummer is part of his skill set. “Unfortunately, I don’t have time,” he says now, “or I’d love to play in a straight-up rock band.” Like many young musicians, he played in garage bands through middle school and high school and college. But he also studied classical composition at such places as the University of Michigan and Princeton, where he got his doctorate in 2011.
“I went through phases of being intensely on,” he says, “and then I would decide to get serious and study classical music very seriously and reject rock. I finally realized how stupid that was. That was when my voice as a composer started to come through. . . . I started writing music that felt really honest. Not that the stuff before was dishonest; it was just sort of incomplete.”
For another thing, the idea that classical composers are supposed to be divorced from the pop world is so outdated it creaks. There are several established rock drummers — Glenn Kotche and Stewart Copeland among them — who are actively exploring the classical music field. And Little is part of a generation of young composers eager to embrace pop influences and their other musical passions — a generation influenced by Bang on a Can, a composer’s collaborative that’s been doing this kind of thing for several decades.
Little is notable not for any rock-musician schtick, but because he writes compelling, involving music. His thoughtful, quirky operas — “Soldier Songs,” “Dog Days” — which mingle the vigor of rock drumming, the complexity of counterpoint and the dramatic timing of musical theater — have gotten a him lot of attention — and a lot of commissions. He’s working on a piece for the Fortas Chamber Music series; he’s been taken into the Metropolitan Opera’s commissioning program; he’s writing an opera about John F. Kennedy for the Fort Worth Opera. “Dog Days” and “Soldier Songs,” meanwhile, are both going on tour: “Dog Days” will be seen in Fort Worth and Los Angeles in 2015; “Soldier Songs,” en route to the Holland Festival, comes to the District’s Atlas Performing Arts Center in May.
And people are hailing Little as a major force on today’s music scene.
“Dog Days” “just ripped my heart out of my chest,” says Darren K. Woods, the general director of the Fort Worth Opera, who commissioned the Kennedy piece before even seeing “Dog Days.”
“I really believe that he’s the future,” says Beth Morrison, the entrepreneurial New York producer who has produced “Dog Days” and “Soldier Songs.” “He’s going to be one of the most important American composers of the 21st century.”
“I think he is well on his way to becoming one of the major artists in the field,” says Sam Sweet, the Atlas’s outgoing executive director.
And Sweet adds: “He’s just really cool. . . . He’s a good person.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2014
202.399.7993 ext. 115
ATLAS PERFORMING ARTS CENTER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SAM SWEET TO LEAVE THE ATLAS AFTER THREE SEASONS
***Veteran arts administrator strengthened brand of historic H Street performing arts center***
(Washington, D.C.) The Atlas Performing Arts Center, Washington’s thriving contemporary, community-based performing arts center, announced today that Sam Sweet will step down from his position as Executive Director to pursue new professional opportunities as his three-year commitment winds down. Mr. Sweet will continue in his current position until May 31, wrapping up the 2013-14 season.
“My time at the Atlas has been filled with growth and transformation – creating new programs, building relationships with artists and establishing the Atlas as a leading performing arts venue,” states Sam Sweet. “I want to thank the Board, the staff and artists for their support as we worked together to put the Atlas on the map as a contemporary arts center.”
“I am immensely proud of Sam’s accomplishments at the Atlas,” states Atlas Founder and Board Chair Jane Lang. “Sam has brought the Atlas to a higher level of recognition, visibility and achievement. With new artistic partnerships and creative community engagement, the Atlas is now positioned to offer even more to artists and the entire Washington community.”
During his tenure, Sweet developed a robust contemporary presenting series of jazz, new music, world music, dance, theatre and family programming, demonstrating the Atlas’ standing as a world-class venue. Over 200 world-class artists have been presented including Bettye LaVette, Bang-On-A-Can All-Stars, So Percussion, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, Luciana Souza, and StepAfrika. Sweet also promoted new artistic partnerships with Great Noise Ensemble, Rorschach Theatre, The Welders, Scena Theatre and emerging DC-based artists. In all this, the Atlas extended its reach into the DC community with meaningful activities and opportunities for patrons to engage directly with artists. “The Atlas will continue to build upon the groundwork of recent years, so that we can maintain our position as a leading performing arts venue committed to artists and the community,” states Lang. “Growth in audiences and support in these years reflects widespread confidence in the Atlas, its contributions to the community, and its future,” Lang adds.
Public recognition of the role of the Atlas in DC’s arts world has also grown during Sweet’s tenure, highlighted by the Mayor’s Arts Award for Excellence in Service to the Arts in 2012. Most recently, the Atlas was named the 2013 Best Performing Arts Center and its INTERSECTIONS Festival was the 2013 runner-up for Best Festival in The City Papers “Best of” Campaigns. The Atlas is also recognized as a leading arts venue that champions new artistic work and collaborations. Through these collaborations, the Atlas has extended its reach into community with meaningful activities and opportunities for patrons to engage directly with artists.
Prior to Sweet’s departure, the Atlas will appoint a Chief Operating Officer to begin the transition to new leadership.
About Sam Sweet
Before joining the Atlas, Sweet was the management consultant and Interim Executive Director of the Atlas. Known as an experienced and accomplished leader with proven success sparking innovation, change and growth, Sweet previously served as Managing Director at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia. At Signature, he led a small but artistically respected local theatre from its renovated garage space to a new, two-theater $16 million complex while building its organizational capacity to become a national force for developing and producing musical theatre, laying the groundwork for it to win the Regional Theater TONY award in 2009. Prior to that, Sweet was Managing Director at The Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, DC from 1995 to 2001. Working collaboratively with Artistic Director Michael Kahn, Sam led the Theatre to become one of the largest nonprofit theaters in the country and he began the planning for what would later become the Harman Center for the Arts. More recently, Sam served as Chief Operating Officer for the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art and Design. He has served on the Boards of the DC Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Business Improvement District, Arlington Economic Development Commission, Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington and Leadership Greater Washington, and he was a founding board member of the Cultural Development Corporation. Sam’s “visionary leadership” was recognized by the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation with its Exponent Award in 2007. Sweet also leads his own consulting practice, Sam Sweet Consulting, helping non-profits build organizational capacity. Sweet is an adjunct Professor in the Master of Arts Management program at George Mason University. He has a BA from Columbia University and an MBA from Virginia Tech.
For more information on the Atlas Performing Arts Center and performing arts events, visit atlasarts.org or call at 202.399.7993 ext. 2.