Daugherty’s creation was beautiful and complex… Omaha World-Herald
Lift Up Thine Ears is a three-movement 20-minute symphony from Michael Daugherty, commissioned by the Omaha Symphony Orchestra to mark its centenary season. It was launched by them on 11 and 12 of June under the baton of their retiring Music Director, Thomas Wilkins, in what is to be his 16th and final season with them. The 12 June performance was also streamed as part of the League of American Orchestras virtual annual conference. (See video below)
The new work explores 'how the human spirit can be uplifted by learning to listen with new ears'. Each of the movements is inspired by lines from three writers: William Shakespeare; Martin Luther King Jr and Emily Dickinson.
The composer writes:
'The first movement recalls Shakespeare’s dramatic words, “Lend me your ears,” from his play Julius Caesar. These four words are echoed in a four-note musical motive that I have composed, which is heard at the beginning of the movement, played by the strings. I then develop the four-note motive through various orchestrations, melodic transpositions and rhythmic transformations.
The title of the second movement comes from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he wrote “it rings in the ear” as a lamentation and call for action after he was arrested for leading a civil rights protest. I have composed a musical lament introduced by the English horn and harp, developed by the woodwind section, and then leading into the cellos and French horns playing a melody that evokes Dr. King as “a wayfaring stranger traveling this world of woe.”   
The third movement turns a phrase from Emily Dickinson’s poem –“The Spirit is the Conscious Ear”-- into a celebration of the spirit, energy, and power of music.  
As they listen to each other, the conductor and the musicians of the orchestra, playing diverse instruments in the woodwind, brass, percussion and string sections, collaborate in pulsating rhythmic counterpoint to create an uplifting experience for all listeners.
It has been my great pleasure to compose this work in honor of Maestro Thomas Wilkins, who has enthusiastically conducted the Omaha Symphony for many years, in his own words, “to explore and celebrate the benefits of listening to each other” and to make “the orchestra a celebration of community through sound.”'
'Remarkable things followed after Music Director Thomas Wilkins, who is retiring from the Omaha Symphony after 16 seasons, took the stage: the world premiere of “Lift Up Thine Ears,” a 25-minute concerto for orchestra the maestro commissioned from Grammy Award winning composer Michael Daugherty for the symphony’s 100th anniversary.  Wilkins told the crowd that he wanted a piece that would celebrate the orchestra’s great talent and honor the community and he got what he asked for. Daugherty’s creation was beautiful and complex, with inspiration from William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King Jr. and Emily Dickinson, according to the program notes by the composer, who was on hand for the premiere and took numerous bows with Wilkins after the climatic final chord. The standing ovation, which lasted at least five minutes, was the crowd’s blessing for Daugherty’s world premiere, which was a thank you to the popular conductor from the composer.'
Omaha World-Herald (Batsie Freeman), 14 June 2021