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

Naxos 8.559613

   Houston Chronicle, December 2011
   BBC Music Magazine, August 2011, May 2011
   Gramophone, April 2011
   Classic FM, April 2011, March 2011
   David's Review Corner, March 2011
   Limelight, March 2011
   The Washington Post, February 2011
   Cinemusical, February 2011
   Cinemusical, February 2011
   Los Angeles Times, February 2011
   MusicWeb International, February 2011, January 2011, January 2011, January 2011
   Gapplegate Music Review, January 2011

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Colin Eatock
Houston Chronicle, December 2011

Michael Daugherty’s Route 66 sets the pace for this CD, with its bright orchestral colors and boisterous, jazzy energy—something like Leonard Bernstein’s music from West Side Story Conductor Marin Alsop leads the Bournemouth Symphony through this romp. © 2011 Houston Chronicle Read complete review

Anthony Burton
BBC Music Magazine, August 2011

The vivid recording was made in the summer of 2008, at the end of Marin Alsop’s six seasons as principal conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.  These confident, loose-limbed performances demonstrate how she succeeded during that time in turning the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra into just about the best American orchestra in Europe.

Steve Schwartz, May 2011

You win some. I consider Michael Daugherty one of the best of a very talented crop of current American composers, including Rosner, Higdon, Adams, Carter (103! at this time and still writing), Rouse, and Reich. Daugherty’s idiosyncratic sensibility, in sync with pop and trash as well as with high art, attracts me. Here’s one composer who seems able to draw on the entire American experience, from Beacon Hill to Vegas. If your heartbeat doesn’t quicken a little at the thought of Liberace or at the sight of White Castle’s gleaming tiles, much of Daugherty’s appeal might prove elusive.

Most of the work on this CD touches on the mythic American West. I find two successes and two misses. Route 66 evokes a high-speed cross-country drive, with one stop for a red light (a tuba solo). It has the energy of a hamster on crack. The piece begins with a close rhythmic canon on four trumpets, and insists on a particular rhythm (3+3+2) along most of its course. As it proceeds, we accelerate. A grand theme evokes the wide open spaces and big skies of the West. Toward the end, a cowbell knocks out, in Daugherty’s phrase, “a Latin groove” which becomes more and more prominent. We end on a contrapuntal extravaganza as all the ideas (and perhaps some new ones thrown in just for fun) sway with one another, like dancers at a feria, each one busting his or her individual move at the whim of a moment. I’d say that the piece was “fun,” but that would diminish it. It’s fun at the same level as Copland’s Rodeo or Stravinsky’s Pulcinella.

Daugherty also draws inspiration from Modern painting, notably Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in the violin concerto Fire and Blood. Raise the Roof paid homage to iconic buildings. In three movements—“Bone,” “Above Clouds,” and “Black Rattle”—Ghost Ranch tries to evoke the work of Georgia O’Keeffe, long resident in New Mexico. It didn’t do that for me, so I concentrated on the music itself, which I found uninteresting in itself. I should add that reviewers seem split over this work. Some see it as a “deepening” of Daugherty’s music. I certainly regard it as an attempt to branch out, and I applaud the composer for it. However, I feel he has succeeded in works like Fire and Blood and Brooklyn Bridge and just doesn’t cut the mustard here.

I can say the same of the most elaborate work on the program, Time Machine. Written in two movements (“Past” and “Future”) for three onstage orchestras (Daugherty specifies the placement) and apparently requiring three conductors, it strikes me as bland, something I wouldn’t have said about Daugherty until now. Furthermore, I don’t see why he needs three conductors. There’s nothing all that asynchronous or “phaseworthy” about the material, but for a few passages in the percussion, and surely professional symphonic percussionists have a sharp enough sense of time to manage on their own. Daugherty states that he wants to give the listener of moving back and forth through time as one would in space, so perhaps a stereo recording provides too grainy a sonic image. You just might have to hear the piece live to get what the composer intends. I preferred the “Past” to the “Future,” which lacked the drama that Daugherty has stated he intends. The past gambols (a mock Early Renaissance dance) and sings (an evocation of Romanticism). The future apparently is grayer than an Ohio winter.

