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Pop Culture's Influence on Composer Michael Daugherty

Composer Michael Daugherty

Classical composer Michael Daugherty, who won two 2017 Grammy Awards, writes music about ideas, people, and places from popular culture. As WRTI’s Susan Lewis reports, his works invite listeners to engage with the music through their own experiences.

Radio script:

MUSIC: Metropolis

Susan Lewis: Daugherty’s Grammy-winning symphony called Metropolis references the Superman comics. Other orchestral works have intriguing names such as American Gothic, Ghost Ranch, and Sundown on South Street, which is part of Philadelphia Stories.

MUSIC: Sundown on South Street

SL: These titles, he says, are ways for people to enter into the works.

Michael Daugherty: It’s a challenge to write contemporary music because most people don’t want to hear it - so it’s a challenge to get audiences involved. And by having these iconic references, they think of things - memories - they can be part of the experience as well.

SL: His 2013 concerto for tuba and orchestra, Reflections on the Mississippi conjures the river he got to know as a child.

MD: There’s a mystical element about it. One of the things I did was spend a couple of weeks down at the Mississippi. I drove from the upper part of Iowa down to Hannibal, Missouri where Mark Twain lived. I  took photographs. I had people take me out in their boats out back in the swamps. I got ideas and heard sounds, and then I came home and started to compose the piece. 

SL: In addition to his orchestral works, Daugherty has composed music for symphonic wind ensembles, chamber groups, chorus, solo instruments, and opera.  

Listen to Michael Daugherty discuss his composition process in an interview that also features Philadelphia Orchestra Principal Tuba Carol Jantsch. WRTI's Susan Lewis talked with the pair in late March of 2015, when the Jantsch and the Orchestra were performing Daugherty's Reflections on the Mississippi.

On Sunday, May 31st at 1 pm on WRTI, listen to The Philadelphia Orchestra perform Reflections on the Mississippi, Daugherty’s concerto for Tuba and Orchestra, with soloist Carol Jantsch, the orchestra’s principal tuba, who premiered the work with Temple University Symphony Orchestra in 2013. 

Daugherty’s recent compositions include Tales of Hemingway, a cello concerto premiered by the Nashville Symphony in April, 2015.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.