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DAUGHERTY, M.: Fire and Blood / MotorCity Triptych / Raise the Roof (Kavafian, B. Jones, Detroit Symphony, N. Jarvi)

Naxos 8.559372

   Boosey & Hawkes, March 2011
   MusicWeb International, February 2010
   Some Modest Proposals, January 2010
   American Record Guide, January 2010
   Detroit Free Press, December 2009
   National Public Radio, December 2009
   Gramophone, December 2009
   MusicWeb International, December 2009
   Fanfare, November 2009
   Audiophile Audition, October 2009, October 2009
   Brink Magazine, October 2009
   Lee’s McBlog, September 2009
   Some Modest Proposals, September 2009
   The Star-Ledger, September 2009
   David's Review Corner, September 2009, August 2009, August 2009, August 2009, January 2009

English        French
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Boosey & Hawkes, March 2011

The London Symphony Orchestra and Kristjan Järvi present the UK premiere of American composer Michael Daugherty’s violin concerto Fire and Blood on 17 April at the Barbican, with Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman as soloist.

Fire and Blood, one of Michael Daugherty’s most widely performed works, was premiered by the Detroit Symphony in 2003. The concerto was inspired by Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who spent two years in Detroit in the 1930s when Rivera was commissioned to paint four large murals representing the city’s automobile industry.

Daugherty describes how Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals “have inspired me to create my own musical fresco for violin and orchestra. It was Rivera himself who predicted the possibility of turning his murals into music, after returning from a tour of the Ford factories: ‘In my ears, I heard the wonderful symphony which came from his factories where metals were shaped into tools for men’s service. It was a new music, waiting for the composer…to give it communicable form.’”

Cast in three movements, the first, Volcano, relates to the fiery factory furnaces in Rivera’s murals. The volcanic landscape around Mexico City was for Rivera a metaphor for revolutionary fervour, depicted in the music by fierce triple stops in the violin part and pulsating energy in the orchestra. The central movement River Rouge focuses on Rivera’s wife Frida Kahlo, referring to the colour of blood used in many of her paintings and her spiritual battle against physical pain, with Mexican mariachi music resonating in the background. The final movement Assembly Line is a machine-like perpetuo, with the soloist as the worker surrounded by orchestral punctuations and metallic factory sounds.

Fire and Blood is one of a series of concertos by Michael Daugherty recorded on the Naxos label, including Raise the Roof for percussionist and Deus ex Machina for pianist which recently won three Grammy awards. The most recent Naxos release with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop includes Route 66, Time Machine, and Ghost Ranch inspired by the desert art of Georgia O’Keeffe (Naxos 8.559613).

Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, February 2010

It’s one thing when you listen to a movie soundtrack and just enjoy it, as music. But it can be quite a different experience when you know the movie and its story. The music on this disc can also be appreciated on two levels. Just listen to it—and you’ll probably like it, for it is colorful, brave, modern, beautiful, interesting. Then read the excellent, comprehensive notes by the composer, Michael Daugherty, and the listening experience will be much richer. There is helluva lot he wanted to put into the music. And what is remarkable, he really succeeded in doing it!

The music is not only recorded by its world premiere performers—these actually are the world premiere performances. So, it’s pretty authoritative. This also adds the excitement of music newborn close to the real joy of creation. The playing is so good that the applause at the end of each piece comes as a shock: what, this was live? And the recording quality is very commendable, spacious, catching every detail of the exotic orchestration.

Detroit is the motto of the disc, and the first work on it, Fire and Blood for Violin and Orchestra, is inspired by the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera. The first part could be a depiction of Rivera’s fiery temperament. It could also reflect the fascination big, all-consuming fires—volcanos, industrial furnaces or revolutions—held for the artist. But conflagration also has a negative, destructive side, and this aspect is also present in the music. The middle part is dedicated to Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo. From out of a “red river of blood” rises a hauntingly beautiful melody—more Yiddish than Mexican to my ears. There is suffering, compassion, love and grief. It is one of the most touching pieces I have ever heard, at times completely breathtaking. Finally, in the short third part we arrive at the murals themselves. The violin is now the worker on a conveyor belt, while the orchestra is the machinery it operates. Among the industrial clinks and clangs, the violinist brings the work to its triumphant close.

The entire composition leaves the aftertaste of a well-made movie. The violin part is ambitious, and the soloist, Ida Kavafian, does wonders with her brilliant, powerful playing, full of life. The orchestra matches her dazzling virtuosity with its own. Here Daugherty outshines himself in inventing sonic gestures and thrilling effects. Indeed, I daresay that this is one of the most dramatic, rich and just beautiful—in that old-fashioned sense—pieces of music written in this century.