Sunset Strip gets its inspiration from west Los Angeles’s legendary Sunset Boulevard, a street that goes through some posh L. A. neighborhoods like Brentwood and Beverly Hills as well as glitz (Dino’s Lodge, owned by Dean Martin, fronted the Strip) and decline (so did Whiskey a Go-Go). In three movements, it depicts an evening on the boulevard. The first movement begins with a riff very similar to the opening of Quincy Jones’s theme from “Hawaii Five-O.” Two trumpets sound mainly in duet, and we cruise through a night of steamy L. A. noir, with a light Latin beat (on cowbell) occasionally brought to the surface. The music swaggers, self-consciously cool. The contemplative and brief second movement is a big-city night piece, remarkably scored for two solo trumpets and two percussionists. It gives you the lonely after-hours feel of a jazz club, as echoes of “Fly Me to the Moon” as drafts from the air conditioning sweep scraps of paper across the floor. In the finale, Los Angeles wakes to a gentle Latin-Caribbean beat. The music quickly grows more lively and optimistic as the city rouses itself to face another day.

The Bournemouth, under Marin Alsop’s guidance, plays with the brashness of an American orchestra, which suits this music down to its native ground. Another winner in Naxos’s Daugherty mini-series.

Pwyll ap SiƓn
Gramophone, April 2011

A high-octane road trip along America’s best-known highway

Route 66, the famous highway that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, acts as a rather appropriate metaphor for Michael Daugherty’s music. The experience of listening to his music is like travelling the length and breadth of America’s musical traditions: one is often swept along by the music’s eclectic currents, ranging from Gershwin, jazz and blues to Reich, Adams and rock.

It is also an apt metaphor because Daugherty is something of a musical travelogue. Both Ghost Ranch and Sunset Strip deal with journeys of different kinds—the latter a vivid and self-consciously kitsch evocation of one of America’s most celebrated boulevards, the former more a portrait of rugged isolationism in New Mexico inspired by the work of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. At its best, Daugherty’s synthesis of melodic directness, rhythmic energy and mellifluous orchestration is absorbing and exhilarating, yet the music can become too narrative at times.

The composer states that his music “hovers between realism and abstraction”, and when the two elements are combined in more or less equal quantities—such as in the beautiful opening of Ghost Ranch with its gently unfolding canons—there is no doubting the music’s creative and expressive power. When the music weighs too much towards either one, the result is arguably less convincing, as in the programmatic realist literalism of the third movement of Sunset Strip or the abstract cerebral ruminations of Time Machine (for three conductors and orchestra). There is much to admire about this lively and colourful recording, however, not least the manner in which the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Marin Alsop actively thrive on playing music that communicates in such an immediate and engaging way.

Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, April 2011

The Music The basis of Michael Daugherty’s music is a hard-charging minimalism, full of overlapping patters and cumulative momentum, and unleashed with spectacular panache. But this collection shows there’s more to Daugherty that than.

The Performance Alsop has her players responding to the tearing energy of Route 66—a journey along the famous interstate—and the roguishness of Sunset Strip with verve and precision. Fun though all this is, its pleasures are a little predictable. A much more searching musical imagination emerges in Time Machine, for an orchestra split into three units with separate conductors, and even more in Ghost Ranch. This evokes the New Mexico landscape and the paintings of Georgia O’Keefe, in music ranging from Daugherty’s benchmark rhythmic energy to vivid, sinister stillness.

The Verdict Never underestimate the ready-for-anything skills of British orchestras! The BSO plays with a headlong flair and expertise that any American orchestra would rightly be proud of.

