Above Clouds from Ghost Ranch | Michael Daugherty, composer

Above Clouds
from Ghost Ranch (2005)

Instrumentation: 4 horns, timpani and strings

Publisher: Boosey and Hawkes, Hendon Music (BMI)

Duration: 6 minutes

World Premiere: Februrary 8, 2006 / The Lighthouse, Poole, United Kingdom / Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Marin Alsop

Program Note:

Above Clouds for 4 horns, strings and percussion, the second movement of Ghost Ranch for orchestra, was commissioned by BBC Radio 3. The first performance was given by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and conducted by its principal conductor, Marin Alsop, on February 8, 2006 in Poole, United Kingdom.

Above Clouds is inspired by the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1968). A rugged individualist who distanced herself from art critics and art historians, she lived for over forty years in her summer home known as Ghost Ranch, a desolate area 120 miles north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. O’Keeffe’s paintings of this period reflect the vast southwestern landscape, with its open sky, jagged canyons, and bone-parched earth. Her art, like my music, hovers between realism and abstraction.

In O’Keeffe’s paintings, Sky Above Clouds I-IV (1962-5), white clouds are geometrically set against a bright blue background, creating an abstract yet recognizable form. To recreate the “near and far, both in time and space” of O’Keeffe’s masterpieces, I expand the listener’s sense of acoustic space by spatially re-arranging the French horn section on the stage. It is possible to see as well as hear the sound of the solo horns, floating cloud-like over the rest of the orchestra. While I was composing this piece I also had some phrases in my ear that Anne Carson collected and put into a poem for me about swimming under a blue sky: “dazzle by…dazzle my…sometimes spinning …sometimes cursing…true finger knows…unlocked…light…big blue one…must be grand enough…blue can drift…us evaporating…”

–Michael Daugherty