There is less unity in the earlier MotorCity Triptych. It consists of three large-scale pictures, which can also be regarded as independent pieces. Motown Mondays evokes the sounds of the famous Detroit nightclub in the Sixties. Pedal-to-the-Metal is a drive through Detroit’s Michigan Avenue, with its past and present colorfully mixed. Rosa Parks Boulevard is an imaginative essay on civil rights. The use of three trombones to depict voices of Afro-American preachers is unforgettable. The entire triptych creates a feeling of a large mosaic. Probably, it is too fragmentary. Still, this is a very effective orchestral triptych, with rich, inventive orchestration, superbly performed and recorded.

Imagine Rhapsody in Blue, where the piano part is taken by…timpani! That’s what happens in Raise the Roof, the last work on the disc. Yes, timpani, of all instruments, take the solo role. And they play melodies, and they have a virtuosic cadenza. The work is conceived as variations on two themes, which creates interesting constructs in the middle section. The first theme appears to be inherently Latin. This, together with bright orchestration, creates a festive, Gershwin-meets-Revueltas atmosphere. It’s tons of fun in the end.

The Detroit Symphony under Järvi plays with soul and style, and vividly brings to life all the eccentric twists of Daugherty’s imagination. Michael Daugherty is certainly a composer to know. He is still and ever on the rise, and I can’t even guess where his muse will take him in the future. But I can be sure that it will be interesting and beautiful: the properties that every composer strives to achieve, but not everyone can!

Craig M. Zeichner
Some Modest Proposals, January 2010

Daugherty’s Fire and Blood concerto has balls and Kavafian delivers a brilliantly muscular performance. Daugherty’s music is disliked by the pasty-faced academics—“it’s glib and filled with cheap effects”—they shriek. All the more reason to love his music…

Allen Gimbel
American Record Guide, January 2010

Michael Daugherty’s Fire and Blood (2003) is a violin concerto in three movements inspired by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera’s Detroit Institute of Arts murals on Detroit’s auto industry. It opens with your typical Daugherty rock boogie, and the sumptuous second theme throbs with sensual Mexican heat. II, a moving slow movement, is a dark portrait of Rivera’s wife, polio-stricken painter Frida Kahlo. The dance-like toccata finale is designed to bring the audience to its feet. Tonal and thoroughly romantic, the work is a terrific showcase for Ms Kavafian, who plays it with confidence and bravura. The audience responds with lusty enthusiasm. A fine addition to the modern violin concerto repertoire.

MotorCity Triptych (2000) is a set of three tone poems touching on memories of Motown harmony and melody, Detroit urban landscape, and Rosa Parks’s church, the latter immortalized by a trio of trombones representing the tone of local black preachers. For the most part, Daugherty avoids facile allusion and sticks to a more abstract approach. You will need to use your imagination, since intended events are far from obvious, but the overall effect is impressive.

Finally, Raise the Roof (2003) is an effective and highly athletic concerto for timpani and orchestra, brilliantly played by timpanist Brian Jones. Built as a set of variations on two themes, the 13-minute piece puts the soloist through his (mainly melodic) paces with a minimum of gimmickry and a maximum of clear accessibility. This will be a welcome concert piece for timpanists looking for amiable virtuoso repertoire. The Detroit players sound great and are brilliantly recorded in performance.

Detroit Free Press, December 2009

…Daugherty—violin concerto “Fire and Blood” was the highlight of his tenure as Detroit Symphony Orchestra resident conductor—kinetic, emotional and a dazzling showcase for soloist Ida Kavafian.

Michael Barone
National Public Radio, December 2009

Michael Daugherty often draws upon the American popular music vernacular for his harmonic and rhythmic building blocks. The Violin Concerto was inspired by the famous “Detroit Industry” Depression-era murals by Diego Rivera, and the resulting score bristles with energy. The three trombone soloists in the final panel of the Motor City Triptych evoke the impassioned delivery of African-American preachers, as experienced by the composer while he attended a church service in Detroit with Rosa Parks. The Detroit orchestra shows its mettle in these well-recorded concert performances.

Jed Distler
Gramophone, December 2009

Daugherty’s highly accessible and individual music is well worth attention

Among contemporary classical composers whose language is informed by popular music idioms, Michael Daugherty fuses the styles with a naturalness and authenticity that often elude his like-minded colleagues. His violin concerto Fire and Blood juggles soloist and orchestra in masterful balance, where the violin tunes play off of unusual percussive accents and the most unclichéd, varied harp glissandi you’ve encountered for the last 20 years. Raise the Roof for timpani and orchestra is appropriately titled, yet its strong melodic interest (do I get a whiff of the opening timpani solo in Strauss’s Burleske?) rather than volume alone buoys the massive tuttis. The Detroit Symphony’s dream brass section show off to high heaven in Motor City Triptych. The third movement is a tour de force for trombone trio, where Daugherty exploits the instruments’ patented slides to gorgeous, emotionally complex effect that manages to strike familiar chords without resorting to even one cliché. Neeme Järvi obviously relishes Daugherty’s boundless orchestral palette as much as the Detroit Symphony members do, and Naxos’s robust sonics can’t be beat. If you don’t know Michael Daugherty’s original, vibrant and very accessible music, now’s the time to buy this music, now’s the time to buy this splendid disc.