James Manheim, March 2011

Here’s a fine introduction to the music of Michael Daugherty, one of the most often performed contemporary American composers both at home and, increasingly, abroad. The program touches on but does not overemphasize Daugherty’s use of materials from popular traditions, which form only one source of his basic musical vocabulary. Daugherty is an audience-pleasing composer but not a crossover figure, and his skill lies in vivid musical illustration, not in the reconciliation of his essentially Stravinskian language with popular music. He is not a profound structural thinker, either, and his music is strongest in situations that call for simple linear development of a single strong idea. All four of these works fill the bill. Route 66 represents a road trip down that famous highway, with lots of contrapuntal brass and wind material underpinned by fast-moving syncopated percussion. Perhaps the least-familiar work is the three-movement Ghost Ranch (2006), commissioned and premiered by the performers who play it here, Britain’s Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under American conductor Marin Alsop. Its spare textures, depicting paintings or aspects of the life of Georgia O’Keeffe, owe nothing to pop or rock, but are extremely rich in their evocation of the subject matter. The closest Daugherty comes to pop here is in the three-movement Sunset Strip, an homage to the famed nightlife district of Los Angeles, with bits of jazz floating in the night air. The second movement of Time Machine (2003), “Future,” is based on the H.G. Wells science fiction novel, with sonic elements representing the above-ground aesthetes and the subterranean proletariat into which human life has bifurcated in that novel of the distant future; the work’s first movement, “Past,” combines quasi-Renaissance dance music, Romantic melody, and two sets of percussion events, one involving woodblocks from the work’s three separate orchestras, and the other a pair of rainsticks, representing, one supposes, a still deeper layer of the past. You may or may not personally be a fan of Daugherty; for some his music has a pat quality that discourages repeated hearing. But give the man credit: there’s lots of representational and programmatic music out there for which you wouldn’t have a prayer of guessing the references if you hadn’t been told in advance. With these pieces you might easily come close or hit them on the nose.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

Michael Daugherty is one of today’s most performed American composers, his brand of overtly colourful and descriptive orchestral scores having become highly marketable. The eldest son of a dance-band drummer, he was born in 1954 at Cedar Rapids, his college mentors including Jacob Druckman and Bernard Rands. He was to find international acclaim in 1994 with the Metropolis Symphony, a score that was followed by major commissions, including the 1998 hectic journey down America’s Route 66, the nation’s first intercontinental highway. High in percussion effects and jazzy brass, the orchestration is as busy as the road itself. Premiered by the Bournemouth Symphony in 2006, Ghost Ranch was inspired by the painter, Georgia O’Keefe, and pictures three scenes around her ranch from the woody percussion sounds in Bone, the horn quartet then taking the orchestra Above Clouds, and finally to snakes in the barren hill to bring a chill to Black Rattle. Three scenes from evening to the following morning on Hollywood’s famous Sunset Strip captures the vitality at 7PM as it passes into a smoochy Nocturne and finally a wakening in the sun of following day. Finally a journey on the Time Machine for three conductors and orchestra divided into three sections. It is a work you really need to hear live to appreciate the spatial effects Daugherty is creating, but on disc you hear some fascinating music as we move from the slow opening movement in the Past, to a trip into the concluding Future. All of the music demands virtuosity from the orchestra, the long-standing champion of his music, the conductor, Marin Alsop, returning to the Bournemouth Symphony, obtaining much high octane playing, the engineers creating a soundscape that reveals in the intricate scoring and does its best with the Time Machine’s demands. Hugely recommended.

Alex Chilvers
Limelight, March 2011

Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) has rightly been praised for his wild imagination. Reading Daugherty’s liner notes to this collection of works for orchestra, it’s clear that what inspires his music is unpredictable and mostly extramusical. Route 66 is a big, boisterous Cadillac of a piece, intended to convey the experience of driving from Illinois to California. In only seven busy, energetic minutes, Daugherty’s writing bombards your ears with the full dynamic and textural ranges of the very capable Bournemouth Symphony. Sunset Strip follows a similar thematic vein (as the title suggests), although it is, ironically, a longer journey (composed in three movements) allowing for moments of ear-relieving sparsity. Slightly less in-your-face than the asphalt-alluding works is Ghost Ranch, inspired by the life and paintings of American artist Georgia O’Keefe. Each contrasting movement attempts to paint a different image, each of which is described in the liner notes. I couldn’t glean much of a relationship between sound and text, but the music is harmonically varied and eminently easy on the ear—so who cares? Time Machine calls for three conductors (Alsop is joined by Mei-Ann Chen and Laura Jackson) and an orchestra split into three parts. It’s an interesting concept—but one wasted on CD. Even so, the writing is dramatic and never dull. If you enjoy program music with a lush, quasi-Disneyland feel, you’ll probably enjoy this album. If you don’t maybe try a different route.

Mark Estren
The Washington Post, February 2011

There is a reason Michael Daugherty keeps accumulating honors, from the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award to prizes from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the American Bandmasters Association to, most recently, a triple Grammy for the Naxos recording of his Superman-inspired “Metropolis Symphony”: Daugherty writes music that is propulsive, accessible yet well constructed and deeply imbued with the spirits of both romanticism and postmodernism.

