American Classics - Daugherty: Philadelphia Stories, Ufo / Glennie, Alsop, Et Al

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This is the third major-label monograph of diverse music of Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), the University of Michigan faculty member known for his engagement with...
This is the third major-label monograph of diverse music of Michael Daugherty (b. 1954), the University of Michigan faculty member known for his engagement with pop-culture subject matter. The first, of his Superman-inspired Metropolis Symphony and other works, made a splash. Another brought us a series of sound-gags, including the bassoon concerto Dead Elvis. There’s also a release of his opera Jackie O and scattered works on numerous compilations, as well as a symphonic band version of UFO and other works on the Klavier label. This is his first Naxos release, part of the terrific “American Classics” series.

Philadelphia Stories, considered by the composer his Third Symphony, was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, which premiered it under David Zinman in 2001. The work is in three movements, as much a triptych of tone poems as an abstract symphony—an urban La mer. The titles of the movements indicate the gist: “Sundown on South Street,” “Tell-Tale Harp,” “Bells for Stokowski.” The piece is just under half-an-hour long, each of the first two movements being about seven-and-a-half minutes and the third about 14.

If you know anything of Daugherty’s music, much of what’s here won’t surprise you for the most part. Daugherty frequently draws on pop and kitsch music archetypes in building up evocative larger forms. I can’t pin down any specific paraphrases in the first movement, but the several different kinds of orchestral pop, jazz, and Latin jazz conjure the atmosphere of Philly’s South Street, a byway of the musical night life where Daugherty himself had performed jazz and experimental music. The movement is a fantasia for two solo harps and orchestra, the title referring to The Tell-Tale Heart, which Edgar Allan Poe wrote in Philadelphia. Daugherty likens the somewhat gas-lit mood of the movement to Poe’s lyric poetry. The big shadow to go along with Stokowski’s in the last movement is Bach’s, alluding of course to the conductor’s famous orchestral transcriptions of Bach’s music. Daugherty begins the movement with a solo violin theme (arguably in the style of Bach), which serves as a basis for wide-ranging variations, Daugherty writes, “in my own musical language.”

The second work, UFO (1999), is a five-movement concerto for percussion and orchestra, written for soloist Evelyn Glennie and the National Symphony and conducted at its premiere by Leonard Slatkin. The five movement titles are as evocative as those in Philadelphia Stories: “Traveling Music,” “Unidentified,” “Flying,” “???,” and “Objects”; each concentrates on different percussion instruments. There are a few neat moments, but from the subject matter one expects a more imaginative (Lachenmann-like? Messiaen-ish?) orchestral experience than one gets. Deft, but largely predictable—as in Philadelphia Stories. The latter, though, is a far more satisfying work; it suffers less from a desperation solely to entertain. (The symphonic-band instrumentation of this piece was created in 2000; it was commissioned by a consortium of university bands and recorded by Glennie and the University of North Texas Wind Symphony, Eugene Migliaro Corporon conducting.)

Daugherty is a good composer from the standpoint of his ability to get what he wants out of his materials, but it’s hard to put one’s finger on what his true voice (that “my own musical language” of the above quote) might be beneath the busy surface of style-dropping. It could be argued that style isn’t something that can be heard from moment to moment, necessarily—that the whole of the work, the choices the composer makes in his gleanings from others, his extramusical impetus, are the style. Daugherty definitely has a taste for particular kinds of borrowings.

The performances are excellent. Marin Alsop obviously knows the Colorado Orchestra well and leads them with confidence through this often tricky music; they seem like they’re having fun. Glennie is outstanding as usual as a performer, but once again, she’s playing a commissioned piece that remains a little flat. Still, this disc is all in all a good and inexpensive introduction to Daugherty’s work. This Naxos series is invaluable.

Robert Kirzinger, FANFARE


Product Description:


  • Release Date: October 19, 2004


  • UPC: 636943916520


  • Catalog Number: 8559165


  • Label: Naxos


  • Number of Discs: 1


  • Composer: Michael Daugherty


  • Conductor: Marin Alsop


  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Colorado Symphony


  • Performer: Evelyn Glennie



Works:


  1. Philadelphia Stories

    Composer: Michael Daugherty

    Ensemble: Colorado Symphony

    Conductor: Marin Alsop


  2. UFO

    Composer: Michael Daugherty

    Ensemble: Colorado Symphony

    Performer: Evelyn Glennie (Percussion)

    Conductor: Marin Alsop