On 12 May Courtney Hershey Bress and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra premiered Michael Daugherty’s Harp of Ages – a concerto for harp from the Grammy-award winning composer, conducted by Andrew Litton. The work was commissioned by the Colorado Symphony and principal harpist Courtney Hershey Bress with support from the Kenneth and Myra Monfort Charitable Foundation.
The 25-minute concerto is cast in seven movements, recalling the seven pedals of the harp. Each evokes an episode from the harp’s perennial presence in music history: David’s biblical serenade for Saul; Greek poet Sappho’s playing of the classical lyre; and the seventeenth-century compositions of Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Others draw on Daugherty’s longstanding fascination with popular culture in his music: one movement recalls Harpo Marx, who played the instrument in the Brothers’ various films, as well as Uhura from the original series of Star Trek. Daugherty discusses the piece here.
Courtney Hershey Bress has been principal harpist with the CSO for over twenty years and worked closely on the creation of the solo part with Daugherty in 2022-23. She describes the genesis of the piece in an interview here, recalling the concertino-like writing for a pair of harps in the second movement of Daugherty’s earlier work Philadelphia Stories. The orchestra recorded the piece in 2004, following Daugherty’s tenure as composer-in-residence in 2001-02, with Marin Alsop conducting. In 2021 Daugherty wrote Hear the Dust Blow for solo harp, a 7-minute work that, like many of Daugherty’s pieces, draws on episodes from American cultural history – in this case the devastating dust storms evoked in Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath.
The CSO also recorded Daugherty’s UFO (1999) for solo percussion and orchestra, composed for Evelyn Glennie. Glennie gives the Danish premiere of Daugherty’s other percussion concerto Dreamachine (2014) on 15 June in Copenhagen with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Geoffrey Paterson. The 30-minute piece is inspired by inventors across history, including Leonardo da Vinci, Rube Goldberg, the mythological god Vulcan, and Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.