Commissioned by, dedicated to, and inspired by my nephew, Felix Del Tredici.
Behind these dedicatory words lies a family story. I am the oldest of five – four boys and a girl. As well there are grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins galore – and not one of these is in the least musical. For the longest time I was the lone musician in the family. That is, until my nephew Felix came along. Felix at the tender age of 20 had developed into a virtuoso bass trombone player.
There is a family tradition: all of the East Coast brothers – David, Robert, Peter – gather for Christmas at Peter's house in Boston. In 2010, my brother Robert came and brought along his son Felix, trombone in hand. Robert had (of course) raved about Felix, but I had never heard him play. Well, play he did – so brilliantly, so unexpectedly musically and imaginatively that it took my breath away, and in that moment I decided to write him a piece. As I recall now, for three days after Christmas that year, a horrendous blizzard gripped the East Coast. Luckily, I had gotten back to New York City before it struck, but I was then trapped in my apartment. In those three days, I wrote my Felix piece: a set of variations on the famous theme of Paganini's 24th Caprice. Although this theme has for centuries inspired sets of variations from the greatest composers, I nevertheless decided to take it on.
The Felix Variations has (appropriately for a Tredici!) thirteen variations, the last of which is longer – a Finale. That one could write for the bass trombone with almost violinistic agility confounded me – but I had just heard Felix do it. As well, he had shown me exotic trombone "effect" known to few, had demonstrated the wealth of muting possibilities, the drama of super low notes and the virtuosity of "impossible" high notes. All this put into the Variations and for good measure a quote from my signature piece, Final Alice.
Felix premiered the piece (his NY debut) on April 20, 2012 at (le) Poisson Rouge in New York City. It was a celebration of my 75th birthday. I received no greater gift than that night's dazzling performance by my nephew, Felix.