About this Recording
8.559613 - DAUGHERTY, M.: Route 66 / Ghost Ranch / Sunset Strip / Time Machine (Bournemouth Symphony, Alsop, Mei-Ann Chen, L. Jackson)

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954)
Route 66 • Ghost Ranch • Sunset Strip • Time Machine


Route 66 (1998) for orchestra was commissioned and premiered by the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Yoshimi Takeda, for the opening concert of the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival at Miller Auditorium, East Lansing, Michigan on April 25, 1998. Route 66 is a high-octane nostalgic musical romp from Illinois to California along America’s first intercontinental highway, as seen through my rear view mirror. The music takes off with four trumpets, in musical canon, and a metallic brake drum, pulsating like the yellow painted line that divides the two-lane asphalt highway. As woodwinds, mallet instruments and bongos continue the syncopation, a soaring string melody casts a panoramic soundstage down “The Mother Road”. A lonely tuba solo, which signals the only traffic light of the journey, segues into a breathtaking expansion of the opening tune, punctuated by chromatic scales at lightning speed. Upon the entrance of a syncopated Latin groove on cowbell, we suddenly shift gears into a development section of exciting multilayered twists and turns. The final brassy chord signals the end of our symphonic road trip down “Main Street America”.

Ghost Ranch (2006) for orchestra was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and premiered by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by its principal conductor, Marin Alsop, on February 8, 2006 in Poole, United Kingdom. Ghost Ranch is inspired by the life and paintings of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887- 1968). A rugged individualist who distanced herself from art critics and art historians, she lived for over forty years in her summer home known as Ghost Ranch, a desolate area 120 miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. O’Keeffe’s paintings of this period reflect the vast landscape, with its open sky, jagged canyons, and bone-parched earth. Her art, like my music, hovers between realism and abstraction. Ghost Ranch is a musical journey into a stark terrain of extremes and contrasts.

I. Bone. On her daily walks around Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe collected bleached animal bones scattered over the desert. She used these to create sculptures in her sparsely furnished adobe house, and depicted them as abstract objects in many of her paintings. In Summer Days (1936) and Flying Backbone (1944), for example, animal skulls and bones appear to float in a bright blue sky, and in Pelvis III (1944) O’Keeffe framed the vastness of the sky through the holes of a pelvis bone. In the first movement of Ghost Ranch, I recollect these bones with tapping, bone-like sounds: the string players tap their instruments ‘col legno’ (using the wood of the bow) and play ‘snap pizzicato’ (snapping the string against the fingerboard), punctuated by the dry polyrhythms of hollow woodblocks played by the percussion section. To evoke the distinct multiple layers of O’Keeffe’s paintings, I occasionally divide the orchestra into three separate ensembles, each with its own tone color and tempo. The brass and the strings, recalling the open blue skies and epic panoramas of the Southwestern terrain, play sweeping melodic lines. Echoing O’Keeffe’s lifelong search to create “the feeling of infinity on the horizon line,” the coda of this movement increasingly moves toward one pitch, simultaneously played by the three ensembles in different tempos.

II. Above Clouds. In O’Keeffe’s paintings, Sky Above Clouds I-IV (1962-65), white clouds are geometrically set against a bright blue background, creating an abstract yet recognizable form. Recalling O’Keeffe’s description of “the near and far, both in time and space” in her work, I expand the listener’s sense of acoustic space. The horn section is spatially rearranged on the stage, so it is possible to see as well as hear the sound of the solo horns, floating cloud-like above the rest of the orchestra.

III. Black Rattle. Dressed in black, O’Keeffe would travel alone in her “Model T” car to discover and paint new places. Often camping overnight, she was drawn to ominous landscapes such as the barren hills that she called the “Black Place,” where she endured terrifying lightning storms, wild animals, and rattle snakes in order to make her strange but beautiful paintings. The third movement suggests danger, beginning with woodwinds playing ‘bell in air’, barking like a pack of coyotes in the middle of the night. The lower strings and timpani pulsate with a menacing rhythm in 7/8 time, and a dark twisting melody is played by the English horn, bassoons and oboes, and later by the entire orchestra. Percussion instruments rattle, while the orchestra paints a bleak panorama. The slow, mysterious middle section evokes the feeling of walking slowly into blackness. In the last section, the opening serpentine melody, heard again in the bass clarinet and bassoon, is interrupted by dissonant brass echoes and ringing chimes. The movement concludes with a menacing rattle.

