“Santa Rosa, this is your piece.”     Michael Daugherty

On 7 May the Santa Rosa Symphony gave the world premiere of Michael Daugherty’s 4-movement orchestral work The Valley of the Moon, conducted by Francesco Lecce-Chong. The 30-minute piece was commissioned by the Santa Rosa Symphony, who performed in Weill Hall at Santa Rosa’s Green Music Center.

The piece expresses Daugherty’s environmentalist sympathies. It is a homage to the remarkable landscape of Sonoma County, California, which Daugherty first experienced on road trip in 2021. Its first and third movements describe the lush vibrancy of the majestic redwood forests and the fog that rolls in from the Pacific Ocean and nourishes the landscape; together they reflect “how music can enhance our appreciation of the natural world”. Daugherty’s tribute to the famous giant redwoods of the area is a ballad that includes allusions to Bach’s ‘Air on the G String’, which “which occasionally whispers through the branches of this movement”.

The second movement, “Shadow of the Birds”, references Hitchcock’s famous and chilling depiction of Bodega Bay in The Birds, where nature runs terrifyingly amok. The final movement, titled “Call of the Wild”, takes its inspiration from Sonoma writer, adventurer, and early advocate of sustainable living Jack London (1876-1916). “Perhaps, if we listen to the ‘call’,” Daugherty says, “there is still hope.”

San Francisco Classical Voice gave the performance a glowing review, describing the third movement’s “intricate polyphony between the string sections and the marimba...at times, the frenzied playing verged on the athletic, with the players a blur of motion.” In the finale, Steve Osborn wrote, “ghostly sounds emerged from the violins as the orchestra began a long build toward the end, getting louder and faster until they exploded in an ear-splitting final chord.”