BWW Interviews: Composer Michael Daugherty on 'Reflections On the Mississippi For Tuba and Orchestra'
Michael Daugherty is one of America's most successful modern orchestral composers. Professor of Composition at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, he has also been an NEA and Guggenheim Fellow, among other fellowships, and has been Composer-in-Residence for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Pacific Symphony as well as several others. The composer of "Metropolis Symphony" (1988), inspired by Superman, he has been influenced by such diverse inspirations as popular culture - his opera, "Jackie O" (1997) - and Georgia O'Keefe in his orchestral work "Ghost Ranch" (2005).
We caught up with him shortly before the premiere of his new work, "Reflections On The Mississippi For Tuba and Orchestra", to be performed in Philadelphia by the thrice-Grammy-nominated Temple University Symphony Orchestra with soloist Carol Jantsch, principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Kimmel Center on March 24, 2013.
BWW: You're from a musical family, as so many musicians are. Can you tell us about your family's musical background?
MD: My father was a drummer. Our household was surrounded by popular music, and we grew up watching Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason. I didn't grow up with classical music, but that's true of many composers. I wound up writing for orchestra and wind ensembles because I love the timbre.
BWW: You're from the Midwest, and you live and teach in the Midwest. Do you find that affects your sensibility, as opposed to being an entrenched New York or Los Angeles composer?
MD: I live in the middle of America, so I have all American influences hitting me simultaneously. It's the best of all worlds. It's only an hour flight to New York from Detroit. I have instant access to what I need.
BWW: When I think of your work, "Metropolis Symphony" immediately comes to mind. This new work has a completely inspiration.
MD: Yes, I hope so. That was twenty years ago. What you do when you're fifty-eight is different from when you're twenty-five, for actors and for composers. This piece is a reflection on my growing up - good memories of it. Some composers focus on bad memories but there's enough of that in the world.
And when I wrote "Metropolis", most orchestral music was atonal and non-melodic so it was shocking at the time.
BWW: The Mississippi has fascinated more than one writer and more than one composer - Twain, Ferber, Hammerstein, all come to mind. What is it about the Mississippi?