Giancarlo Guerrero

Michael Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony

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Michael Daugherty's Metropolis Symphony, a set of five homages to the Superman comic that can be performed separately or together, has come as close as any other contemporary work to carving out a secure place in the symphonic repertory, at least in the U.S., and Daugherty is catching on in Europe, as well. The key to his music is that, for all its pop culture references, it does not really fall under the crossover banner. The intertextual techniques, as well as the basic motor rhythms, come ultimately from Stravinsky, and Daugherty has devised inventive ways of tweaking the meeting points between that basic language and the world of popular culture. A later example is Deus ex Machina (2007), which fills out the program; it was commissioned by a consortium of regional American orchestras. The title refers not to the dramatic device of having a savior suddenly appear in a seemingly hopeless situation but to the original sense of the Latin words: god in the machine. The machine in question is the train, which Daugherty evokes with a harder, noisier sound than usual in his three-movement concerto. The necessity in a piece like this is a pianist who can catch the listener's attention without banging, and pianist Terrence Wilson superbly fills the bill. He is rewarded with vigorous applause from the live crowd at Nashville's acoustically strong Schermerhorn Symphony Center, which is emerging as a model for the integration of symphonic venues into the cultural life of modern American cities. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra's brass section nails the crisp brass lines in the Metropolis Symphony itself, and conductor Giancarlo Guerrero keeps the work moving and understands the sense of fun. Taken altogether, this is a strong entry in the Naxos label's American Classics series and a good place to start for those who are interested in Daugherty.

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