Entertainment :: Music

Mount Rushmore

by Steven Bergman
Contributor
Tuesday May 7, 2013
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Naxos Records presents the latest release from composer Michael Daugherty (b. 1954); a compilation of three world premieres for orchestra and choir. The works combine to form a fascinating look at several important centerpieces of what is referred to as, "The Greatest Generation," the period of American history between the Great Depression and World War II.

Daugherty begins the recording with his 2010 composition, "Mount Rushmore," a four-movement oratorio featuring the Pacific Symphony under the baton of Carl St. Clair, alongside the Pacific Chorale. The work blends a substantial amount of tonal writing with words written by the four presidents whose images grace the South Dakota mountain. Letters from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt provide the choral basis for their respective movements, accordingly titled after each president. Daugherty uses Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as the source material for the fourth movement. Though the least familiar of the four famous heads of state, the piece about Roosevelt provides the most tension and power, with the chorus repeating Roosevelt’s plea to cease the increasing destruction of our forests with the chant of "Leave it as it is."

The second and third pieces take strictly instrumental sojourns into the lives of two cultural icons from the period: famed conductor Arturo Toscanini and uber-evangelist Aimee Semple MacPherson. "Radio City: Symphonic Fantasy on Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (2011)" is the wordy title of this three-movement work which explores the distinct phases of Toscanini’s life. From his rise to stardom in Europe, and subsequent exile to America ("O Brave New World" and "Ode to the Old World"), to an homage to Toscanini’s contribution to our culture through his strong leadership of the NBC Orchestra ("On the Air (In Onda)"), Daugherty has constructed a serviceable overview of one of the world’s most famous conductors.

Aimee Semple MacPherson was a woman of firsts, as she rose to notoriety through her constant traveling and passionate sermonizing from her own pulpit. "The Gospel According to Sister Aimee (2012)" for Organ, Brass and Percussion features Grammy Award winning organist, Paul Jacobs, encapsulating the religious fervor of MacPherson’s world. Daugherty interestingly chooses MacPherson’s mysterious 1926 disappearance as the source for his intriguing second movement, "An Evangelist Drowns / Desert Dance," when the woman supposedly faked her own drowning in order to run off with a married man.

The three subjects featured on this recording make for an absorbing look at the current compositions of the University of Michigan professor.

"Mount Rushmore"
Michael Daugherty / Pacific Symphony / Carl St. Clair
CD and digital formats
Naxos Records

Steven Bergman is a Composer / Playwright / Performing Arts Educator based outside of Boston, MA.

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