And there is a reason Marin Alsop handles Daugherty’s music so well: She has a natural affinity for this sort of big, brassy, clever, unsubtle music that pushes the boundaries of the classical and popular idioms close together.

So it is scarcely a surprise that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra music director’s new recording of four Daugherty works is an effective bundle of ebullience.

The pieces—on which Alsop conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra—constitute a travelogue of sorts. “Route 66” (1998) is a short, nostalgic aural look at an iconic American highway that has long since fallen victim to interstate-route progress but that still captivates a certain subset of drivers (and inspired the Pixar movie “Cars”). “Ghost Ranch” (2006) is more reverential. It is an extended tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted her wide-open-spaces works at the eponymous location. The second movement, “Above Clouds,” features an ensemble of five horns and an especially broad sonic canvas.

“Sunset Strip” (1999) is another nostalgia-tinged work, tunefully bouncy in its outer movements (whimsically titled “7 PM” and “7 AM”) and warm in its central nocturne. “Time Machine” (2003) features temporal rather than geographic travel and is the most rhythmically complex and overtly modern-sounding piece here. It justifies its full title, “Time Machine for Three Conductors and Orchestra,” through sheer complexity. (Alsop is here joined by Mei-Ann Chen and Laura Jackson.) And it blares along just wonderfully, from a sonic point of view, providing an effective contrast between “Past” and “Future” (the titles of its two sections). Daugherty certainly knows how to please an audience, and Alsop certainly knows how to make sure he does.

Cinemusical, February 2011

DAUGHERTY, M.: Metropolis Symphony / Deus ex Machina (T. Wilson, Nashville Symphony, Guerrero) 8.559635
DAUGHERTY, M.: Route 66 / Ghost Ranch / Sunset Strip / Time Machine (Bournemouth Symphony, Alsop, Mei-Ann Chen, L. Jackson) 8.559613

Michael Daugherty has become one of the 10 most performed living American composers. His dramatic sense and brilliant orchestration demonstrated in engaging, and audience-pleasing, orchestral works have helped him carve out that respect over the past twenty years. Marin Alsop’s new release is a sort of musical journey from the familiar into time and space and features four pieces composed over the last ten years. But it is important to start with the work that began Daugherty’s rise in the orchestral world, Metropolis Symphony.

The 2009 Naxos recording is a critically acclaimed release that features a piano concerto and the Metropolis Symphony in a generous 75-minute recording. The symphony was begun in 1988 and premiered in 1994 by its dedicatee David Zinman with the Baltimore Symphony. The work is a paean to comic book heroes, and specifically the iconic Superman. Cast in five movements, the work is really a series of miniatures dramatically depicting specific scenarios or characters. The first movement (“Lex”) focuses on Lex Luthor in what is a scherzo-like piece reminiscent of a Hollywood action cue. Daugherty’s musical language pulls together the threads of contemporary classical music (the scurrying, almost aleatoric segments show influence of Ligeti and Penderecki), with the sort of action adventure music one hears in the film works of say Goldsmith or Goldenthal. Beyond the always brilliant orchestration, is the flirtation with jazz and popular musical sounds and an innate structural sense that allows even the strangest of musical combinations to be comprehended by the listener. Hear how in “Krypton” Daugherty takes a small motivic idea and then begins to infiltrate the entire orchestra with this idea sometimes in more traditional post-romantic sound sometimes in an almost Antheil-like Ballet Mecanique. The interior movements are a bit less interesting but the work ends with the somewhat overlong, but no less interesting “Red Cape Tango” (a tango based on “Ðies Irae“). The work can be performed in any number of combinations as each moment can stand alone, a smart move for what amounts to a 43-minute contemporary symphony. The other work on this release is inspired by trains and is essentially a 3-movement piano concerto that is fairly engaging even without its programmatic overtones. Again, this is another perfect way to hear how Daugherty’s structural sense allows listeners an entry point for a deeper appreciation of the music that has form besides just being an engaging listening experience. The live recording has some minimal audience applause dialed out at the end. The release is one of those essential music library recordings of contemporary American music that will increase the appreciation of the new release under review here. To say that the Nashville Symphony performs brilliantly is an understatement and they are given about the best recorded sound for which one could wish. The disc is an important companion to the new release with the Bournemouth orchestra and has been nominated for 4 Grammys this year.

