Michael Daugherty: Route 66 - Marin Alsop conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
This month we're off on a musical road trip out West with composer Michael Daugherty. Daugherty, born in 1954 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, draws much of his inspiration from the icons of American popular culture. With works inspired by Superman, Jackie Onassis, Liberace, Elvis Presley, Niagara Falls, Mount Rushmore, and even our own fair city, nothing is seemingly off-limits to his vivid imagination. He composes in a postmodern style that alternates between abstraction and realism, referencing elements of the jazz and pop music he grew up playing, with a strong sense of musical structure.
So with the top down and wind in our hair, we head out on Route 66, a breezy, jaunty ride to a Latin beat. The open skies, parched earth, and epic panoramas of New Mexico come into view in Ghost Ranch, inspired by the life and paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe. First we hear the tapping of animal bones, which O'Keeffe collected from the desert for use in her sculptures and paintings. Then, as the horn section seems to float above the rest of the orchestra, we float and soar above the clouds through the vast blue skies. Finally, the rattle of snakes beckons us to venture into the ominous landscape that so inspired O'Keeffe's strange but beautiful paintings.
Next, we take a nostalgic cruise down Hollywood's famed Sunset Strip, riding from sunset to sunrise. As the hustle and bustle of the traffic (to a tune reminiscent of the theme to Hawaii Five-O) subsides, snatches of "Fly Me to the Moon" and go-go music waft from nightclub doors through the midnight air. A bluesy atmosphere permeates the first rays of the dawn before mariachi harmonies and increasingly busy percussion signal the Strip's return to life.
Finally, we journey through time, space, and sound in a Time Machine, the most abstract of the pieces here. Daugherty divides the orchestra into three separate groups, each group playing music with multiple tempos and meters, often simultaneously. We first travel backward in time to a romantic past before a mysterious harp solo leads us into an uncertain future that is sometimes brutal, sometimes hypnotic and dreamlike, punctuated with strange rustlings. A dramatic, mechanical wind-up returns us to the present, dazed from the whirlwind musical voyage we have undertaken.
Britain's Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is put through its paces in Daugherty's music, convincingly conducted by Marin Alsop, who has a clear grasp of his complex but logical narratives. Members of the horn, trumpet, and percussion sections shine in their many solo moments. In short, this is a rewarding recording for the curious listener with that sense of adventure.