Telluride Chamber Festival: “Dynamo: Thomas A. Edison, a life overheard”

Telluride Chamber Festival: “Dynamo: Thomas A. Edison, a life overheard”

The final weekend of the 43rd annual Telluride Chamber Music Festival, dedicated to the memory of Elaine Fischer, features the world premiere of a song cycle by Larry London with words by William Smock: “Dynamo” Thomas A. Edison, a life overheard.” The opera, about an hour, takes place Friday, August 19, 7:30 p.m. at Telluride’s Christ Church. Tickets available at the door. The final concert is a Sunday matinee, also at Christ Church, 2:30 p.m, featuring works by Ravel, Faure, and Dvorak.


Born on February 11, 1847, in Milan, Ohio, Thomas Edison rose from humble beginnings to work as an inventor of major technology. In his 84 years, Thomas Edison acquired a record number of 1,093 patents (singly or jointly) and was the driving force behind such innovations as the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and one of the earliest motion picture cameras. He also created the world’s first industrial research laboratory. Known as the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” for the New Jersey town where he did some of his best-known work, Edison had become one of the most famous men in the world by the time he was in his 30s. In addition to his talent for invention, Edison was also a successful manufacturer and businessman who was highly skilled at marketing his inventions–and himself–to the public.

Edison’s was the quintessential rags-to-riches success story, the American Dream. By the time he died he was one of the most well-known and respected Americans in the world. He had been at the forefront of America’s first technological revolution and set the stage for the modern electric world.

That’s the good news.

A less known is the fact Thomas Edison was not the nicest guy. He was an uninhibited egoist, often a tyrant to employees and ruthless to competitors. Though he sought publicity, like, well, You Know Who, the man did not socialize well and neglected his family.

In a light bulb moment, composer and clarinetist Larry London decided to set Edison’s story to music – or at least the little known part about the personality behind the invention. Working with librettist William Smock, the duo created “Dynamo: Thomas A. Edison, a life overheard.”

The song cycle is part of the Telluride Chamber Music Festival’s 43rd season. The opera is scheduled to be staged at Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church on Friday, August 19, 7:30 p.m. The program, which runs about an hour and is family-friendly, features tenor John Duykers and soprano Eileen Morris, both of whom have illustrious bios. They are accompanied by the Telluride Chamber Players: Roy Malan, violin and co-founder, Telluride Chamber Music Festival; Susan Freier, violin; Nancy Ellis, viola; Stephen Harrison, cello; Robin Sutherland, piano and co-founder, Telluride Chamber Music Festival; and London, clarinet. (Short bios below.) Tickets for the opera are available at the door.

John Duykers is Thomas Edison.

John Duykers is Thomas Edison.

According to London:

“Before there were Steve Jobs and Elon Musk there was Thomas Edison, the greatest inventor/entrepreneur of all time. Unlike the first two, he was a benign, grandfatherly figure with no messy personal life, no taste for patent lawsuits, self-promotion or high finance. Or was he? A new song cycle by composer Larry London, explores what it takes to accomplish great things in a globalized, fast-changing, media-savvy, free-market world: Thomas Edison’s.

Edison bulldozed everything in his way, including his family, colleagues and investors. His greatest weaknesses as a man – lack of sympathy for others, donkey-like persistence, scientific naiveté – were his biggest assets as an inventor and businessman. The songs are sprightly, but they have an ironic undertone. They shine a light both on Edison’s achievements and on the wreckage he left in his wake.

The fact Telluride was chosen as the world premiere of “Dynamo” is no accident. The well-documented fact is Telluride played a role in the development of electrical power distribution, a history which forms a vivid part of the town’s civic consciousness. In 1891, L.L. Nunn’s Telluride Power Company built the world’s first A.C. power plant near the heart of town to send power from a waterfall to a gold mine 2.6 miles away. The A.C. plant was conceived and built by Edison’s rivals Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse. Telluride also hosts scientific, medical and technical conferences during the summer season, notably at the Telluride Science Research Center. And the Pinhead Institute honors Tesla’s legacy.”

Eileen Morris

Eileen Morris

To learn more, listen to Larry London’s podcast.

About the artists:

Composer Larry London did his undergraduate work at Harvard and earned a Master’s degree in composition at Mills College. He studied with Darius Milhaud, Terry Riley and Lou Harrison. He has played clarinet in all of the Bay Area’s professional orchestras. He teaches music at Ohlone and Merritt Colleges. His compositions have been performed at the Aspen and Cabrillo Music Festivals, by the Oakland Symphony and the San Francisco Symphony chamber series. He has contributed as composer, arranger or performer to over 50 films. He composed the music for “Isamu Noguchi: Stones and Paper,” an American Masters documentary film, recognized as Best Portrait at the Montreal International Festival of Films in 1998.

Librettist William Smock worked with London on the film  “Isamu Noguchi Stones and Paper,” which he produced and edited. In addition to a career as a documentary filmmaker Smock wrote and illustrated the book “The Bauhaus Ideal Then and Now,” which is in its second edition in both English and Chinese. His interest in Edison’s personality came from working on science and technology museums in a San Francisco exhibit design firm. The head of the firm had many of Edison’s traits – imaginative and funny, a good leader who at the same time took all the credit and the lion’s share of the money. The Edison Song Cycle celebrates this combination of hubris, financial risk-taking, seductive money-raising, creative imagination, talent for collaboration and a taste for publicity. Something tells me Alfred P. Sloane shared some of these traits, though I’m only guessing. At the same time the work deflates the mythical Edison — the benign genius whose success is solely attributable to a lively curiosity and hard work.

John Duykers has performed in opera houses and concert halls around the world, notably in works by John Adams, Philip Glass and other contemporary composers. He sang Mao Tse-tung in the world premiere of “Nixon in China.”

Eileen Morris has sung leading roles in Pocket Opera, Cinnabar Theater and Spreckels Theatre Company, among them Falstaff, Tales of Hoffmann, Don Giovanni, TheMarriage of Figaro, The Elixir of Love, Cosi Fan Tutte, Gianni Schicchi, and The Consul. She originated the role of Isabel Peron in Carlos Franzetti’s Corpus Evita, and sang the part on his Grammy-nominated recording. Morris collaborated with Larry London on two Berkeley Arts Festival concerts.

Roy Malan has been concertmaster of both the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and the California Symphony.

Nancy Ellis is a member of the San Francisco Symphony.

Susan Freier is a member of the Ives Quartet (formerly the Stanford String Quartet).

Stephen Harrison is a founding member of the Ives String Quartet and a member of the Stanford University faculty since 1983.

Robin Sutherland holds the Jean and Bill Lane Principal Chair in Keyboards for the San Francisco Symphony.

  • Ben zintak
    Posted at 11:09h, 16 August

    Pls add me to any of your email postings. Thanks

    • Susan Viebrock
      Posted at 22:42h, 14 October