Marin Alsop has been a champion of Daugherty’s music for 20 years and her release, with the Bournemouth Symphony, is a chance to see if how a European orchestra can respond to this music. Each of the four works recorded moves through evocations of American landscapes and even into the fourth dimension. The opening piece, Route 66 (1998), is an overture-like work that takes the listener through a musical journey down “Main Street America.” Someone might take a look at all these brief little post-minimalist works that are about the American automobile or travel as there are quite a number of them from the 1990s. At any rate, the work is intended to briefly show off different parts of the orchestra with fun dance-like rhythms and jazzy flourishes. In some respects it feels like a brief study for the same idea explored by Daugherty in Sunset Strip composed about the same time. Sunset Strip (1999) appeared on a BIS release with the North Carolina Symphony not long ago sharing space with other jazz-influenced works among them John Williams’ Escapades. That is a release worth tracking down for its variety. The work is another musical road trip down Sunset Boulevard and features a variety of musical borrowings of styles and pop sounds. It is perhaps Daugherty’s best work easily capable of sharing space with Gershwin’s big orchestral jazz works.

Ghost Ranch (2006) is a three-movement work inspired by the life and paintings of Georgia O’Keefe. Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony commissioned this work of intriguing stark contrasts. Though there is some of that nervous energy one hears in Daugherty’s other music, this piece tends to focus on many gorgeously orchestrated melodic ideas. The opening movement, “Bones,” is a beautifully lyrical work with an engaging thematic idea that is presented at its start and then somewhat deconstructed through the orchestra in various rhythmic variations that is connected by an underlying pulse (not quite minimalistic in nature) and occasionally romantic harmonies. “Above Clouds” is a study in orchestral crescendo that starts low in the orchestra and then works its way upwards to soaring French horns. “Black Rattle” concludes the work in an almost cinematic style of writing that also has a “rattle” idea that is moved through the ensemble and appears in different guises. While Ghost Ranch feels like three independent musical ideas conveniently connected, there is no denying its emotional power that feels more personal than the other works in the composer’s canon.

The final piece on the disc is Time Machine (2003).  The piece is in one sense a conceptual art work in that it requires the orchestra to be spatially separated into three units each requiring its own conductor. This might limit the work’s performances, and in recordings a potential nightmare to image the ensembles correctly. The three groups are located stage left, center stage, and stage right. Somehow Naxos does manage to create a fine imaging, helped by which instruments are part of each orchestral segment. The work is cast in two movements. The first, “Past,” has an almost hymn-like quality with a long melodic idea on stage left in strings that is offset by winds and percussion ideas coming from center and right of the sound pattern. By creating these three ensembles, Daugherty is able to create fascinating blend of rhythmic variety and mixed meters that when played together feel almost as if they are melding in to some new whole. In “Future,” Daugherty is experimenting with controlled aleatoric musical ideas by creating a variety of modules that can be played in controlled randomness decided on by the three conductors. The movement is quite eerie as it begins and harp ideas lend it a sort of shimmering texture that references motion in time. Unusual sounds are explored more here than in other works Daugherty has composed and this is perhaps closest to Ligeti, though far less atonal, then anything else on this disc, or perhaps in the composer’s work to date suggesting that he too is exploring and evolving his music from those early more romantically-filled works.

The Bournemouth orchestra engages these pieces with commitment and is on brilliant display in the sound picture captured throughout. The sound is a bit warmer than that Naxos used in their Nashville recording (though this may have more to do with the recording venue than any electronic tampering). These pieces provide several windows into Daugherty’s music that continues to develop a narrative flow that many will hear as cinematic reference. The selections here also bring in folk dance and pop music threads that lend the works a freshness and familiarity somehow at the same time. This will be an essential release for students of contemporary music. Highly recommended.

Taken together, one can discover not only Daugherty’s most familiar works, but also get a sense of his development as a composer. The performances are simply demonstration quality throughout.

Cinemusical, February 2011

Michael Daugherty is one of the most frequently performed of contemporary composers and there is a brand new release from Naxos that will give you a chance to hear four of his more recent works. Both Ghost Ranch and Sunset Strip are excellent pieces worthy of entering the repertoire. They are featured alongside Route 66 (from which the new release takes its name) and Time Machine. Marin Alsop’s committed performances are also a highlight. To gain perspective, I also requested a release (Naxos 8.559635) from last year featuring the composer’s Metropolis Symphony and the piano concerto, Deus ex Machina. The release has just been nominated for 4 Grammy®’s and features the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Check in next week for a fuller review of both these discs, but they are well worth your time—I think the newer disc is a better listen only because it has more contrast in its selections. But they really make great companions.