Carla Rees
MusicWeb International, December 2009

American composer Michael Daugherty was Composer-in-Residence with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for four years. During that time, he was commissioned to compose works symbolizing the city of Detroit in its various aspects.

Daugherty’s American heritage is unmistakable in the opening bars of Fire and Blood, a violin concerto composed in 2003. The musical language has its basis in a complex tonality, with a strong Bernstein-esque pulse and hints of folk music. The first movement has an innate energy, with a range of orchestral colours including some impressive metallic industrial sounds reminiscent of some twentieth century Russian music. Based on a mural by Diego Rivera which depicts Detroit’s legendary car manufacturing industry, the work is in three movements. The first movement is bold, brash and industrial—and enormously successful. The second movement represents aspects of Rivera’s wife, painter Frida Kahlo. This movement is much darker, with traditional Mexican influences coming to the fore. There are some wonderful moments of strength and hope amongst the sorrow, and this extended movement always maintained my interest. The dramatic final movement returns to the mood of the opening, with syncopated accents and metallic sounds. Describing the Assembly Line of the factory, this movement is brief and energetic, with a sense of the worker surrounded by machinery. This is a refreshingly honest work which has a sense of representing an aspect of modern life, with a skillful use of the orchestra and its instrumental colours. Ida Kavafin gives a dazzling violin performance, with a wonderful sense of occasion and gritty portrayal of the raw emotional aspects of the piece.

MotorCity Triptych, we are told, refers to an artwork, as well as to a fold-out map produced by the American Automobile Association as a travel guide to Detroit. The three movements depict different aspects of the city; entitled Motown Mondays, Pedal-to-the-Metal and Rosa Parks Boulevard—the titles speak for themselves. I find it interesting that this work draws attention to historical events and places them in a modern context, providing a tribute to a city and those who worked to make it what it is for a modern audience. Motown Mondays refers to just nine performances by Motown artists in the summer of 1966; these were nine performances which were enormously influential and Motown records, founded in Detroit, is still a household name. Daugherty’s work fuses aspects of the Motown style with his own language, providing an enjoyably invigorating approach to the orchestra. With an opening reminiscent of the Fanfare for the Common Man, Pedal-to-the-Metal has a bold, almost dark introduction, which breaks away into a fast paced adventure through the city. The final movement, Rosa Parks Boulevard provides a solo for the trombone section, based on African-American spirituals, including fragments of Oh Freedom, which was one of Rosa Parks’ favourites. Parks moved to Detroit in 1957, just two years after the famous event on an Alabama bus which sparked the civil rights movement. Daugherty does an excellent job of blending the spiritual style with his own contemporary language, and his music is dramatic, drawing attention to an important event in modern American history.

The final work on this disc is a one-movement concerto for Timpani and Orchestra, Raise the Roof. Inspired by the architecture of some of the world’s most impressive buildings, the virtuoso timpani part demands melodic lines from the instrument, providing a demonstration of the capabilities beyond providing rhythmic pulse and colourful accents to an orchestral sound. This is a piece with strongly syncopated rhythmic pulsations, and a sense of dramatic flow. Brian Jones gives an excellent timpani performance.

Throughout the disc, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra give a fully committed performance under Neeme Järvi which is worthy of recognition. This is a fascinating collection of works which are unapologetic, honest and above all, musically satisfying. I look forward to hearing more from this composer.

Peter Burwasser
Fanfare, November 2009

We are hearing more and more from Michael Daugherty. He deserves the attention for his fine ability to skirt the border of kitsch and serious music. Actually, his titles, typified by the three on this program, do not help his case. They suggest cartoon music, but that is not what is delivered. Daugherty’s technique is sophisticated enough that he need not rely on purely programmatic effects to underline the theatrical implications in his music. Thus, while the third movement of Fire and Blood , entitled “Assembly Line,” suggests the energy and relentless momentum of a factory and includes the sounds of horns and hammers, it does not mimic it. This is a far cry from the deliberate and often crude machine age music that was popular with the avant-gardists of the early 20th century, especially in pre-Stalin Soviet Union.

