Reflections on the Mississippi for tuba and orchestra | Michael Daugherty, composer

Reflections on the Mississippi
for tuba and orchestra (2013)

I. Mist
II. Fury
III. Prayer
IV. Steamboat

Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Bb Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 3 C Trumpets (straight metal mute, harmon mute) solo Tuba, Timpani, Percussion (3 players), Piano, Strings

Publisher: Michael Daugherty Music

Duration: 20 minutes

World Premiere: Reflections on the Mississippi (2013) for tuba and orchestra was commissioned by the Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance. The world premiere was given by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Luis Biava, with Carol Jantsch, solo tuba, at Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 24, 2013.

2018 SHIFT Festival: Michael Daugherty’s Reflections on the Mississippi, featuring guest soloist Carol Jantsch, was performed at the Kennedy Center on April 11, 2018, by the Albany Symphony as part of  2018 SHIFT: A Festival of American Orchestras.

“Daugherty’s piece, a concerto for tuba from 2013 called Reflections on the Mississippi, was the high point of the evening. An evocation of the composer’s memories of that quintessential American river, the piece explores many traditional sound worlds.  ~Washington Classical Review | read full review

Program Note:

Reflections on the Mississippi (2013) for tuba and orchestra was commissioned by the Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance. The world premiere was given by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Luis Biava, with Carol Jantsch, solo tuba, at Verizon Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 24, 2013.

This concerto, composed in memory of my father, Willis Daugherty (1929-2011), is a musical reflection on family trips during my childhood to the Mississippi River near McGregor, Iowa. In July and October 2012, I returned to the Mississippi to make two road trips from McGregor to Hannibal, Missouri. Along the Great River Road I explored small river towns and snapped photographs of scenic river vistas. Local boat owners also guided me to the secluded wildlife havens and murky backwaters of the Mississippi River. All the while, I was collecting sounds, musical ideas and an emotional framework for my tuba concerto.

The tuba concerto is 20 minutes in duration, and in four movements:

In the first movement of the concerto, “Mist,” I reflect on sunrise as seen and heard through a misty haze over the Mississippi River. After an opening ripple, the tuba intones a mystical melody that ascends through shimmering orchestral chords. An ostinato is introduced in a musical canon by percussion, piano and tuba, followed by a dark second theme that rises from the depths of the string section punctuated by woodwinds. At the end of the movement, the ostinato returns in the timpani and is combined with the misty opening melody of the tuba.

The title of the second movement, “Fury,” recalls the turmoil of the Mississippi River in the fiction of William Faulkner and in the history of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Like the jarring time shifts in Faulkner’s 1927 novel, The Sound and the Fury, the music I have created consists of dissonant harmonies, turbulent polyrhythms, and clashing 3/4 and 5/4 time signatures performed simultaneously.

In “Prayer,” the third movement, I meditate on the calm mood of the Mississippi River seen from a high vista, overlooking the water as far as the eye can see, as sunset turns into a clear and starry night. Glockenspiel, vibraphone, chimes and piano echo like distant church bells down in the valley, while the tuba plays a lyrical, soulful melody. In a musical flashback, I evoke material from the first movement to remind us of the timeless currents of the Mississippi River.

The final movement, “Steamboat,” conjures up colorful tales from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1835-1910). Traveling down the Mississippi River, I have composed lively music that follows the gambling steamboats from Twain’s hometown in Hannibal, Missouri, to the final stop in New Orleans. Much as the tuba plays a central role in Zydeco and Second line music of New Orleans, the tuba soloist in my concerto leads a second line of syncopated rhythms that propel the concerto to a virtuosic conclusion.

River’s voice resounds in ‘Mississippi’

By David Patrick Stearns, Inquirer Music Critic
March 26, 2013

If you’re going to write a concerto inspired by the majesty of the Mississippi River, one appropriate voice would have to be the deep, otherworldly tuba – so often heard in everyday orchestral life but rarely in solos. Or did the tuba idea come first and the river second?

Whatever the motivation, Michael Daugherty’s Reflections on the Mississippi was a charmer at its world premiere by Philadelphia Orchestra’s Carol Jantsch and the Temple University Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, in the ensemble’s annual Kimmel Center concert.

Nostalgia and rustic Americana are not what one expects from Daugherty, who made his name on works that mined pop-culture superheros for serious American archetypes. The Mississippi layers are impressionistic. Movements have titles – “Mist,” “Steamboat” – though they weren’t needed given how the music made you feel the river’s humidity.

