On 22 September Hans Nickel and the WDR Sinfonieorchester Köln give the German premiere of Michael Daugherty’s tuba concerto Reflections on the Mississippi, conducted by Ruth Reinhardt in Cologne and Iserlohn.
The 20-minute piece, composed in memory of Daugherty’s father, is a musical reflection on his childhood family trips to the Mississippi River in McGregor, Iowa. In 2012 Daugherty returned to the great American river in two road trips, exploring the small towns, wildlife havens, and secluded backwaters that adjoin it. These experiences provided the sounds, experiences, and musical ideas that suffuse the four-movement concerto.
Reflections on the Mississippi was recorded by Carol Jantsch and the Albany Symphony Orchestra with David Alan Miller conducting in 2018. In 2015 Daugherty also created a version of the concerto for tuba and wind band for the University of Michigan Symphony Band and music director Michael Haithcock.
It opens with “Mist”, an evocation of the sight and sound of sunrise on the 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. This relative stillness is shattered in “Fury”, which recalls to William Faulkner’s literary treatment of the river and the “Great Mississippi Flood” of 1927. Daugherty’s music reflects the jarring time shifts in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury through turbulent polyrhythms and clashing time signatures performed simultaneously.
“Prayer” meditates on the calm mood of the Mississippi River seen from a high vista 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; material from the first movement to remind us of the timeless currents of the Mississippi River.
The concerto concludes with “Steamboat” – a colourful evocation of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi that follows the path of the gambling steamboats down the river from Twain’s hometown in Missouri to New Orleans. In recognition of tuba’s central role in Zydeco and Second line music of New Orleans, Daugherty’s soloist leads a “second line” of syncopated rhythms that propel the concerto to a virtuosic climax.
Reflections on the Mississippi was commissioned by the Temple University Boyer College of Music and Dance and premiered by Temple University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Luis Biava, with Carol Jantsch as soloist at Verizon Hall, Philadelphia in 2013.