Cabbages and Kings is a setting of that most famous verse of the poem, "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. It captures the moment midway in the poem when, surrounded by all the eager little oysters, the Walrus and the Carpenter begin hungrily (and of course nonsensically) to seduce their still unwary prey.
"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax- Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings."
When I was asked by Edna Michell to compose a piece for Yehudi Menuhin's eightieth birthday, her request was specific: a work to end the concert, bringing together all of the evening's soloists. The work is scored for solo soprano, four solo violins, solo clarinet, SATB chorus, flute (piccolo), trumpet, horn, trombone, harp, percussion, and string orchestra. For the last few years I have been writing an opera entitled Dum Dee Tweedle, which is based on Lewis Carroll texts. The music for Cabbages and Kings is adapted from that as-yet-unperformed work and begins with the solo soprano singing the verse as a little aria, The chorus immediately repeats the text, first in a grandiose version, and then in a delicate, more scherzando fashion. The coda, based on the non-Carrollian words, "Happy Birthday to You" combines the solo soprano with the chorus. At the very end, as I warmed to the task of a landmark birthday tribute, I have added a melody highly characteristic of and always associated with such occasions.
David Del Tredici accepted the assignment of uniting the orchestra, Ms. Hendricks, the evening's other fine soloists (the clarinetist Richard Stoltzman; the cellist Ole Akahoshi; the violinists Shlomo Mintz, Elmar Oliveira and Edna Michell, Mr. Menuhin's close colleague, whose idea this tribute was) and the New York Choral Society in a grand finale. "Cabbages and Kings" turned out to be yet another of Mr. Del Tredici's skillfully scored pieces on Lewis Carroll texts, this one with "Happy Birthday" woven into the coda. But Mr. Menuhin conducted it with relish and gratitude, as he did the many other works that called for his services during this enthusiastically received tribute.
It ended with an exuberant Del Tredici setting of Lewis Carroll for soprano, chorus, four violins, clarinet and orchestra, culminating in a riotous setting of Happy Birthday.
An even bigger ovation was granted the world premiere of "Cabbages and Kings," the latest installment in David Del Tredici's seemingly inexhaustible musical overview of the literary works of Lewis Carroll. This one is based on the familiar "Walrus and the Carpenter" episode from "Through the Looking Glass," and contrary to what we have recently heard from the grapevine, Mr. D.D.T., hasn't lost an iota of his incredible gifts for melodic, vocal and orchestral invention. The sounds are still shamelessly of the kitchen sink variety — outrageously, totally adorable. All soloists took part in this premiere, and here Ms. Hendricks was back in her element (after all, she premiered David's "Final Alice" 20 years ago), singing with shimmering pungency and squarely on pitch.
"Cabbages and Kings" not surprisingly and most appropriately ends with a typical D.D.T. joke — in this case an inimitably arranged treatment of "Happy Birthday" in honor of Sir Yehudi, who was obviously overjoyed with the opportunity to conduct this tribute himself. And it appears that from his vigorous handling of the baton and his speech at the end (alternately genial and touching) that Menuhin will be conducting for many of his birthdays to come.