In this predominantly lyrical concerto, one expansive melody follows another with a kind of dreaminess that recalls Charles Ives’ Central Park in the Dark. That languid tone gave way in the second movement to complicated, propulsive rhythms ( Mission Impossible music) that delivered more traditional concerto excitement with a syncopated animation suggesting the tuba’s possibilities as a jazz instrument.

Moments of big-orchestra lushness recalled the Hollywood films that have added to the romance of the river. Incursions from foreign keys were welcome but felt like red herrings. You wanted more or none.

No matter how distracting her sequined gown, Jantsch was a soulful soloist with gentle vibrato, supported by a technically assured orchestra under Luis Biava. The piece should be repeated soon.

BWW Reviews: World Premiere of Michael Daugherty’s REFLECTIONS ON THE MISSISSIPPI

by Marakay Rogers
March 30, 2013

On March 24, 2013, at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Grammy-nominated Temple University Symphony Orchestra and conductors Paul Rardin and Luis Biava came together with Philadelphia Orchestra principal tubist Carol Jantsch and noted composer Michael Daugherty for a concert honoring Biava with the Boyer College (Boyer College of Music and Dance) Tribute Award and premiering Daugherty’s newly commissioned “Reflections on the Mississippi” for tuba and orchestra. The centerpiece of the concert was the world premiere of Daugherty’s “Reflections on the Mississippi,” conducted by Biava and with the solo tuba of Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who workshopped it extensively with Daugherty prior to its first public performance. In four movements named for things and moods associated with the river rather than for performance tempos, “Reflections” is an appealing, intensely melodic work.

The first movement, “Mist,” begins with the ripple of chimes and then the tuba introducing the melody before the introduction of the strings. The orchestra’s bell-like percussion indeed felt like so many raindrops against a moving melody line propelled by violin and by Jantsch’s solo that brought in a few Dixieland notes prior to its reaching into bass registers that carried off the listeners.

In “Fury,” the second section, tuba and drums bring the orchestra into an almost martial, driving melodic line, entering into a call and response with the orchestra before moving off, either like the march of Civil War soldiers or the rushing of the river itself, prepared to rise over its banks. It is a movement full of clash, of dissonance, and of strong, driving beats, intensely compelling and intensely modern in sound while feeling strangely familiar in theme; although dangerous, it is highly accessible to the listener.

“Prayer,” the third movement, opens with chimes and percussion giving way to woodwinds in a gentle, not-quite-melancholic theme as the tuba then enters along with chimes, finally moving into a tuba solo of folk-tune-redolent melody, almost like a spiritual. A few moments of jazz inspiration, evoking thoughts of New Orleans jazz music church services and funerals, waft through the section as the tuba brings the themes together.

“Steamboat” concludes the Daugherty with the same feelings one might expect to find in Twain’s writings of the river, or of Ferber’s – and then Hammerstein’s — “Show Boat”. Without harking directly either to that musical’s tunes or to any immediately identifiable jazz riffs, the final movement, both in the orchestra and in the solo, provides a cheerful, upbeat theme punctuated by a notable timpani presence, then moving into a slower, melodic second theme with drama and a dirge-like motif before returning to the decidedly lively jazz theme.

Jantsch’s solo was, as anticipated by the audience, extraordinary – but for Jantsch, extraordinary performances are ordinary. The orchestra as a whole performed notably, showing its Grammy-nominated form under Biava’s conducting and rising to the occasion admirably, all to vociferous audience approval and an enthusiastic reception of Daugherty’s new work.

“Reflections” is undoubtedly worth a recording sooner rather than later, and one would hope that Jantsch would be selected as the soloist, given that her known talent and her involvement in the development of the piece make her the obvious choice for it. This is an absolutely delightful contribution to new orchestral music, which one hopes will be recognized for its importance in general as well as for its specific interest in adding to the repertoire for tuba.

Daugherty, Temple U. Transport NYC to the Banks of the Mississippi

By Rob Wend
April 11, 2013

The Temple University Symphony Orchestra performed the New York premiere of Michael Daugherty’s Reflections on the Mississippi for tuba and orchestra at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center on Friday, April 5, 2013. The rich palette of this exceptional student ensemble did justice to the composer’s reminiscences of America’s heartland. The concert was dedicated to the late, great record producer Phil Ramone, who passed away just six days earlier. The featured soloist Carol Jantsch, principal tuba of the Philadelphia Orchestra, impressively remained standing beside conductor Luis Biava with her formidable brass behemoth throughout the duration of the 20-minute concerto.

