Michael Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle

Giancarlo Guerrero / Nashville Symphony

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Michael Daugherty: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle Review

by James Manheim

The style of American composer Michael Daugherty has evolved in the years since he made a splash with works like Sunset Strip that mapped hip popular allusions onto a lean Stravinskian structure. From the evidence of the two concertos and single orchestral work here, Daugherty has moved in the direction of neo-Romantic program music, although the composer is still recognizable enough. The three works here, all inspired by icons of American culture, make a satisfyingly coherent whole, but are varied in technique. The strongest work may be the last. Once Upon a Castle was written in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2003 and revised in 2015. It is inspired by the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, and by the film in which that home played such a large role, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane; and it captures very effectively the mix of epic grandiloquence and wistfulness in that film, with the solo organ of Paul Jacobs evoking the vast spaces of the castle. The three-movement American Gothic refers not only to that iconic Grant Wood painting, but also two of the painter's others: the central slow movement will make you want to look up Wood's slightly surreal original. The opening cello concerto, Tales of Hemingway, performed by cellist Zuill Bailey and the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero (who premiered the work), may serve as a little scenic tour of some famous Hemingway works, but does little to suggest their deeper currents. Nothing here is less than pleasing, though, and this music is the bread and butter of the Nashville Symphony, which has established itself in the forefront of American music that is both populist and contemporary. Recommended.

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