Michael Daugherty, “Tales of Hemingway,” “American Gothic” and “Once Upon a Castle” with cellist Zuill Bailey, organist Paul Jacobs and the Nashville Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos).
Here are some cultural marriages not often seen in America – and certainly not in this era i.e. contemporary classical music with some of the best known classic American literature, equally well-known American painting and the lunatic conspicuous consumption of one of our richest and most loonily consuming citizens.
Michael Daugherty is as close to a pop artist a la Lichtenstein and Warhol as contemporary classical music gets. In his tonal musical language, he is usually allusive. His Hemingway piece for cello and orchestra pays tribute to Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River” and the novels “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “The Sun Also Rises.” Not nearly as successful is “American Gothic” a tribute to the paintings of Grant Wood.
On the other hand, “Once Upon a Castle” refers evocatively to San Simeon, the lunatic castle built and stuffed with artifacts by William Randolph Hearst and so grotesquely re-imagined by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” Not for Daugherty is classical music that exists only of and for itself (the kind that one magazine editor snidely synopsized by retitling an essay by composer Milton Babbitt “Who Cares If You Listen?”)
This is instantly communicative music – in no danger of competing in cultural bandwidth with its inspirations but very appealing at its best. And very well-performed by all, especially cellist Zuill Bailey.
3.5 stars (out of four)