For some reason,
I mistakenly connected Michael Daugherty with the Bang On A Can crew. He is
post-modern, though, in the sense of using materials from everywhere. From Wikipedia,
the background details most revealing about his music was that he learned to
play piano himself ("Alexander's Ragtime Band") via the family player-piano,
that he wanted to become a composer after hearing a performance of Sam Barber's
Piano Concerto, studied with Charles Wuorinen, and had a stint at IRCAM where
he encountered Gerard Grisey and Frank Zappa.
told him to combine American popular with concert music. He worked on his Yale
dissertation about the connection between Mahler and Ives, and Emerson and Goethe.
Well-rounded is what I'm aiming at, musically and otherwise. Clearly you'd want
to be seated next to him at a dinner party. But how goes the music?
will be on my 2009 Best List. The slipcase cover of Metropolis Symphony
loudly declares its intent and content: a red-caped Superman-like character
in rapid flight over a metropolitan skyline. The composition is in five movements,
they are non-programmatic, and each may be performed (or, at home, played) individually.
opens with a police whistle; right away there's trouble afoot. There's only
the broadest minimalist reference of a broadly repeating phrase, and just for
a minute or so.
opens with a police siren, then darkly ominous strings, very realistically captured
fire bells, triangles and other percussive materials. Think: Appalachian
Spring gone askew thanks to spiraling string glissandi and Mary Kathryn
Van Osdale's violin, ending with a siren going off in homage to Varèse's
is more chamber-like with its flutes and piccolo and ends with a crack. "Oh,
Lois!" offers swirling strings and that wind-swirly-whistling thing (forgive
my technical exactitude), following by a manic brass chase that starts to sound
like the well-known bumblebee flight, then quickly shifts off into it's own
Tango" is appropriately slow and insinuating, with a reprise of the previous
Deus ex Machina
for Piano and Orchestra: It begins with Henry Cowell-like strums inside
the piano, followed by an intricate, rapidly-ascending line that simultaneously
recalls Nancarrow and ragtime. The orchestra with piano is truly grand without
being grandiose or bombastic; a great accomplishment. The piano solos evoke
tender emotions, until it thunders up spiral staircases to Hollywood action-film
evocation. You hear Barber, you hear lots of Bernstein, some Rachmaninoff in
Each of the movements
is meant to be "a musical response to the world of trains." You already
know the famous works which do this.
The first movement, "Fast Forward," stands up to all of them. It's
very loud, exciting stuff, inspired by Italian futurist painters. The "Train
of Tears" uses "Taps," what the composer refers to as his own
"ghost melody" and other elements to evoke Lincoln's funeral train.
The closer, "Night
Steam," uses 20th Century American-style rhythms and speed in response
to photographs of the motion of the last steam locomotives. Terrence Wilson
does a fine job with the modernist piano part; I'd love to hear him tackle a
Rachmaninoff concerto or the Barber sonata.
I'm not rushing
this review for musical lack of quality, but rather, the adrenaline each work
brought out in me forces me to walk away from the keyboard now, sit in front
of the audio system, and enjoy another go-round for pure, close-listening pleasure.
If you've read
this far, just get it. Worth more than twice the cost of Naxos' list price of
nine bucks, available in NYC for seven or less. I look forward to hearing more
of his Naxos recordings, and seeing his opera Jackie-O.
With Michael Daugherty
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