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Posted October 1, 2010
For the past several years, Naxos has arguably brought to market the largest and strongest collection of recordings of music by American composers through its continuing American Classics catalog. Among the several hundred discs, featuring well-known to almost unknown composers, you will find two CD's featuring music by the internationally renowned American composer Michael Daugherty.
Michael Daugherty has the rare distinction of being one of the most commissioned, performed, and recorded American composers on the American concert scene today, achieving strong success alongside contemporaries such as Jennifer Higdon and Michael Torke. Included on Daugherty's new, second disc, are three well-crafted works that were commissioned, premiered, and recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra between 2000-2003, under the baton of Neeme Järvi, with one featuring violin soloist Ida Kavafian.
At the forefront of the CD is Fire and Blood (2003) for violin and orchestra, a three-part concerto that is sure to become a modern classical violin sensation. Inspired by Diego Rivera's extraordinary Detroit Industry murals, Fire and Blood draws on inspiration from Rivera's Mexican heritage (Volcano), the life and work of his famous artist wife, Frida Kahlo (River Rouge), and the melding of art-and-industry drawn from Diego's murals (Assembly Line). To describe it briefly, the piece is very artfully composed with virtuosic fireworks and colorful orchestrations, featuring twisted and pulsating rhythms, passionate and emotional quotes from folk material, all vividly painted for the ears from start to finish. The solo part is obviously, fiendishly difficult for the soloist, and Ms. Kavafian performs the work with all the potential flame and plasma a violinist could possibly pull from its score.
The second piece is MotorCity Triptych (2000), a suite of three tone poems inspired by the history and heritage of Detroit, including Motown Mondays, Pedal-to-the-Metal, and Rosa Parks Boulevard. All three are deliciously fun pieces, well interpreted and performed throughout by Maestro Järvi and the DSO, although the final Parks-inspired work drags a bit too long. Even with its strong showcase for trombones, the last of this trio might have benefitted from slight additional editing.
The final work is Raise The Roof (2003), a fascinating tour-de-force for timpani and orchestra. The piece was written for the grand opening of Detroit's Max M. Fisher Music Center, at the close of Daugherty's three-year residency with the DSO. Like the grand architectural wonders that inspired the piece, it offers extensive, unusual sounds from the timpani throughout its sophisticated theme-and-variations structure, that the listener cannot help but marvel at its rollicking and surefire crowd-pleasing construction.
Posted October 1, 2010
Recently, I was reading an article in the Finnish Music Quarterly about composer Kalevi Aho. In the article Aho mentions a criticism that was made of his music by an Austrian journalist who accused Aho's music of being "not dehumanized enough." My complaint about much contemporary music is the opposite, it's too dehumanized. I shun the over-intellectualization of music, loathe works that sound like they were composed with an abacus and notated in battery acid. Thankfully the three works on this fantastic recording of music by Michael Daugherty are filled with passion, wit and drama to spare.
Fire and Blood is a full-blooded, knock your socks off violin concerto that makes pressing technical demands of the soloist but never descends to the level of an empty-headed violin showpiece. The work draws its inspiration from the Detroit Industry murals by the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the color and energy that Rivera brought to his art is reflected in the music. Violinist Ida Kavafian plays this music with muscle aplenty and the Detroit Symphony under conductor Neeme Järvi is nothing short of spectacular.
The other works on the recording, Motor City Triptych and Raise the Roof, are also superb. Motor City Triptych is a brilliantly jaunty evocative piece which pays tribute to the Motown sound, Michigan Avenue in Detroit and Rosa Parks. This seems like something of an odd mix but Daugherty's vivid orchestration and rhythmic skill make each movement a memorable tone poem. Brass lovers take note, there's plenty of interesting work for trumpet and trombone throughout. Raise the Roof is a concerto for timpani and orchestra and was inspired by such grand architectural wonders as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Empire State Building. The work offers the timpanist an opportunity to play some melody and even stretch out with a showpiece cadenza. Once again Daugherty pushes hard and the effect is thrilling. This is an essential recording for anybody who cares about the current state of American music - it's very encouraging indeed.
Posted October 1, 2010
I knew Michael Daugherty's music from his 2007 piece Deus ex Machina for Piano & Orchestra (on a 2009 Naxos CD). I like to keep in touch with musical depictions of trains, and this piece really impressed me. I thought it was worthy to stand beside the Little Train movement of Villa-Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras #2, as well as Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231. Daugherty paints vivid pictures and communicates exciting ideas of movement that are layered with additional insights into a surprising range of ideas from futurism to ghosts to nostalgia for a by-gone era.
The same dynamic takes place in this new disc of three works by Daugherty that were commissioned during his period as Composer-in-Residence with the Detroit Symphony. Fire and Blood (2003) is a full-blown violin concerto that begins with a depiction of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals, as well as scenes from his life, and that of his remarkable wife Frida Kahlo. A highlight is the third movement "Assembly Line", where Daugherty says (in his revealing liner notes) the violin soloist "is like the worker, surrounded by a mechanical orchestra." This is a work that deserves to be taken up by other orchestras; perhaps the excellent soloist on this CD, Ida Kavafian, will take it on the road, or it will be picked up by one or more of the next generation of violinists.
The MotorCity Triptych (2000) is another fun piece by Daugherty which also has a more serious side. This is especially true of the third movement "Rosa Parks Boulevard", with its evocation of African-American preaching through the use of percussion and two trombones. Daugherty calls Raise the Roof (2003) "a grand acoustic construction". I'm sure every timpanist in the world is itching to play this piece. But only a few will have as impressive an orchestra to play in front of as timpanist Brian Jones has in the Detroit Symphony under Neeme Jarvi.
So buy the CD for the fun and fireworks, but stick around and listen three or four times, for some real and profound ideas.