Mark Swed
Los Angeles Times, February 2011

In his pursuit of musically monumentalizing American icons high and, especially, low, the Midwest composer takes an orchestral trip, stopping off at Ghost Ranch and winding up on the Sunset Strip. His music can be jazzy and Coplandesque. The Strip at dawn is surprisingly mellow, slightly Asian and the most seductive spot of all. Marin Alsop conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with pizazz.

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, February 2011

“Michael Daugherty is one of the most frequently commissioned, programmed and recorded composers on the American concert music scene today”. So reads the first line of Daugherty’s biography in this new disc—the fourth from Naxos—of his orchestral music. And leading the vanguard of that popularity has to be both the conductor Marin Alsop and Naxos.

The four discs released to date have featured four different orchestras and three conductors—this is Alsop’s second disc. Once you accept the concept of contemporary music having the possibility of being fun then enjoyment of Daugherty’s music is only a step away. Collectors familiar with this composer’s style will recognise many of the musical landmarks—signposts perhaps would be more apt given the disc’s opening work Route 66— but the fascination here is the broadening of Daugherty’s musical vocabulary to include music of less instant appeal.

For those not yet familiar with Daugherty then I would characterise his music as being a gleefully virtuosic celebration of popular culture. He is one of the few contemporary ‘serious’ composers who seems able to integrate the rhythms and essence of popular music culture into his work without it sounding contrived or arch. It’s the compositional equivalent of “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”. But at the same time it is not about trying to make an orchestra sound like a rock band. Daugherty achieves this fusion. The Australian composer Matthew Hindson is another—his extraordinary work Speed amongst others rivals the music here. If you like Daugherty you must hear Hindson. For this disc Naxos returned with Marin Alsop to the scene of many triumphs; the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Add engineering by Mike Hatch, who from his Floating Earth days was responsible for many of the technically great discs of the CD era, and the presence of the composer at the sessions and you realise that you have an A* product being offered at a bargain price.

Time and again in recent years the Bournemouth Orchestra has impressed me with their extraordinary ability to sound ‘inside’ vastly differing musical styles. This goes way beyond mere technical prowess—all orchestras play with superb technique now given the chance—this is about playing with a real sense of what the music is about. Another of Daugherty’s particular penchants is to feature orchestral players within a concert work. Elsewhere in this series this has resulted in terrifyingly hard passages for everyone from the timpanist [Raise the Roof—Naxos 8.559372] to the lead violin and flute section [Metropolis Symphony—Naxos 8.559635]. Here the horn section and trumpets must have blanched when they first opened their parts but the results are—just as I expected—superb.

But to start at the beginning; Route 66 is the earliest work recorded here. Daugherty in his evocative and informative liner describes this as; “a high-octane musical romp.” The opening is typical—a highly rhythmic riff underpinned by driving percussion rhythms. At just over six minutes its easy to imagine this opening a concert. But now I’m getting more familiar with the Daugherty style I can’t help but think this is a bit of a ‘back-pocket’ work. Great fun, a romp for sure, but just a little put together by numbers. Too much reliance on the rhythm of the opening riff with the local colour interjections a tad obvious. I couldn’t help feeling this was Hawaii 5-0 on acid, right down to the big-finish final chord. So, if I’m honest just a little bit disappointing as a disc opener. Also, and this might read as a paradox given my praise previously for the quality of Mike Hatch’s engineering, this is music that seems to need an interventionist approach from the technical team. By that I mean that this is cinematic, technicolor music so ‘natural’ engineering—which is what we have here beautifully neutral sound; detailed well-balanced and wide ranging—results in an orchestral sound that’s just not as viscerally exciting as it might be. Decca Phase 4 engineers would have loved Michael Daugherty!