All of the music on this program was written for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra during Daugherty’s four-year stint as composer in residence, so it is not surprising that he takes cues from auto industry culture. But MotorCity Triptych , consisting of “Motown Mondays,” “Pedal-to-the-Metal,” and “Rosa Parks Boulevard” could just as well be called works for orchestra numbers 1, 2, and 3, and I would be hard-pressed to associate the music with what is suggested by the titles. The first two pieces have a Coplandesque folksiness about them, indeed, “Pedal-to-the-Metal” opens with a timpani figure that is imitative of the iconic opening to Fanfare for the Common Man before it launches into a kinetic Bartók-like drive. “Rosa Parks Boulevard” is a slow, bluesy tribute to a legend of the civil rights movement. Daugherty seems more comfortable in faster music; here, he meanders and tends to lose focus. The work would have been more effective at half the 12-minute-plus length. The program closes with a tour de force for orchestra and timpani solo, an appropriately celebratory piece written to inaugurate the DSO’s new hall, Max M. Fisher Music Center. The propulsive Latin rhythms expressed in big, swaggering sound recall Villa-Lobos.

Fire and Blood is a very fine new violin concerto in the populist, virtuosic manner of the violin concertos of Barber and Prokofiev. I like the well-written and unabashedly entertaining music of Daugherty overall, but this work is a standout for its neo-Classical concision and clarity of expression. Kavafian tears it up, and gets superb support from Järvi and his splendid band. The live recordings were captured in vivid sound. This is an excellent orchestral omnibus of the work of a very successful American composer.

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition, October 2009

DAUGHERTY, M.: Fire and Blood / MotorCity Triptych / Raise the Roof (Kavafian, B. Jones, Detroit Symphony, N. Jarvi) 8.559372

DAUGHERTY, M.: Metropolis Symphony / Deus ex Machina (T. Wilson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero) 8.559635

Michael Daugherty, originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has become one of the most commissioned, programmed and recorded living composers on the U.S. concert scene today. Among his teachers have been Ligeti, Boulez, Roger Reynolds and Gil Evans. One critic referred to his “maverick imagination,” which has produced works based on Elvis, Jackie O, and other beacons of 20th century pop culture. Including Superman in the second of these new discs.

Daugherty grew up in a family of musicians of all sorts and has been able to bring the pop/jazz world into his compositions in innovative ways, giving them instant appeal to many listeners. The first of these two CDs [8.559372] is tied in with three works commissioned and premiered by the Detroit Symphony during the composer’s four years of residency there. Diego Rivera’s huge fresco and the paintings of his wife Frida Kahlo inspired Fire and Blood. The Rivera murals partly inspired Daugherty due to the artist himself predicting the possibility of turning his artwork into music. The first movement is Volcanos, referring to the environment of Mexico City, where he was born, as well as their association with revolution. The second movement, River Rouge, deals with the Riveras’ visit to the Ford factory at River Rouge, as well as the suffering of Frida with her lifelong medical problems. Assembly Line, the last movement, stresses a perpetual motion theme in picturing the collaboration of man and machine, which Rivera saw as bringing liberation for the workers.

MotorCity Triptych is a sort of musical travelog in three movements.  The first honors the Motown recordings which were central to the composer’s youth. The second is Pedal-to-the-Metal—a high-speed drive along Michigan Avenue in the world’s auto capital. Rosa Parks Boulvard, the third movement, has solos by three trombonists: Michael Becker, Kenneth Thompkins and Randall Hawes. Daugherty’s inspirations for the timpani/orchestra work were Notre Dame cathedral, the Empire State Building, and other architectural wonders. He designed the work to give the timpanist long expressive melodies not usually hear from the timpani.

This year is the 50th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in the comics, so naturally Daugherty has to create a “symphonie fantastique for our times.” [8.559635] His response to the myth of Superman expresses the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes and wit of American pop culture. The work’s five movements cover various elements of the Superman myth: Lex, the first, represents Lex Luthor, the hero’s main villain. No. 2, Krypton, is the exploding planet from which Superman is launched as an infant. The third movement is MXYZPTLK, a wild imp from another dimension who occasionally threatens Superman’s Metropolis. Lois Lane, the newspaper report who is Clark Kent’s love interest, is focused on in the fourth movement, and the suite concludes with Red Cape Tango, which uses the well-known Dies Irae theme in a death chant conceived as a tango. Deux Ex Machina—meaning “god from the machine”—is Daugherty’s three-movement piano concerto capturing the world of trains. The first movement synthesizers various avant-garde ideas about trains into the composer’s own “musical manifesto.” The second movement is Train of Tears, and refers to the slow-moving funeral train after Lincoln’s assassination. Night Stream, the last movement, is about the few steam locomotives left on American railroads after the 1950s, and receives here its world premiere recording.