The concerto’s first movement, Mist, opened with shimmery wind chimes, evoking the play of sunlight on the wavelets of America’s great river. Pitched percussion soon engaged in a gentle dialogue with the smooth tuba melody. This was all supported by fluid orchestral textures, which soon made way for a solo, rubato tuba recitative, which featured some bluesy explorations. The following movements for the most part succeeded one another without any lengthy pause.

The second movement, Fury, was driven by some boilerplate syncopations in the percussion, which smacked of film scores. Overall, though, the snare drum, xylophone and triangle propelled the urgent momentum of the orchestral “flood,” crisply guiding the ensemble through overlapping 3/4 and 5/4 time signatures that, as the composer explains in the concert notes, evokes “the jarring time shifts in William Faulkner’s 1927 novel, The Sound and the Fury.” This relentless percussive energy provided an excellent foil to Jantsch’s rounded sound on the tuba.

Prayer, begun after a short break for the soloist to clear the bilgewater from her shiny vessel, contained a gorgeous, wistful rural anthem to rival anything penned by Aaron Copland. The chimes greatly elaborated the sense of a mystical place where time plays by a different set of rules. The musical language overall by this point was quite accessible to a general audience but liberal use of deceptive cadences kept it from being predictable. Daugherty achieved a dexterous balance between foreboding and nostalgia, and in places conjured a lush hypnosis reminiscent of Ravel’s orchestral style.

The last movement, Steamboat, is composed of dense harmonies and propulsive rhythms that drive a glitzy, charged riverboat theme, which borrows the first movement’s initial melody. The concerto ends with a high register growl by the soloist, satisfying me greatly, as I had been hoping for some advanced technique on the tuba. Daugherty once again was inspired by the literature of the heartland, this time Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. His music “follows the gambling steamboats down the Mississippi River from Twain’s hometown in Hannibal, MO to the final stop in New Orleans, home of Zydeco and Second Line music.” The character of this concerto and its emotional origins (composed in memory of his father, Willis Daugherty, a self-taught dance band drummer) reminded me of a second Faulkner novel, As I Lay Dying, whose slow funeral procession mimics the unhurried progress of the great river and also depicts the sometimes arduous process of letting go of departed loved ones.

I am much more impressed by Michael Daugherty’s choice of a more popular, tonal musical language knowing that he studied with such Avant-garde composers as Ligeti and the Darmstadt school. The contemporary composer must carefully balance a spirit of experimentation with a consideration for the needs and tastes of a contemporary audience. I doubt that the composer placed many limitations on his score out of concern for a commission for a student orchestra, as the Temple orchestra clearly performs at a professional level, and the showcase of Jantsch’s virtuosity took a backseat to the evocation of deeper human sentiments and natural wonders.

Rob Wendt is a pianist / composer / music educator living in Astoria, NY. You can follow him on twitter: @RobWendt.

BWW Interviews: Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra on Daugherty’s ‘Reflections’ and on the Tuba as Solo Instrument

by Marakay Rogers
March 22, 2013

Carol Jantsch, principal tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra since 2006, has made her mark not only as a woman who’s conquered the brass section, but as a major talent – among other points, she was hired before she’d completed her music studies at University of Michigan, and became the first female tubist of a major symphony orchestra. A graduate of Interlochen Arts Academy, she has been a soloist with the U.S. Marine Band and with Russia’s St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra.

BWW: Let’s start with the elephant in the living room: Why do so many people refuse to take the tuba seriously?

CJ: I don’t know – it may be the association with German bands in liederhosen, drinking beer. But a main reason is its use and its development. It’s a fairly late invention, from the 1830’s, so it was still being developed in the 19th Century – so there’s a limited repertoire. That’s why it’s great that Michael has written this. We need serious music for the tuba in order for the tuba to be taken seriously.

BWW: How do we overcome resistance to orchestral tuba, and have it treated seriously? Do compositions like Daugherty’s “Reflections” help?

CJ: I hope it will do that. When I go out as a soloist, and I have to perform transcribed works, it’s a reminder that the tuba has not had attention paid to it. It’s important for works to be written specifically for tuba.

BWW: How do we bring listeners and audiences to new orchestral music in the first place, for any or all instruments?

