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Blue Electra (2022) for solo violin and orchestra was commissioned by and written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers, who premiered the violin concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda at The Kennedy Center on November 10, 2022.
Blue Electra is inspired by the sensational life and mysterious disappearance of aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), who vanished without a trace when she was flying her “Electra” airplane over the Pacific Ocean. Celebrated around the world as “Queen of the Air,” she was also an advocate for women’s rights, an aviation professor at Purdue University, and the author of three books and numerous poems.
The concerto is in four movements:
The first movement “Courage (1928)” is a musical reflection on a poem written by Amelia Earhart before her first transatlantic flight across the Atlantic:
Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace,
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
After her pioneering flight as the first woman to fly nonstop solo across the Atlantic, Amelia Earhart received the Legion of Honor from the French Government. In the second movement “Paris (1932)”, I imagine Earhart as a guest of honor celebrating at a high society “Hot Jazz” soirée in Paris.
The third movement “From an Airplane (1921)” is a musical rumination on a poem written by a young Amelia Earhart dreaming of the day she will be in the pilot seat of an airplane as it spirals through the clouds:
Even the watchful, purple hills
That hold the lake
Could not see so well as I
The stain of evening
Creeping from its heart
Nor the round, yellow eyes of the hamlet
Growing filmy with mists.
The fourth movement “Last Flight (1937)” refers to Amelia Earhart’s attempt to fly around the world in her “Electra” airplane. Running out of fuel on the last leg of her flight, Earhart and her plane disappeared somewhere over the Pacific never to be found.
© Michael Daugherty (2022)
"a thrilling world premiere… It’s a stunning, cinematic and relentlessly inventive stretch of music. In the first movement (“Courage”) — based on a poem Earhart wrote before her first trans-Atlantic flight — a searching two-note motif extends into a cinematic airborne journey. Meyers, who commissioned the concerto from Daugherty, occupied its pocket like a cockpit, her violin a lonely voice adrift in a vast expanse. Her lines stretched into filament-thin streaks and soared to heights I squinted to hear.
The second movement (“Paris”) evokes Earhart’s skyrocketing international acclaim (her reception of the Legion of Honor from the French government) through a boisterous scherzo that sounds piped in from a soiree at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. (The cat-and-mouse final moments of this movement had folks tracking the sound onstage like the ball at a tennis match.)
Its third movement (“From an Airplane”) — inspired by another of the pilot’s poems — takes an eerier turn. Lonely oboes and searchlight strings plumb a darkness. A dark clobber of marimba underscores the music like turbulence as bursts of brass add surges of fuel. Meyers’s lines grew icy and severe, distant and distinct, a contrail mingling with the cirrus clouds.
But it was the finale (“Last Flight, 1937”) that hung in my head long after the night had ended. It attempts to depict Earhart’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe, that flight that ended in her disappearance. Some of Meyers’s finest, most intricate (and most aerial) playing was reserved for this finish, but my favorite part of her whole performance was the piece’s simplest ask: a straight monotone G that rose from her instrument and spread across the string section. Over a rolling snare, the note ramped up in volume and sharpened in texture. It was speed and stasis at once, terminating in a shock of silence. (Call it G-force.)"
Washington Post (Michael Andor Brodeur), 11 November 2022