All of these are accessible and fun works which should have a wide appeal, and they are superbly performed and recorded.

Robert R. Reilly, October 2009

If the auto industry had half the energy of Daugherty’s depiction of it here, the government would not now be running it. The piece can be enjoyed simply as a terrific violin concerto without any AAA associations. The MotorCity Triptych is a fun evocation of Detroit, from Motown to cars, to Rosa Parks Boulevard…Neeme Jarvi, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and violinist Ida Kavafian convey this music’s excitement with flair and complete conviction, and are provided with spectacular sound.

Jack Borrebach
Brink Magazine, October 2009

DAUGHERTY, M.: Fire and Blood / MotorCity Triptych / Raise the Roof (Kavafian, B. Jones, Detroit Symphony, N. Jarvi) 8.559372

DAUGHERTY, M.: Metropolis Symphony / Deus ex Machina (T. Wilson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero) 8.559635

If you’re just getting to know composer Michael Daugherty, a glance at the titles in his discography will give you a sense of his artistic agenda: “Dead Elvis,” “Motown Metal,” “I Loved Lucy,” “UFO,” and “Le Tombeau de Liberace” have a distinctive ring. Daugherty’s music bursts with jazzy syncopations, showy percussion, and kitsch, and the composer matches them with nervous energy and an acid edge. Melodic hooks are often sharpened into insistent motifs that aren’t so much developed as obsessively worked over. Like the artificially colored pop material it’s inspired by, Daugherty’s music is inviting, even aggressively so, but something uncompromising coexists alongside the pop glitz. There’s a complexity and depth beneath the whirling scraps of jingles and Latin jazz.

Two recent recordings issued on the industrious Naxos label (as ever, transcending its budget label category) show off a handful of Daugherty’s orchestral works from the past decade. In these collections, earnest drama overlays frenetic edginess, and the combination leads to a startling emotional honesty. Daugherty’s romanticism is cut with sardonic asides and stylistic free associations, but sentimentality takes hold here and there to disarming effect. The pictorial titles, though they can seem cheesy or quaint at first, allow a sparking interplay between earnestness and irony. Meanwhile, and most important, Daugherty is composing music with lucid thematic development, bold dramatic contours, and exciting orchestral effects.

The disc Fire and Blood [Naxos 8.559372] features the violin concerto by that name (2003), which Ida Kavafian tears into alongside the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and their now-emeritus music director Neeme Järvi. The disc is rounded out by the orchestral works MotorCity Triptych (2000) and Raise the Roof (2003). Another concerto, Deus ex Machina (2007), appears on the disc Metropolis Symphony [Naxos 8.559635] and spotlights pianist Terrence Wilson with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero. The title work is Daugherty’s ambitious Superman-inspired symphony (1988–93), his breakout orchestra piece. Both discs pull their material from live recordings, which lose a little exactness but make up for it in vicacity. Kavafian and Wilson both sound excellent, as do the orchestras.

Fire and Blood is exciting: it’s really one of the better violin concertos written recently, and is the work that Daugherty has most successfully drawn a tight dramatic thread through. The thematic cue here is Diego Rivera’s series of Detroit Industry murals—a local homage for the orchestra and for Daugherty, who has taught nearby at the University of Michigan for close to thirty years. Daugherty pulls off enough pulsing, muscular machine-music to do justice to Rivera’s images, while creating enough shadows and dissonance to accommodate whatever tensions you cares to read in. The solo violin is a tightly wound engine of wiry energy, charging through a richly colored and percussion-heavy orchestral field.

Contrasting ruminations and plaintive harmonic tugs provide emotional counterpoint. The slow middle movement shifts in homage to Frida Kahlo, and even if Daugherty’s soulful mariachi tune in her honor is a compositional non sequitur or a glib national gesture, it’s dramatically effective. Later in the movement, Daugherty blends the theme into the broader orchestral texture to successful effect; the violin’s scalding lyricism is truly Kahlo-worthy. The finale, all ferocious fiddling energy in skittish 7/8 time, winds up the piece while heightening its characteristic volatile combination of liveliness and anxiety.

The MotorCity Triptych offers more Detroit music, but its pleasures are uneven, primarily because its concluding image of Rosa Parks Boulevard fails to gather enough power. Orchestral expressionism isn’t the best vehicle for calling to mind the civil rights movement, and Daugherty’s three blues-summoning trombones mostly go to show how far the average concert hall is from Montgomery. In contrast, the opening Motown Mondays movement lands in a pleasingly unusual place for trying against similarly long odds to evoke Motown music. Near the start Daugherty pulls together a meandering oboe melody, percolating percussion, some asymmetrical pizzicato strings, and a muted-brass horn hook: for all its distance from the inspirational article, the moment carries itself in charm, modesty, and off-kilter lilt.

