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Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony

4.2 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 29, 2009
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Inspired by the fiftieth anniversary of
Superman's first appearance in the
comics, Metropolis Symphony has been
performed by orchestras all over the
world. Hailed by the London Times as a
'Symphonie Fantastique for our times,'
Metropolis Symphony is a musical
response to the myth of Superman,
expressing the energies, ambiguities,
paradoxes, and wit of American
popular culture. Deus ex Machina is a
piano concerto inspired by trains of the
future and past: Fast Forward
re-creates the machine-like rhythms of
modern trains admired by the Italian
futurists; Train of Tears recalls
Abraham Lincoln's funeral train; Night
Steam evokes O. Winston Link's
historic photographs of steam
locomotives rumbling and whistling
their way into extinction.


2011 GRAMMY award winner: Best Orchestral Performance, Best Classical Composition & Best Engineered Classical Album --National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, February 2011
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Nashville Symphony
  • Conductor: Guerrero
  • Composer: Daugherty
  • Audio CD (September 29, 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos American Classics
  • ASIN: B002JIBC80
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #179,559 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
This disc is fantastic: 2 energetic pieces by a gifted American composer, performed by an excellent orchestra under an exciting new conductor. Sonically, the performances are beautifully captured, top to bottom, and the recording sounds great on 5-channel surround. The nuances the composer points out in the liner notes are easily heard in the mix, and the Nashville Symphony's sound is balanced and full. Just a beautiful recording, and an excellent addition to a growing and impressive catalog from Music City's excellent orchestra.

As for the pieces themselves, the Metropolis Symphony, though not program music, certainly evokes images of the mythology to which it pays tribute: sounds of a busy city, soaring melodic lines, bright horns, and robust orchestration. It is beautifully and ably written.

The piano concerto, Deus Ex Machina, is another brilliantly rendered composition--in response, in the composer's words, to the world of trains. The highlight here is part II: The Train of Tears, "music for a slow-moving funeral train"--specifically, the train that carried Abraham Lincoln's body from Washington, DC, to its final resting place in Illinois. The movement is dark, brooding, lonely, and fatalistic. Terrence Wilson (piano) plays very well throughout the whole emotional and stylistic range of the concerto.
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For some reason, I mistakenly connected Michael Daugherty with the Bang On A Can crew. He is post-modern, though, in the sense of using materials from everywhere. From Wikipedia, the background details most revealing about his music was that he learned to play piano himself ("Alexander's Ragtime Band") via the family player-piano, that he wanted to become a composer after hearing a performance of Sam Barber's Piano Concerto, studied with Charles Wuorinen, and had a stint at IRCAM where he encountered Gerard Grisey and Frank Zappa.

Leonard Bernstein told him to combine American popular with concert music. He worked on his Yale dissertation about the connection between Mahler and Ives, and Emerson and Goethe. Well-rounded is what I'm aiming at, musically and otherwise. Clearly you'd want to be seated next to him at a dinner party. But how goes the music?

Wonderfully! This will be on my 2009 Best List. The slipcase cover of Metropolis Symphony loudly declares its intent and content: a red-caped Superman-like character in rapid flight over a metropolitan skyline. The composition is in five movements, they are non-programmatic, and each may be performed (or, at home, played) individually.

"Lexx" opens with a police whistle; right away there's trouble afoot. There's only the broadest minimalist reference of a broadly repeating phrase, and just for a minute or so.

"Krypton" opens with a police siren, then darkly ominous strings, very realistically captured fire bells, triangles and other percussive materials. Think: Appalachian Spring gone askew thanks to spiraling string glissandi and Mary Kathryn Van Osdale's violin, ending with a siren going off in homage to Varèse's Ionisation.
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Format: Audio CD
I continue to be blown away by Iowa-born composer Michael Daugherty. His music tells a uniquely American story and that appeals to me very much. Most recently it was a recording of his Fire and Blood, a muscular violin concerto inspired by Diego Rivera that grabbed my attention. This time it's the antic and frantic Metropolis Symphony, an orchestral extravaganza inspired by the 1938 debut of Superman in comic books. I love the very notion of a giant orchestral work inspired by American pop culture and can almost see the sneers of Euro-snobs and the pasty-faced, self-appointed American guardians of modern music.

Metropolis Symphony is in five movements, each one inspired by a Superman character or theme. Lex, the opening movement, is a deliriously diabolic romp for solo violin and percussion-laced orchestra that captures the manic evil of arch-baddie Lex Luthor. Here's the smack-mouth drive that made Fire and Blood so thrilling. The solo part is played with guts by the Nashville Symphony's Mary Kathryn Van Osdale. More subdued but equally evocative is Krypton, an eerie tone poem that opens with sirens, gongs and disturbing string glissandi. There's more terrifying solo fiddling, snippets of what sounds like "Silent Night" and an apocalyptic finale that gives the Rite of Spring a run for its money. MXYZPTLK, the nasty imp from the fifth dimension, is a mercurial scherzo-like third movement that showcases the orchestra's flute section. The fourth movement entitled Oh Lois! evokes the comic's heroine alongside Clark Kent. Here's another wildfire rave-up with a tempo marked "faster than a speeding bullet" that plays out as a delicious example of orchestral slapstick.
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Format: Audio CD
the Metropolis Symphony captures perfectly the mood and feeling of classic superman comics. Big bold themes painted in vivid primary colors suck you and leave you wanting more. Sometimes classical music takes itself so seriously, it is a nice change to have a work that doesn't. The score is very evocative, kind of like good soundtrack music. But whereas soundtrack music is hamstrung by the fact that it is totally subordinate to the visuals it is trying to enhance, this work gets to play through without any of that.

Just for fun, I pulled out my copy of John Williams 1978 score to the rather dated Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I think Daugherty's work does a better job at, as the composer wrote, "expressing the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes, and wit" of the pop icon that is Superman. There is no super sticky melody, like Williams' classic Superman phrase. But the Superman soundtrack suffers from an inability to create, explore, and play with themes and ideas because its main purpose is to help tell the story of the movie. So one feels the heavy hand of forced emotional manipulation and artificiality; all in all I was unsatisfied at the end of that disc. Don't get me wrong, as far as soundtracks go, Superman is in the top tier, and it's not a fair fight pitting a symphony against a soundtrack.

Deus ex Machina has it's own vibe, quite different from Metropolis. Its inspiration was trains. In the very early part of last century, trains were the most vital and important agents of change and modernization. They symbolized the future.
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