- Time Machine, for 3 conductors & orchestra
- Ghost Ranch, for orchestra
- Route 66, for orchestra
Here's a fine introduction to the music of Michael Daugherty, one of the most often performed contemporary American composers both at home and, increasingly, abroad. The program touches on but does not overemphasize Daugherty's use of materials from popular traditions, which form only one source of his basic musical vocabulary. Daugherty is an audience-pleasing composer but not a crossover figure, and his skill lies in vivid musical illustration, not in the reconciliation of his essentially Stravinskian language with popular music. He is not a profound structural thinker, either, and his music is strongest in situations that call for simple linear development of a single strong idea. All four of these works fill the bill. "Route 66" represents a road trip down that famous highway, with lots of contrapuntal brass and wind material underpinned by fast-moving syncopated percussion. Perhaps the least-familiar work is the three-movement "Ghost Ranch" (2006), commissioned and premiered by the performers who play it here, Britain's Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under American conductor Marin Alsop. Its spare textures, depicting paintings or aspects of the life of Georgia O'Keeffe, owe nothing to pop or rock, but are extremely rich in their evocation of the subject matter. The closest Daugherty comes to pop here is in the three-movement "Sunset Strip," an homage to the famed nightlife district of Los Angeles, with bits of jazz floating in the night air. The second movement of "Time Machine" (2003), "Future," is based on the H.G. Wells science fiction novel, with sonic elements representing the above-ground aesthetes and the subterranean proletariat into which human life has bifurcated in that novel of the distant future; the work's first movement, "Past," combines quasi-Renaissance dance music, Romantic melody, and two sets of percussion events, one involving woodblocks from the work's three separate orchestras, and the other a pair of rainsticks, representing, one supposes, a still deeper layer of the past. You may or may not personally be a fan of Daugherty; for some his music has a pat quality that discourages repeated hearing. But give the man credit: there's lots of representational and programmatic music out there for which you wouldn't have a prayer of guessing the references if you hadn't been told in advance. With these pieces you might easily come close or hit them on the nose.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Michael Daugherty is one of the best and most interesting composers working today! His music is a melange of various sources; rock, pop, minimalism, the 19th century - all blended together in a way that way captures the listener and has come to define his style. His latest CD program, "Route 66", on Naxos American Classics serves as a terrific introduction to his music for those who need one as well as a sonic "tour" of the American southwest. Three of the pieces in this wonderful collection are inspired by trips through the heartland and to the west coast. Yet, this thematic similarity that gives the program its unity is after the fact. "Route 66" is a short, jaunty excursion that simulates, in music, the feel of passing through different vistas and ethnic inspirations culminating in a big band, big city feel. The work, written for the Kalamazoo, MI, Symphony in 1998, features Daugherty's characteristically exciting and jazz inspired use of brass and percussion. This disc then evokes the sights and sounds of New Mexico as depicted by its most famous artist, Georgia O'Keefe. "Ghost Ranch" (2006) is written in three movements - Bone, Above Clouds and Black Rattle. Each movement evokes imagery from actual O'Keefe paintings. The imagery in "Bone" reflects the many skull and bone images found in O'Keefe's work (who found inspiration in the contrast between the beauty of clean skies and open desert and the starkness of dry, abandoned remains and archeological ruins) The effects which rely on wood percussion and other 'bone-like' timbres is clear and effective. "Above Clouds" references the painting, "Sky Above Clouds I-IV" The effects of space and distance are handled with some wonderful "floating" brass writing. Lastly, "Black Rattle" depicts O'Keefe's own experiences being alone in the desert with strange, often frightening sounds at night. The orchestration depicts the danger, the solitude and the "blackness" with great effect. Imagine then, that the journey evoked by this CD ends in downtown LA, specifically on "Sunset Strip" (1999) where bars, strip clubs, private detective agencies and the whole mid fifties "noir" imagery of the growing Los Angeles is felt with jazzy, Latin inspired and somewhat 'seedy' aplomb! This is a very nice piece that depicts its moods from '7 PM' through the 'Nocturne' and ending at '7 AM" The last work in this collection is Daugherty's "Time Machine" from 2003. This piece does not have anything directly in connection with the 'travelogue' of the others. However, its focus on "Past" and "Future" works nicely to mesh with some of the nostalgic tour of the other works. This is a big, vivid orchestral work wherein the ensemble is divided into three parts, requiring three conductors as the orchestra is physically divided on the stage. Daugherty explains that when the three parts play together, it creates a "three dimensional" effect to simulate flying through time. His orchestration is, again, colorful, relying on odd but beautiful effects in the percussion and winds. The more works I hear by Michael Daugherty, the more I like it. His music is accessible, fun to listen to and incredibly creative and clever in its themes and orchestration. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra give another great performance here and conductor Marin Alsop proves again