Raise the Roof, a festive overture that spotlights tympani, sends a Gregorian-style chant through technicolor variations, then barrels into a raucous dance-orchestra scene and a resounding sendoff.

On the Nashville disc [Naxos 8.559635], Deus ex Machina packs less punch as a concerto than Fire and Blood—there’s less of a dramatic give-and-take between the piano and the orchestra at the center of the piece—but Daugherty’s color and personality are out in full force. He composes nominally about trains here, but passes over the mechanical energy of Fire and Blood for more freely associative snapshots. The first movement, an homage to the train paintings of the Italian Futurists, begins with the soloist playing on the strings inside the piano—an authentic early-20th-century experimental touch. In the middle movement Daugherty turns to a Lincoln portrait, an evocation of the slain president’s funeral train. The scenario is a throwback to the earnest Americana of the 1940s or ’50s, but it sets up a genuinely moving scene. A trumpet and an English horn, intoning taps in a gentle nocturnal canon, float over a velvety piano patter just quick enough to intimate an unsettled atmosphere.

In the final movement, Daugherty turns back to more recent popular nostalgia, transposing locomotive momentum into a boogie-woogie mode with piano that’s all drive and splashy virtuosity. Here is a composer in his element, and it’s great fun.

The Metropolis Symphony [Naxos 8.559635] demonstrates how Daugherty has enriched his orchestral music in the past two decades: the instrumental colors are more garish, the textures more acerbic, the gestures sharper and more obsessive. At forty minutes long, the piece is a good deal to take in all at once, but it’s a wild, unusual, and rewarding listen. I can’t help but admire Daugherty’s fearlessness in the concluding Red Cape Tango, which for much of its fourteen minutes sets the requiem-mass Dies Irae melody to a tango beat and sticks to the idea for longer than you’d think possible.

New orchestral music with this vibrancy and clarity is a rare commodity, and it’s magnificent to be able to hear so much of Daugherty’s recent work all at once. Both discs are also available for download and can be heard on Naxos’ indispensable online listening library.

Lee Streby
Lee’s McBlog, September 2009

Mr Daugherty has the rare distinction of being one of the most commissioned, performed, and recorded American composers on the American concert scene today, achieving strong success alongside contemporaries such as Jennifer Higdon and Michael Torke. Included on Daugherty’s new, second disc, are three well-crafted works that were commissioned, premiered, and recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra between 2000–2003, under the baton of Neeme Järvi, with one featuring violin soloist Ida Kavafian.

At the forefront of the CD is Fire and Blood (2003) for violin and orchestra, a three-part concerto that is sure to become a modern classical violin sensation. Inspired by Diego Rivera’s extraordinary Detroit Industry murals, Fire and Blood draws on inspiration from Rivera’s Mexican heritage (Volcano), the life and work of his famous artist wife, Frida Kahlo (River Rouge), and the melding of art-and-industry drawn from Diego’s murals (Assembly Line). To describe it briefly, the piece is very artfully composed with virtuosic fireworks and colorful orchestrations, featuring twisted and pulsating rhythms, passionate and emotional quotes from folk material, all vividly painted for the ears from start to finish. The solo part is obviously, fiendishly difficult for the soloist, and Ms. Kavafian performs the work with all the potential flame and plasma a violinist could possibly pull from its score.

The second piece is MotorCity Triptych (2000), a suite of three tone poems inspired by the history and heritage of Detroit, including Motown Mondays, Pedal-to-the-Metal, and Rosa Parks Boulevard. All three are deliciously fun pieces, well interpreted and performed throughout by Maestro Järvi and the DSO, although the final Parks-inspired work drags a bit too long. Even with its strong showcase for trombones, the last of this trio might have benefitted from slight additional editing.

The final work is Raise The Roof (2003), a fascinating tour-de-force for timpani and orchestra. The piece was written for the grand opening of Detroit’s Max M. Fisher Music Center, at the close of Daugherty’s three-year residency with the DSO. Like the grand architectural wonders that inspired the piece, it offers extensive, unusual sounds from the timpani throughout its sophisticated theme-and-variations structure, that the listener cannot help but marvel at its rollicking and surefire crowd-pleasing construction. © 2009 Lee’s McBlog

Craig Zeichner
Some Modest Proposals, September 2009

Recently, I was reading an article in the Finnish Music Quarterly about composer Kalevi Aho. In the article Aho mentions a criticism that was made of his music by an Austrian journalist who accused Aho’s music of being “not dehumanized enough.” My complaint about much contemporary music is the opposite, it’s too dehumanized. I shun the over-intellectualization of music, loathe works that sound like they were composed with an abacus and notated in battery acid. Thankfully the three works on this fantastic recording of music by Michael Daugherty are filled with passion, wit and drama to spare.