However, what might be perceived as a loss as far as the impact of Route 66 is concerned benefits hugely the next work Ghost Ranch. This is by some distance the most impressive work on this disc and as alluded to above expands our knowledge of the range and depth of Daugherty’s musical and emotional vocabulary. Is it my imagination but the playing too has that extra tiny percentage of commitment? Hurrah for the BBC—this was a commission by them for these performers who gave the premiere in 2006. This three movement work celebrates the life and art of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1968) who created works of art inspired by the landscape and unforgiving environment of her New Mexico home. Daugherty, although still using a large orchestral canvas, pares back the gestures creating at times minimalist passages quite unlike his usual music. Polyrhythms abound which the orchestra navigate with nonchalant ease. I particularly like the way Daugherty integrates this motivic-cell structure into his usual feeling for syncopation and orchestral colour creating a texture where the detail is busy but the overall sense is of stasis. The central panel of this triptych is in many ways the most impressive. In Above Clouds it is the five French horns who are spread across and above the orchestra. Daugherty says he sought to emulate O’Keeffe’s desire to achieve “the near and far, both in time and space” in her work. The resonance of the Poole Arts Centre which detracted from the edginess of the earlier work adds atmosphere and warmth allowing the horns to sound heroically over surging strings. Yes, this is a tad cinematic but you would have to have a very cold heart not to be moved by the climax. After the exalting strings and horns of this movement the final Black Rattle has more of the nervous energy more usually associated with this composer. It has a toccata-like quality but with fewer of the comic-book associations. The slower central section is simultaneously lyrical and faintly threatening representing, according to the composer, “the feeling of slowly walking in blackness”. This brief section is swept away by scurrying winds over walking bass lines and jerky brass fanfares. The close of the work is typically exciting with rhythms and instrumental groups piled on each other vying for supremacy.

Sunset Strip is back on more familiar comic-strip [pun intended] territory. Daugherty has a natural affinity for throwing together in opposition and juxtaposition musical styles. So a piece which represents a cultural melting pot—the premise is wandering down the eponymous Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles from dusk to dawn is tailor-made to appeal. Enormous praise to trumpeters Peter Turnbull and Denis Curlett who are magnificent in every sense of this work. I’m no brass player but their parts sound horribly hard but they play them superbly; technique to spare but with bags of blowsy character. I kept thinking of a kind of X-rated ‘American in Paris’ particularly in the central Nocturne section—full of sexy sleaze. This is the piece here that will most appeal to listeners who enjoyed the razzle-dazzle of the earlier releases in this series. Not that this is all in your face display though—listen to the seductively sensuous wind solos (uncredited) that open the final 7 AM section [track 7]—gorgeous playing perfectly caught by the engineering. Perhaps the homage to Gershwin is a little too undigested here but I’m not complaining. A mariachi band drunkenly wander through at one point before a chromium plated sunrise. Great fun.

After which the final piece Time Machine comes as something of a let-down. I sure that a lot of this work’s success comes from the visual theatre of seeing three distinct groups requiring three conductors. In the concert the eye allows a listener to fillet out musical lines, visual cues helping the ear. The engineering here is as good as it can be but even with headphones the brain resolutely tries to cohere the three distinct orchestral groups into one. Also, the undoubted skill in performance of synchronising the ensembles to come together and then phase apart again counts for little. This is evidently a more self-consciously serious work; the strings have impassioned hymn-like writing reminiscent of Arvo Pärt over dancing wind and ritualistic percussion and soaring brass. Not that this isn’t often effective and certainly excitingly played, it is just that you really do not get the sense that it needed three separate groups to achieve the effect. But there are always going to be personal favourites within the oeuvre of any composer. The overall impression I have is that the more I get to know of Daugherty’s music the more I respect and admire it as a body of work.

Anyone already collecting this series will be delighted to add this to their collection. For those coming to Daugherty for the first time I would not make this disc the point of entry—either of the other two discs mentioned above are preferable in that respect. But it is important to stress what a fine disc this is in technical terms—absurd when offered at Naxos bargain price—and worth sampling for the heroics of the Bournemouth brass.