CJ: The programming of new music is important. People like hearing works they know. It can be a liability if people don’t know if they’ll like what they might hear. It’s not so hard in the visual arts – people will look at a new painting, but you have to coax new listening. I think that web exposure is very important. People can hear clips and decide to try it. Online helps orchestras.

BWW: Once, women weren’t in the orchestra – and then when we entered it, there were “women’s instruments” – strings, flute, harp, clarinet. It’s a new day, but have you met any resistance to being a woman in brass?

CJ: I have to make efforts. I’m trailblazing, but I’ve never experienced any overt discrimination. I’ve gotten my work on my talent. Sexism’s not as open as it was; it’s not as “gentlemen of the brass” as it was. If that’s the worst I experience, I’m lucky.

BWW: You’ve worked with Michael Daugherty before?

CJ: I was undergrad at University of Michigan, where he’s on the faculty, and I was in the symphony band. So I was super-excited when I heard about this project. It’s the first I’ve worked with him since then. I really admire his writing. He worked with me, and with my old teacher at Michigan, to get the sound for this piece.

BWW: What do you want the audience to take away from “Reflections”?

CJ: I want people to say, “I had no idea that a tuba could do that.” I want them to open their minds to new possibilities. This is a really nice piece. There’s a folk music quality to it.

“Reflections” sounds more traditional than a lot of newer works. It’s accessible. Michael and I were in agreement that this was something we wanted people to be able to listen to.

BWW: You’re from a musical family?

CJ: My parents met in the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus. They moved to Philly two years ago and now they’re in the Philadelphia singers. My dad’s an ER physician as well, trying to go to part-time. It’s great to have my parents in town, to be able to perform with them.

BWW: On top of performing, you also teach.

CJ: I’m at four different schools, but I only have four students. Two of them are in town, at Temple and at Curtis, but my biggest commitment is at Yale. Between that and my playing, I’m good at time management. The packing’s a challenge.

I think Temple is underestimated as a music school. Most of the faculty are adjuncts but there’s a great culture. The orchestra’s Grammy-nominated several times. Where do you find that? I’m happy to do my little part in that.

BWW Interviews: Composer Michael Daugherty on ‘Reflections On the Mississippi For Tuba and Orchestra’

by Marakay Rogers
March 20, 2013

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?

MD: It’s a river that spans the entire North and South. It’s the middle of America. I think because it goes through so many states, and so many cultures, and was for so long the only way to go from north to south… and then, it’s travel. Travel inspires the imagination. I went back to the Mississippi for a week this summer, with a boat, and went up and down the byways, working on this piece.

BWW: What suggested the tuba to you to express your intent?

MD: I’m interested in exploring underused and unused timbres, and the tuba is the most underemployed in the orchestra. Carol [Jantsch] and I workshopped this extensively. We wanted to show off the versatility of the instrument. There are some very haunting melodies here. The first movement is slow. I’m dispelling stereotypes about tuba – the piece is slow, it’s tuba melody.

In a way, I’ve cast the tuba against type, like Robert De Niro playing a priest. That’s why this piece is really going to work.

BWW: A number of your works are drawn from popular culture – “Metropolis Symphony”, “Jackie O”, “Dead Elvis”. This isn’t. Is it a shift of focus for you, or simply part of the diversity of your work?

MD: I’ve done a number of pieces inspired by painters – Georgia O’Keefe’s “Ghost Ranch”, for example, and a piece on Mount Rushmore. I’m interested in American history and culture as well as popular culture.

BWW: Do you find yourself dealing with audiences and listeners who have a set idea that classical music is one traditional set of composers and sounds?

MD: I get the feeling that audiences really want to hear new works. You have to mix it up – a new composer and a repertory work together in a performance. I’m very fortunate, because I’m played frequently. I try to re-frame popular and idiomatic sounds – these are things people do recognize.

BWW: You’re known for your program notes, which are extensive. But if someone were to miss them, to only read this, what do you want them to know about “Reflections”?

MD: I think they need to listen to the beautiful melodies I’ve written and listen to the sounds. They’ll be delighted to hear Carol Jantsch playing these beautiful sounds on the tuba. And they need to know the title. People know things by their titles. It gives them a framework to understand what they experience.

BWW: Do you have any last thoughts?

MD: We think the tuba’s loud, but it’s not. It’s a very mellow instrument. Saxophone and trombone cut right through an orchestra, but tuba doesn’t do that. People will make some discoveries.

Philadelphia Orchestra's Carol Jantsch was a soulful soloist with gentle vibrato
Carol Jantsch and Michael Daugherty