Fire and Blood is a full-blooded, knock your socks off violin concerto that makes pressing technical demands of the soloist but never descends to the level of an empty-headed violin showpiece. The work draws its inspiration from the Detroit Industry murals by the great Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the color and energy that Rivera brought to his art is reflected in the music. Violinist Ida Kavafian plays this music with muscle aplenty and the Detroit Symphony under conductor Neeme Järvi is nothing short of spectacular.

The other works on the recording, Motor City Triptych and Raise the Roof, are also superb. MotorCity Triptych is a brilliantly jaunty evocative piece which pays tribute to the Motown sound, Michigan Avenue in Detroit and Rosa Parks. This seems like something of an odd mix but Daugherty’s vivid orchestration and rhythmic skill make each movement a memorable tone poem. Brass lovers take note, there’s plenty of interesting work for trumpet and trombone throughout. Raise the Roof is a concerto for timpani and orchestra and was inspired by such grand architectural wonders as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Empire State Building. The work offers the timpanist an opportunity to play some melody and even stretch out with a showpiece cadenza. Once again Daugherty pushes hard and the effect is thrilling. This is an essential recording for anybody who cares about the current state of American music—it’s very encouraging indeed.

Bradley Bambarger
The Star-Ledger, September 2009

Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty knows how to make an orchestra sparkle, even if he has written his share of glib crowd-pleasers over the years. The 55-year-old musician was inspired during his 1999–2003 composer-in-residence gig in Detroit, which yielded this disc of three live recordings—including his “Fire + Blood” violin concerto, which is full of the color and rhythm to be found in, say, a Diego Rivera mural. Here, Ida Kavafian gives it a scintillating performance on violin. Conductor Neeme Jarvi and the virtuosic Detroit Symphony also play the daylights out of the timpani concerto “Raise the Roof” and the heavy industry and gospel-inflected “Motor City Triptych.”

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2009

Among the most performed living American composer, Michael Daugherty, has reestablished links with the world of tonality using it to create colourful scores that immediately burn themselves into your memory. Born in 1954 at Cedar Rapids, he was the eldest son on a dance-band drummer, his education at major music colleges including Jacob Druckman and Bernard Rands as his composition mentors.The recipient of many commissions, he came to international recognition in 1994 with the premiere of his Metropolis Symphony [8.559635]. The three works on this superb new release come from the 21st century, Fire and Blood being the catchy title for a three movement violin concerto inspired by the massive murals by the artist, Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Art. Despite its modernity, it is shaped as a big virtuoso violin concerto, rhythmically strong and full of passages to demonstrate the brilliance of the soloist. Another commission from the Detroit Symphony gave birth to the millennium score, MotorCity Triptych, reflecting the city’s roll in the automobile industry. It really belongs to the world of crossover music, often taking its inspiration and content from ‘pop’ music, and is a test for the brilliance of the orchestra’s principal trumpet in the second movement and the trombones in the finale. Written at much the same time as Fire and Blood in 2003, Raise the Roof was composed to mark the opening of Detroit’s new Music Center, and was motivated by all great buildings in the world. Scored for solo timpani and orchestra, it is again melodic and spiced with modern colourings. The recordings all come from first performances, Ida Kavafian the stunningly brilliant soloist in the concerto, while the Detroit Symphony, with Neeme Jarvi conducting, has that high impact of the best orchestras in the States. The sound is pure demonstration class., August 2009

Neeme Järvi…brings considerable spirit and enthusiasm to three recent Daugherty works for soloists and orchestra. All these pieces give the Detroit Symphony Orchestra—with which Daugherty spent four years as composer-in-residence—quite a workout. Fire and Blood (2003) was inspired by the Depression-era murals of Diego Rivera and the emotional and physical suffering of Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo. This is effective and often flashy music, especially in the finale (“Assembly Line”), which moves with considerable speed and surrounds the solo violin with noises that resemble the sounds of Edgard Varèse. Ida Kavafian plows through all this as well as bringing heartfelt involvement to the work’s second movement, “River Rouge”,…MotorCity Triptych (2000) is a showcase of Detroit music and of brass solos. “Motown Mondays” reflects…the funk of mid-1960s Motown artists; “Pedal-to-the-Metal” and “Rosa Parks Boulevard,” which feature, respectively, trumpet and three trombones, pay tribute to Detroit as an automotive center and to the civil rights pioneer. The work as a whole is slick and effective…In some ways the most interesting piece on this CD is Raise the Roof (2003), composed for the opening of Detroit’s Max M. Fisher Music Center. Featuring some amazing timpani techniques, including glissandi and a cadenza, with Brian Jones playing at times with bare hands, maraca sticks or wire brushes, the work has a more-or-less variation structure featuring two themes, one introduced by tuba and the other by flutes…crowd-pleasing music by contemporary composers remains something of a rarity, and Daugherty certainly does a bang-up job (literally so in Raise the Roof) in showing a few ways to make modern concert works appealing.

