MSO opens season with "Visions of America" that combines photographs and music
The Maryland Symphony Orchestra will kick off its 2018-2019 season with a visual concert experience featuring contemporary American music including a piece by multiple Grammy-award winning composer Michael Daugherty, which pays tribute to the history of Hagerstown and the surrounding region.
The “Visions of America” concert Saturday, Oct. 13, and Sunday, Oct. 14, at The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown will serve as the mid-Atlantic premiere of Daugherty’s “Night Owl,” a musical reflection on photos of steam locomotives taken mostly outdoors at night by photographer O. Winston Link between 1955 and 1960 at what became known as Norfolk Southern Railway. Hagerstown is known as The Hub City in part because of the many railroads that served and intersected in the city.
Daugherty was co-commissioned by the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra to write the piece. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, native and son of a dance-band drummer was on the road in Missouri, when took time to chat by phone.
“I am a big fan of O.Winston Link. I went to the O. Winston Link Museum and studied his life and photographs then composed the piece,” he said.
Daugherty, who resides in Ann Arbor, Mich., said it is difficult to articulate “the mysterious process of translating one medium to another.”
“It’s that mystery that makes us attracted to art, really,” he said.
The process of studying the work of Link took him on a nostalgic journey.
“It was a return to a world that is now long gone, of small-town America, you know?” Daugherty said. “Trains were the only mode of transportation for many people in those days. So the train was sort of the lifeline between all of these small towns throughout the Appalachian Mountains.”
Daugherty is the oldest of five brothers, all of whom are professional musicians. His Grammy Awards include recognition as Best Contemporary Classical Compositions in 2011 and 2017. The Professor of Composition at University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance studied composition with preeminent composers including Pierre Boulez at IRCAM in France and György Ligeti in Germany, and he was assistant to jazz arranger Gil Evans in New York City.
“Night Owl” is a 20-minute piece in three movements, which Daugherty described as “three distinct musical worlds,” the first of which is called “Shutterspeed.”
“It’s about the framing of the musical materials, just like you would frame a picture,” he said. The energetic, pulsing movement focuses on the drama and precision associated with snapping photos. The more sweet and peaceful second movement, “Solitude, Virginia,” evokes “the feeling of being in a small Appalachian mountain town at night, when a train rumbles through at two in the morning,” Daugherty said.
He describes the final movement, “Thunder of the Blue Ridge,” as “full steam ahead,” with sounds reminiscent of the “moves, grunts and groans” of the trains. A snare drum establishes a groove, then Daugherty incorporates a train bell and a harmonica. An Appalachian-like tune begins with woodwinds and develops through a series of instrumental interludes.
“You could say it’s Johnny Cash meets Stravinsky,” he said.
Conducted by Music Director Elizabeth Schulze, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra’s performance also will include Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” John Corigliano’s “Gazebo Dances” and William Grant Still’s “Festive Overture.” Projection of high-resolution images on a large screen above the orchestra will accompany both Daugherty and Copland’s pieces.
Dr. Ira Lourie of Hagerstown led the initiative to curate hundreds of images to accompany Copland’s “Appalachian Spring.” His photography, as well as the work of student photographers from area schools, will be highlighted.
“You want people to focus on the music and one can worry that the use of images will distract from people listening to the music,” Daugherty said. “What is gained is a way to communicate what the piece is about in a way that is visual, which appeals to many people today. We live in a very multimedia age at the moment, and technology has made (presentation of visuals) much easier to do. It’s accessible and available to everyone.”
Daugherty will attend the season-opening concert and he plans to participate in a pre-concert talk with audience members.
Opening night tickets include access to Savor Hagerstown, a new in-theater experience highlighting food and drinks from more than a dozen area restaurants, wineries and breweries.
Top photo: “Night Owl” by O. Winston Link served as inspiration for composer Michael Daugherty’s “Visions of America,” which will be performed by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra this weekend. (Submitted photo)