On 7 June the Pittsburgh Symphony and Manfred Honeck premiere Michael Daugherty’s double concerto Songs of the Open Road, featuring the orchestra’s principal oboe Cynthia Koledo DeAlmeida and principal horn William Caballero as soloists; Songs of the Open Road was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. 

Named for Walt Whitman’s great poem of travel from his 1856 collection Leaves of Grass, the X-minute work is Daugherty’s tribute to the great American road trip, cast in six movements each celebrating the American landscape as seen from its highways, weaving together themes of adventure and nostalgia.

‘Big Sur’ opens the set, high above the vast Pacific Ocean and its crashing waves, with Daugherty’s music taking on a Spanish flavour. The majestic peaks of the Rocky Mountains are then evoked in ‘Continental Divide’, with layered polyrhythms creating a powerful sense of forward motion. ‘Sleeping Bear’ evokes the timeless beauty of the eponymous dunes along the shore of Lake Michigan and the Native American legend of a mother bear mourning her drowned cubs.

‘Desilu’ shifts musical mood with a drive to Jamestown, New York. Accompanied by bongos, castanets, and flexatones, the oboe and French horn soloists engage in playful dialogues and interweaving melodies to convey the comic misadventures and ludic charm of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, stars of iconic sitcom “I Love Lucy” (1951-57).  The penultimate movement (‘Blue Ridge’) is a soulful and introspective evocation from the soloists of the spirit and tranquillity of the Shenandoah River that runs through the woodlands of Virgina and North Carolina, quoting the famous folk tune. The concerto closes with ‘Key West’: oboe, French horn, and orchestra blend seamlessly, creating an exciting tapestry of bright orchestral colours and pulsating Cuban rhythms to capture the infectious energy and joie de vivre of Key West, where the party never ends.

In February 2022 Honeck and the orchestra premiered Daugherty’s Fifteen: Symphonic Fantasy Inspired by the Art of Andy Warhol. Daugherty often turns to icons of American popular culture and landscape for musical inspiration. Most famously, perhaps, his much-performed, Superman-inspired Metropolis Symphony (1988-93). More recent examples include 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), which received its German premiere in February 2024 from Ruth Reinhardt and the WDR Sinfonieorchester, 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.