Robert R. Reilly, January 2011

Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) writes delightfully manic music that engages the pop culture world with zest and rambunctiousness. He has written works based on Superman, trains, UFOs, Motown and, with this new Naxos CD, Sunset Strip and Route 66. His music is gymnastically energetic and highly syncopated. You can move to it. It is a lot of fun, but I would not advise listening to the whole thing unless you have had a full night’s sleep. I forgot to mention that humor is an element in American music, and you will find it in abundance here. Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra have a romp playing this rollicking good stuff ., January 2011

Marin Alsop also specializes in modern works, and she too often conducts them to good effect; in fact, she is better with moderns than with the classic repertoire. Alsop seems particularly well attuned to the works of Michael Daugherty (born 1954), whose music has a wry, often rather dry wit that sometimes bursts forth into genuine amusement. The works Alsop conducts with the Bournemouth Symphony constitute something of a travelogue, although they were conceived at different times and have only a few superficial elements in common. Route 66 (1998) is a short piece looking at an iconic American highway that has long since fallen victim to interstate-route progress but that still captivates a certain subset of drivers (it even inspired the Pixar movie Cars). Here, Daugherty is appropriately nostalgic. In Ghost Ranch (2006) he is more reverential, or as close to that as he ever gets: this is an extended tribute to Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted her wide-open-spaces works at the eponymous location. The second movement, “Above Clouds,” features an ensemble of five horns and an especially broad sonic canvas. Sunset Strip (1999) is another nostalgia-tinged work, tuneful in its outer movements (whimsically entitled “7 PM” and “7 AM”) and warm in its central Nocturne. Time Machine (2003) features travel of a different sort from that of the other works—and is the most rhythmically complex and overtly modern-sounding piece here. It justifies its full title, Time Machine for Three Conductors and Orchestra, through sheer complexity (Alsop is here joined by Mei-Ann Chen and Laura Jackson). But it is fair to ask to what extent the difficulties of the work are necessary for its effectiveness. Ives’ Fourth Symphony famously required two conductors until José Serebrier figured out how to manage it alone; Daugherty’s work seems designed to give a workout to everyone on and near the podium as well as to all the players—it is, in truth, a trifle overdone. But it also blares along just wonderfully, strictly from a sonic point of view, and provides an effective contrast between “Past” and “Future” (the titles of its two sections). Daugherty certainly knows how to please an audience.

David Hurwitz, January 2011

Michael Daugherty manages to have his musical cake and eat it too. His music’s eclectic “pop” elements rub shoulders with thoroughly modern compositional techniques. Time Machine, for example, requires three conductors, but its various textural layers and rhythmic complexities never sound confused. Indeed, its ticking woodblocks sound very much like Daugherty—something similar occurs at the start of Ghost Ranch, inspired by paintings by the always marvelous Georgia O’Keefe. Both this latter work and Sunset Strip are triptychs in the grand tradition of Ives (Three Places in New England) and Debussy (La mer).

Route 66, by contrast, is a seven-minute cross-country travelogue, and one of Daugherty’s best-known works (after the expansive Metropolis Symphony). Marin Alsop has established herself as a champion of Daugherty’s music, and performs all of it with obvious commitment. The Bournemouth orchestra, particularly its brass section (horns and trumpets), makes the most of the numerous solo opportunities that Daugherty offers the players. Naxos’ engineers do an excellent job capturing the music’s wide range of colors and, in Time Machine, its spacial elements. No reservations whatever—this is just excellent.

Grego Applegate Edwards
Gapplegate Music Review, January 2011

American orchestral composer Michael Daugherty writes melodic motifs that are neither cliche nor are they exceptionally original. What they are is distinctly American. They often draw on the music in the air out there, in the vernacular, in rock, pop, mainstream jazz, musicals, in the lounges and on people’s i-pods, the sort of thing the mailman might whistle while making his rounds or the guy who is stacking cans at the local Shoprite. It is what Mr Daugherty does with these motifs that constitutes his great appeal, his natural feel for orchestration and the flow of his musical syntax. As you listen to his new CD Route 66-Ghost Ranch-Time Machine (Naxos 8.559613) his brilliance at musical bricolage is apparent and palpable.

The new one consists of four evocative tone poems for orchestra, all written between 1998–2006, some in several movements, each lasting a relatively short time (between seven and 20 minutes), each tied into an implied descriptive verbal-visual program. So we have “Route 66,” “Ghost Ranch,” “Sunset Strip,” and “Time Machine.” Like Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” or Grofe’s “Grand Canyon Suite,” Daugherty’s music is geared toward a musical depiction of an aspect of Americana (except perhaps “Time Machine”). As you listen you know that this music should be accessible to a wide group of listeners. And why not?

Marin Alsop and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra do a smashing job realizing the music, as they have done on past releases. The sound stage captures the detailed, brightly impastoed glow of Daugherty’s orchestrations.

In short this is a release that should have great appeal. I found it delightful.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group