works commissioned and premiered by
the Detroit Symphony Orchestra during
Michael Daugherty's four years as Composerin-
Residence. Inspired by Diego Rivera's
monumental fresco and Frida Kahlo's paintings
created in Detroit, Michigan, Fire and Blood 'rivets the ear with a bold palette of
colors and the skillful elaboration of vibrant themes' (Detroit News). MotorCity
Triptych, 'striking both in its brilliance and in its technical rigor,' is a road trip
through the sounds of Detroit: the 1960s pulse of Motown, the motor rhythms of
Michigan Avenue, and the legend of civil rights icon Rosa Parks. Raise the Roof,
composed for the opening of Detroit's Max M. Fisher Music Center, is a grand
acoustic construction featuring the timpani in a tour de force of urban polyrhythms.
Best of the lot is Fire and Blood, which made a dazzling impression on its premiere and sounds even better six years later. It is the most profound Daugherty piece I know, the best example of his eclectic and kinetic style reaching beyond surface excitement for deeply moving music that touches the soul.
Played with striking authority by Detroit-bred soloist Ida Kavafian and a vibrantly alive orchestra under Järvi's baton, the 28-minute, three-movement piece translates Rivera's dynamic depiction of the River Rouge assembly line and heroic laborers into music that pulsates with muscle, percussive commotion, sweeping energy, bright colors and mournful shadow.
The outer movements are full of fury as the soloist, rarely out of the spotlight, explodes in fury and sheets-of-sounds passages. The central movement, inspired by Rivera's wife, artist Frida Kahlo, features a nostalgic minor-key melody perched halfway between a mariachi folk melody and Mahler funeral march that throbs with feeling.
The highly syncopated MotorCity Triptych is less consistent than the concerto, but its best moments -- particularly the Rosa Parks finale, with three trombones orating sermons of blues shouts, plaintive cries and fragments of the spiritual Oh Freedom -- pack a strong emotional wallop. Elsewhere there are evocations of Motown ballads, Middle Eastern restaurants and more filtered through Daugherty's neon orchestrations. The ear catches streaks of inspiration, but some melodies veer close to cliché and the collage of ideas doesn't always meld into an organic whole.
On the other hand, the performance is exemplary. Järvi invests the music with his incomparable spontaneity and rhythmic pop and the soloists -- principally the trombone trio of Ken Thompkins, Michael Becker and Randy Hawes and trumpeter Ramon Parcells -- play like aces. Raise the Roof, a 13-minute showcase for the DSO's brilliant virtuoso timpanist Brian Jones, is heavily flavored by jazz, especially in the Stan Kenton-like passages girded by Latin rhythms, a piano vamp and punchy brass. It's not the most serious music, but it was never meant to be. It's a party piece and there's nothing wrong with that. --Detroit Free Press, Mark Stryker, September 2009