Alva Henderson

A trained singer as well as a composer, Alva Henderson has been named by the Los Angeles Times as "an extraordinary talent, a strategist who can cope with sprawling forms, a musician with an obvious flair for the theatrical.” Henderson is known for his operas based on distinctly American topics, such as his 1972 work The Last of the Mohicans. His songs include settings of Janet Lewis, Dana Gioia, and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Photo: Alva Henderson, orchestrating "The Last of the Mohicans" in 1976; photo courtesy of the composer

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    Alva Henderson entered San Francisco State College as a Drama major, but after several years changed to a major in Composition with voice as his principal instrument. He studied composition with Wayne Peterson (SF State) and Robert Sheldon (SF Conservatory). Before leaving the college in 1966 to pursue a career in music, he presented a complete recital of original works.

    During the following four years he completed his first opera Medea while supporting himself by singing in the San Francisco Opera Chorus. The 1972 production of Medea by the San Diego Opera with Metropolitan Opera star Irene Dalis in the title role brought him to national attention.

    A commission from Opera Delaware to create an opera for the American Bicentennial and for the gala reopening of the restored Grand Opera House in Wilmington followed, and The Last of the Mohicans was premiered there in 1976. The production was met with much critical success, acclaimed by Opera News for its “a pulsing sense of melody and stirring emotional commitment.” The following year the work was produced by the Lake George Opera Festival and broadcast throughout the country on National Public Radio.

    Among his other compositions are the operas West of Washington Square, premiered by Opera San Jose in 1988, Achilles (unproduced) the cantata The Ancient Ones, premiered by the Schola Cantorum in 1983, and a dramatic musical, Far From the Madding Crowd.

    In June of 1998, Henderson was composer in residence at the Western Slope Summer Music Festival. One hour of excerpts from his opera Nosferatu were performed (with full orchestra conducted by Imre Pallo) to great acclaim.

    In June of 2004, Schola Cantorum, a San Francisco Bay area chorus of 140 voices gave the premiere of Henderson’s Winter Requiem, poems by Dana Gioia. The work was performed at St. Joseph’s Church in San Jose, and in San Francisco at St. Ignatius Church.

    Also in 2004, Henderson’s opera Nosferatu, with libretto by Dana Gioia (after the film by F. W. Murnau) was given its world premiere first at by the Rimrock Opera in Billings, Montana, followed by performances in by Opera Boise in Boise, Idaho.

    Henderson has written many songs, song cycles and choruses as well as incidental music for Twelfth Night and The House of Bernarda Alba and Much Ado About Nothing.

    Recitals of his music have been performed at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, California, the Burlingame Music School, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, The Renee Weiler Concert Hall in New York City, and Mercer University, Macon Georgia. In celebration of his 70th birthday, a recital of 26 of his art songs was performed at the Tateuchi Recital Hall in Mountain View in April 2010.

    Mr. Henderson has been a Fellow at Yaddo and The Djerassi Foundation and Distinguished Artist in Residence at San Jose State University.

    He makes his home in Mountain View, California with his spouse, Bear Capron

    –Alva Henderson (Christie Finn, ed.)

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    (Alva Henderson)


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