David Hurwitz, August 2009

Michael Daugherty is a wonderful composer, and these three pieces make splendid listening. Fire and Blood is a violin concerto, and a damn fine one. Violin concertos are exceptionally difficult to write, especially in balancing the soloist against a large modern orchestra. Daugherty handles the challenge with aplomb. In the first movement, for example, he keeps the accompaniment light but colorful. Sounds that come across as hackneyed in the hands of other composers, such as harp glissandos or little glockenspiel accents, here sound freshly imagined, while the solo writing offers much that is genuinely lyrical and beautiful. Ida Kavafian puts plenty of heart into her playing, really digging into the tunes while making light of the technical difficulties.

Raise the Roof, for timpani and orchestra, does exactly what the title promises, but once again the music never sounds gimmicky. MotorCity Triptych features the orchestra’s fine brass section: trumpet in the second movement and three trombones in the third. Daugherty’s style mixes popular music idioms with traditional classical forms with complete naturalness. You never feel that he’s trying too hard, or merely being trendy. Neeme Järvi and the band make exactly the bold, glittering sounds that the music requires…Great sonics too.

Mike D. Brownell, August 2009

Composer Michael Daugherty is among the most active and prolific of today’s living composers. His works are performed frequently in all of the world’s major orchestras and new commissions by these orchestras and soloists are popping up all the time. This Naxos album features three such commissions for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. First on the program is the highly-engaging, instantly accessible “Fire and Blood”, a work for solo violin and orchestra inspired by the Diego Rivera murals painted in the Detroit Institute of Arts. The album’s liner notes do an excellent job of tying in the visual component to what Daugherty has composed. Violinist Ida Kavafian, who is quite skilled at delivering “fire and blood” in her playing, joins long-time music director Neeme Järvi in this riveting live performance. Both Kavafian and the DSO play as if this piece has been in the violin’s repertoire for centuries; the intensely driven and complicated rhythms and tight and precise, balance allows soloist and orchestra to alternately take the lead without become submissive, and wonderful textures and tone colors are achieved, lending to the union of visual and performance arts. The program continues with MotorCity [sic] Triptych, a play on words that not only references the three-paneled art form, but also a “TripTick” road-map produced by the American Automobile Association. Here again, Daugherty’s use of complex multimeters and polytonality are ideally suited for the mechanistic subject matter; the DSO continues to rise to the challenge with a performance that is filled with abandon and vitality. The program concludes with “Raise the Roof” for Timpani and Orchestra. While this may be the least provocative piece on the disc, it puts a raucous period on the end of a very exciting album.

Jay Batzner, January 2009

The Detroit Symphony released three excellent performances (live recordings, to boot) of orchestral music by Michigan-based composer Michael Daugherty. Fire and Blood for violin and orchestra was inspired by Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals and throughout the composition Daugherty adeptly integrates Latin-inspired touches into his regular boisterous musical language without sounding cliche or silly. Ida Kavafian draws every ounce of passion and fire (and blood) out of the music and brings it into the sonic world. Daugherty’s musical language is, on one hand, very traditional and comfortable but also includes touches and flares of more expressionistic passages that lend much to the drama and tension of his music. Given the picturesque subject matter I hear a lot of musical connections to, of all pieces, Scheherazade. Yes, Daugherty’s work is a full-blown violin concerto but the story lines of each movement propel the drama forward in a similar manner as in the Rimsky-Korsakov. Maybe it is just me.

MotorCity Tryptich is a lighter exploration of Detroit-inspired sources. In “Motown Mondays,” Daugherty again takes a foreign (to orchestras, anyway) musical language and sets it within the orchestra with flair and panache that goes above and beyond cheesy “pops concert” fodder. “Pedal-to-the-Metal” takes some obvious Copland references and runs wild and free with them. “Rosa Parks Boulevard” starts with some dramatic harmonies and morphs into and out of various scenes and landscapes. The trombone section is heavily featured in this movement and play with a rich, soulful sound.

The timpani concerto/showpiece Raise the Roof is a perfect closer for the disc. Brian Jones, timpani soloist, is a great force in front of the orchestra but also brings subtlety and nuance to the quieter passages. The rapid pitch changes of the midpoint cadenza are clean, crisp, and musically done…

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group