Sunset Strip (1999) for orchestra was commissioned by P.T. and Beatrice Magee. The world premiere was given by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Hugh Wolff, at the Ordway Music Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota on January 7, 2000. Beginning in downtown Los Angeles, Sunset Boulevard passes through glamorous neighborhoods, such as Beverley Hills and Bel Air, and ends at the Pacific Ocean. The mile-and-a-half stretch of Sunset Boulevard passing through West Hollywood is the legendary Sunset Strip. Beginning in the 1930s, Sunset Strip was popular with the Hollywood jet set for its glamorous restaurants and nightclubs, such as Ciro’s and the Trocadero. By the 1960s, the rock club Whisky a Go-Go became a major gathering-place for the hippie counterculture on Sunset Strip. It even inspired 77 Sunset Strip, a popular television series in the sixties about private detectives, and a significant book of photography by pop artist Edward Ruscha, entitled Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966). In my orchestral composition, I create a musical landscape where I re-imagine the various sounds and images of Sunset Strip, past and present, from sundown through the midnight hour until sunrise. My dreamlike musical journey takes us past swank restaurants, beatnik hangouts, dazzling hotels, Rat Pack nightclubs, private eye offices, rock clubs with Go-Go dancers, Mexican Restaurants, and smoky jazz lounges. In Sunset Strip, I place the listener in the driver’s seat and create music-in-motion where anything can happen; and it usually does.

Time Machine (2003) for three conductors and orchestra was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony. The premiere of Time Machine was given by the Pittsburgh Symphony, conducted by Mariss Jansons, Lucas Richman and Edward Cumming in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 24, 2003.

Time Machine is an adventure in rhythm, sound and space for three conductors and orchestra. Twenty minutes in length, my composition is divided into two movements entitled Past and Future. By dividing the orchestra into three spatially separated orchestras, I represent the three dimensions of space: forward-backward; left-right; up-down. Orchestra I is located stage right, Orchestra II is located stage left and Orchestra III is located center stage. Because I have composed music where multiple tempos and meters occur simultaneously in the three orchestras, three conductors are required. When the three orchestras play simultaneously, they create a three-dimensional music that makes it possible to travel through the fourth dimension of time.

In Time Machine, I have created a variety of difficult and virtuosic challenges for the three conductors. These include coordinating the three orchestras with visual cues, synchronizing free tempos with conducted tempos, and jointly coordinating different meters that share a common denominator, such as 5/4, 4/4 and 3/4 time.

In the first movement entitled Past, we move backward in time as woodblocks from all three orchestras tick at different tempos like mechanical clocks. Orchestras I and II provide antiphonal and polymetric echoes with brisk, dance-like music, reminiscent of the Renaissance. In a slower but related tempo, Orchestra III performs lush melodies and counterpoint, reminiscent of a romantic past. Two percussionists play large rainsticks, which sound like sand running through ancient hourglasses.

Traveling forward in time, the second movement is entitled Future and begins with a mysterious harp solo. Then I introduce harmonic and rhythmic progressions into the three orchestras, in patterns that become increasingly complex. As the music unfolds, two contrasting sound worlds emerge: one with rattling, brutal, pulsating music and the other with lyrical, hypnotic, dreamlike music. During one section, the music is composed as fixed modules but the order is left free to be chosen during performance by the three conductors. In a climactic moment all three orchestras suddenly become synchronized, before disintegrating into staccato chords that are cued by the conductors to create a strobe-like effect. This movement confronts the listener with an unanswered question: are we traveling in time toward a better future, or a more bleak vision as depicted by H.G. Wells in his novel The Time Machine? A dramatic orchestral coda signals the end of our sonic adventure, and our return to the present.

Michael Daugherty

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