"...stunning, cinematic and relentlessly inventive..." Washington Post
Blue Electra, a new violin concerto from Michael Daugherty, premiered on 10 November at the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D.C. Anne Akiko Myers was soloist, joining the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Blue Electra was commissioned by and written for violinist Anne Akiko Meyers. The performance is available to stream through Medici.tv here.
The concerto’s four movements are inspired by episodes from the life of pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart. The first movement, ‘Courage (1928)’, is a musical reflection on a poem written by Earhart before her first transatlantic flight. The second movement ‘Paris’ imagines her as guest of honour at a jazzy Parisian soirée. The third - ‘From an Airplane (1921)’ – is a music rumination on a poem by the young Earhart as she dreams of being a pilot. ‘Last Flight (1937)’, the finale, refers to her attempt to circumnavigate the globe 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.
The Washington Post praised Daugherty’s 25-minute work,
It’s a stunning, cinematic and relentlessly inventive stretch of music. In the first movement…a searching two-note motif extends into a cinematic airborne journey. Meyers…occupied its pocket like a cockpit, her violin a lonely voice adrift in a vast expanse.
The second movement evokes Earhart’s skyrocketing international acclaim…through a boisterous scherzo that sounds piped in from a soiree at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. (The cat-and-mouse final moments…had folks tracking the sound onstage like the ball at a tennis match.)
Its third movement…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.
But it was the finale that hung in my head long after the night had ended…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.)
Daugherty often turns to icons of American popular culture and history for musical inspiration. The 2015 Grammy-winning cello concerto Tales of Hemingway draws on the turbulent life of the great American novelist; his tuba concerto Reflections on the Mississippi (2013) recalls childhood impressions of the landscape and communities associated with the famous river; American Gothic for orchestra (2013) was inspired by the work of iconic Iowa artist Grant Wood. His Metropolis Symphony (1988-93) is a dynamic invocation of Superman’s world.
Blue Electra is Michael Daugherty’s third orchestral work of 2022, following his 30-minute orchestral tribute to the landscape of California The Valley of the Moon, premiered in May by the Santa Rosa Symphony, and Fifteen: Symphonic Fantasy Inspired by the Art of Andy Warhol, commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Manfred Honeck, first performed in February.
His next major premiere is a Tennessee Williams-inspired orchestral ballet, Summer & Smoke, set to choreography by Cathy Marston, and which will be launched by Houston Ballet in March 2023.