About the Award
Alfred I. duPont (1864-1935) was a remarkable man. He was a businessman, musician, an inventor, a communicator, and a philanthropist. Of all his accomplishments, one of the greatest is evident today in the Delaware Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. duPont had a great passion for music. He played four instruments and took great pleasure in composing music, mostly marches. His infectious enthusiasm enabled him to gather enough musicians to form an orchestra in Wilmington, which he rehearsed and conducted. At first, the group was referred to as “Al’s Band,” since there were few strings and the men marched in parades on national holidays. Mr. duPont, however, always referred to his ensemble as an orchestra.
In time, the group was dubbed the “Tankopanicum Orchestra” by Mr. duPont and was considered the most popular musical organization in Wilmington at the turn of the twentieth century. The word “Tankopanicum” is a traditional Native American name associated with the Brandywine Creek. It means “rushing waters of the Brandywine” and refers to the gorge that runs from the Bancroft Mill up to Rockland.
The first rehearsals were held in the DuPont Company’s machine shop. When a piano was needed, the musicians gathered in the parlor of the duPont family residence, Swamp Hall. By 1904, rehearsals were being held in the Hagley Community House at the foot of Breck’s Lane.
The orchestra was composed of many of the duPont powder mill workers as well as other local citizens. Some of the early members included the superintendent of a cotton mill, a family doctor, a millwright apprentice, a blacksmith, a machinist, a hardware store worker, and many members of the duPont family. Mr. duPont conducted and played first violin, clarinet, cornet, or the piano, depending on what was needed.
Mr. duPont continued with the “Tankopanicum Orchestra” until his hearing loss forced him to stop. The orchestra gradually changed and grew over the years, becoming “The Wilmington Orchestra,” “The Wilmington Symphony Club,” “The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra,” and finally, “The Delaware Symphony Orchestra.”
The A. I. duPont Composer’s Award is made possible by the Alfred I. duPont Foundation. It was instituted in 1985 by the DSO to honor him. This award recognizes a distinguished living American composer or conductor who has made a significant contribution in the field of contemporary classical music. Past winners are among the most celebrated composers of recent history, including Morton Gould, John Adams, Robert Ward, Phillip Glass, George Crumb, Libby Larsen, Jennifer Higdon, Aaron Jay Kernis, Kevin Puts, Christopher Theofanidis, and Andre Previn.