Research Q&A with Colin McAllister: A contemporary take on Aeneas’s journey to the underworld

Colin McAllister, DMA
Assistant Professor | Director of Humanities

1. How would you describe the main idea or main takeaway from your most recent research or creative work to someone outside your field?

‘Aeneas in the Underworld’ is a chamber oratorio for solo guitarist/narrator as well as a second guitarist, string quartet, and electronics. In it, I (the narrator) tell the story of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld in Book Six of Virgil’s epic poem. It’s a unique contemporary piece of music that bridges the gap between new and old, and provides a fresh retelling of this classic story.

2. What is the key paper or author/performer who has most inspired your recent research/creative work?

I can think of two authors in particular. The first is George Steiner, who had a deep appreciation for epic poetry (especially Homer) and its continuing resonance for people today. The second is Emily Wilson, a celebrated classicist whose recent excellent and popular translations of both the Odyssey and the Iliad have sparked an interest in epic poetry for a new generation.

3. How do you see this research/creative piece contributing to new insights in the field/sparking conversation?

I would hope that this piece would inspire others in the fields of music/classical studies/languages/poetry to imagine creative re-tellings and presentations of literary works in dramatic form.

4. Can you describe the contributions of co-authors or collaborators who were essential to the success of this project?    

My primary collaborator was Christopher Adler, the composer of the work, with whom I worked very closely through the entire 15-year journey of this project.

Several Colorado musicians appear on the recording:

Russ Callison – guitar
Karine Garibova and Veronika Afanassieva – violin
Michael Sabatka – viola
Jennifer Yopp – cello

We commissioned a new translation of the original Latin text from Khang Le at Colorado College, and the original cover artwork was done by Ilie Vaduva, a Romanian-born artist currently based in Chicago.

Finally, John Schneider of Los Angeles sponsored one of the premiere concerts and agreed to release the recording on his label, MicroFest Records.

5. What impact do you hope this work makes?

I hope to use this excellent recording to get more concert performances of the piece. As with almost all music, seeing it live is a much more impactful and exciting experience!

6. What is on deck for you as you get started on your next project?

I have a couple of books projects under contract (one is a translation for Brepols and the other an edited volume for Cambridge University Press). It’s nice to be able to take a deep breath and return to both of these.

7. Where and when do you feel you are the most productive/creative/inspired?

It is challenging! I feel that I’m at my best earlier in the morning.

You can listen to the recording here.