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. Reviewing Medea in the Los Angeles Times, Martin Bernheimer wrote:
"Henderson is, clearly, an extraordinary talent, a strategist who can cope with sprawling forms, a musician with an obvious flair for the theatrical."
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 opera received national coverage. Robert Jacobson wrote in Opera News:
"Henderson obviously has an exultant talent for opera. . . . His instincts come right from the heart in creating arias, duets, and ensemble with a pulsing sense of melody and stirring emotional commitment. Cora's dramatic farewell forms the basis of a richly layered, thrilling outburst with principals and chorus."
The following year The Last of the Mohicans 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, and The Tempest; the cantata The Ancient Ones (premiered by the Schola Cantorum in 1983); and most recently, a dramatic musical, Far From the Madding Crowd. He has recently collaborated with Dana Gioia on an opera based on the great Murnau silent film Nosferatu. Mr. Henderson has written many songs, songs cycles, and choruses, as well as incidental music for Twelfth Night, The House of Bernarda Alba, and Much Ado About Nothing.
Recitals of his music have been performed at the Kaiser Center in Oakland, California, Conservatory of Music in Burlingame, California, The San Francisco Conservatory of Music, The Renee Weiler Concert Hall in New York City, and Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.
In June of 1998 Mr. Henderson was composer in residence at the Western Slope Summer Music Festival. An hour of excerpts from the opera Nosferatu was performed (with full orchestra conducted by Imre Pallo) to great acclaim. The final duet from Nosferatu was featured at the Derriere Guard Arts Festival in San Francisco in the fall of 1999. 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.