By Mack Burke and Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — With multiple standing ovations, the near-capacity crowd showed its appreciation Sunday for the newest high rise of Norman’s cultural landscape.
The Norman Philharmonic celebrated its one-year anniversary at the Nancy O’Brian Center for the Performing Arts with a packed house of satiated symphonic fans. The performance featured Grammy Award--winning American composer Michael Daugherty in collaboration with Norman Public Schools and the Sooner String Project. Violinist Michael Sutton also performed with the group as visiting concertmaster.
The concert, titled “Meet the Composer - Michael Daugherty”, highlighted three of Daugherty’s pieces — “Raise the Roof”, “Trail of Tears” and “On the Air.”
Daugherty’s music could be described as postmodern and romantic, but his high-energy arrangements and ear for new sounds set him apart. The oldest of five brothers — all musicians — Daugherty’s music is full of cultural allusions and colliding tonalities. For instance, symphony-goers may recognize the timpani, but Daugherty takes the instrument into unfamiliar territory. Rarely the most outspoken orchestra fixtures, the timpani were the focal point of Daugherty’s piece “Raise the Roof.” The crowd delighted at the cacophonous mix of what were, to many, new sounds.
“The piece (Raise the Roof) that Mr. Daugherty composed was very impressive. It’s hard to believe that somebody could compose that,” said attendee Patrick Smith.
Daugherty said when composing it, he wanted to bring a different sound to the piece.
“As composers we try to find different sounds. It can be timpani, tuba, even a flute,” he said.
Daugherty’s hunt for different sounds coincides with his varied inspirations. “Raise the Roof” was inspired by varying architectural themes.
“I chose a subject matter that speaks to me,” Daugherty said.
The beginning was reminiscent of a cathedral in Europe. It later moves on to “rock and roll” and Latin styles reflecting the attitudes of the Empire State Building, Notre Dame and the Rockafeller Center.
Timpani soloist and percussionist Lance Drege said he practiced the piece, which included six timpani, for several months.
“I’ve played the timpani for 23 years,” he said. “To be featured in a soloist roll is fantastic. It was a lot of fun to perform.”
The full range of the instrument was on display — melodic lines, rhythmic foundations, different sticks and innovative cymbal swells.
“A great composer knows how to experiment with sound — how to get the most out of an orchestra,” Drege said.
The sonic experimentation left many Norman students with a desire to learn how to play timpani after their first exposure to the piece, Daugherty said. The orchestra performed two, 30-minute educational concerts for Norman Public School students.
Addison Horn, 10, said “Raise the Roof” was her favorite performance on Sunday night because of the timpani.
Daugherty’s next piece, “Trail of Tears” featured soloist Valerie Watts on flute.
“With ‘Trail of Tears,’ I was trying to touch on what it means to be displaced from your home — which still goes on today,” he said.
That theme of displacement has inspired more than his composition. Daugherty is sponsoring a family of Iraqi refugees — five children and their mother — in his Michigan home.
For 11-year-old Kennedy Jackson, “Trail of Tears” was her favorite performance at the end of the night.
Looking forward, Daugherty said his next piece will draw on an American gothic theme.
Aaron Copland’s Hoe-Down from “Rodeo” and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. in C Major, Op. 21. rounded out the concert repertoire.
Students from Norman Public Schools, the Sooner String Project and The Transcript’s executive editor Andy Rieger also performed Leopold Mozart’s Toy Symphony in G major alongside the Sooner String Project.
“We were happy with all the guest soloists, especially Andy Rieger,” said Chuck Thompson, Norman Philharmonic secretary treasurer and CEO of Republic Bank and Trust.
“I can now cross playing with a professional symphony off my bucket list,” said Rieger, who was invited to play on Thursday.
For the final piece, Norman students and Philharmonic musicians gathered on the stage, the audience rose, and everyone sang along to “Norman Anthem” from “Symphony: Forward” by Libby Larsen. The piece, which debuted during the Norman Philharmonics inaugural concert, marked a fitting end to the anniversary celebration.
“There aren’t words to describe how proud we are of the fantastic musicians and the support we’ve received from the community,” Thompson said. “This is Norman’s symphony, and we’re working hard to make sure all of Norman gets to enjoy it.”
For more information about the Norman Philharmonic and upcoming concerts visit http://normanphilharmonic.com/.
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