Fire and Blood | Michael Daugherty, composer

Fire and Blood
Naxos/August 2009


Fire and Blood/Motor City Triptych/Raise The Roof
Ida Kavafian, violin
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi, conductor



Michael Daugherty is a wonderful composer, and these three pieces make splendid listening. Fire and Blood is a violin concerto, and a damn fine one. Violin concertos are exceptionally difficult to write, especially in balancing the soloist against a large modern orchestra. Daugherty handles the challenge with aplomb. In the first movement, for example, he keeps the accompaniment light but colorful. Sounds that come across as hackneyed in the hands of other composers, such as harp glissandos or little glockenspiel accents, here sound freshly imagined, while the solo writing offers much that is genuinely lyrical and beautiful. Ida Kavafian puts plenty of heart into her playing, really digging into the tunes while making light of the technical difficulties.

Raise the Roof, for timpani and orchestra, does exactly what the title promises, but once again the music never sounds gimmicky. MotorCity Triptych features the orchestra’s fine brass section: trumpet in the second movement and three trombones in the third. Daugherty’s style mixes popular music idioms with traditional classical forms with complete naturalness. You never feel that he’s trying too hard, or merely being trendy. Neeme Järvi and the band make exactly the bold, glittering sounds that the music requires, and I can only wonder why a disc that was recorded between 2001 and 2003 is only being issued now. Great sonics too.

Artistic Quality: 10
Sound Quality: 10

-David Hurwitz

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The Detroit Symphony released three excellent performances (live recordings, to boot) of orchestral music by Michigan-based composer Michael Daugherty.  Fire and Blood for violin and orchestra was inspired by Diego Rivera’sDetroit Industry murals and throughout the composition Daugherty adeptly integrates Latin-inspired touches into his regular boisterous musical language without sounding cliche or silly.  Ida Kavafian draws every ounce of passion and fire (and blood) out of the music and brings it into the sonic world.  Daugherty’s musical language is, on one hand, very traditional and comfortable but also includes touches and flares of more expressionistic passages that lend much to the drama and tension of his music.  Given the picturesque subject matter I hear a lot of musical connections to, of all pieces, Scheherazade.  Yes, Daugherty’s work is a full-blown violin concerto but the story lines of each movement propel the drama forward in a similar manner as in the Rimsky-Korsakov.  Maybe it is just me.

MotorCity Tryptich is a lighter exploration of Detroit-inspired sources.  In “Motown Mondays,” Daugherty again takes a foreign (to orchestras, anyway) musical language and sets it within the orchestra with flair and panache that goes above and beyond cheesy “pops concert” fodder.  ”Pedal-to-the-Metal” takes some obvious Copland references and runs wild and free with them.  ”Rosa Parks Boulevard” starts with some dramatic harmonies and morphs into and out of various scenes and landscapes.  The trombone section is heavily featured in this movement and play with a rich, soulful sound.

The timpani concerto/showpiece Raise the Roof is a perfect closer for the disc.  Brian Jones, timpani soloist, is a great force in front of the orchestra but also brings subtlety and nuance to the quieter passages.  The rapid pitch changes of the midpoint cadenza are clean, crisp, and musically done.  The roof gets sufficiently raised, in case you were worried.

– Jay Batzner

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