Tom Strini
Present Music

Composer in the rehearsal room

The celebrated Michael Daugherty comes to Milwaukee for a Present Music premiere. PM will unveil "Labyrinth of Love" Friday night.

By - Jun 14th, 2012 11:18 am

Daugherty and Sipe work through the trumpet solo from “Labyrinth of Love.” TCD photo.

“I’ve created a monster,” composer Michael Daugherty said, after Present Music had rehearsed his Labyrinth of Love Wednesday afternoon. “It must be 40 minutes long. How’d that happen?”

Daugherty smiled as he talked with Present Music’s artistic director, Kevin Stalheim. The rehearsal, at Cardinal Stritch University, had gone well — remarkably well, considering the complications within this big work, for 14 instruments and soprano. Daugherty tinkered with it quite a bit as they went on. He paid special attention to the introduction, in which all the players have the same phrase but enter at different times and tempos. Daugherty thought the passage took too long and tried four different schemes for stacking entries in various ways.

“That’s why composers don’t do this sort of thing,” he said. “It eats up rehearsal time.”

Later, Daugherty walked back to trombonist Mark Hoelscher and added one note to his part. That’s one more note than appears in trumpeter Don Sipe’s big solo; Sipe showed me the words “Trumpet Solo” written over a blank bar in his part.

“I don’t think he wants to just leave it to me,” Sipe said. Daugherty didn’t; he met with Sipe after rehearsal to give him some ideas. The composer — a celebrated one with a great many publications, hundreds of performances, a doctorate from Yale and a professorship at the University of Michigan — also met with percussionist Carl Storniolo to talk over options for instruments. He made quite a few changes, which Storniolo took in stride. Throughout the rehearsal and after it, everyone seemed to have a good time.

And why not? Labyrinth of Love, while challenging in some ways, is essentially good-time music. Most of it has a beat, and quite a bit of it shows some pop influence. Daughtery has a keen interest in pop culture. He composed an opera, Jackie O, about Jacqueline Onassis. (That piece began with a Present Music commission, Jackie’s Song,  in 1996.) One of the love songs in Labyrinth is Liz’s Lament, which draws on Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage to Richard Burton and on the six movies they made together.

“I made up the Liz text,” Daugherty said, “based on snippets from the films. It’s fictional, basically.”

During the rehearsal, he wondered aloud whether the audience will even remember who Richard Burton was and how the Burton-Taylor relationship made headlines. Just in case, here’s an example of their chemistry.

Near to far: trombonist Mark Hoelscher (L); trumpter Don Sipe; cellist Adrien Zitoun; conductor Kevin Stalheim; composer Michael Daugherty; soprano Jennifer Goltz; violinist Zhan Shu; flutist Marie Sander; and, just visible, horn player Kristi Crago. TCD photo.

Female poets through the ages provided Daugherty’s texts for the other seven songs: Sappho (612 BC–570 BC; Greek), Lady Mary Wroth (1587–1653; British), Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651–1695; Mexican), Mary Shelley (1797–1851; British) Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861; British), Emily Dickinson (1830–1886; American), Elizabeth Taylor (1932–2011; American), and Anne Carson (b. 1950; Canadian). Yopie Prins, a professor of English literature and Daugherty’s spouse, translated the Sappho piece from Greek and advised him on the other poets.

“Each poem lives in a different sound world,” Daugherty said.

The Cruz piece, with its castanets and swaying 5/4 meter, has a Spanish cast. The Liz Taylor piece has a Baroque feel, complete with vocal ornaments and a passacaglia bass, in the manner of Purcell’s Dido’s Lament.

“I’m a huge fan of allusion,” Daugherty said, before giving an example of how re-use of the familiar can make it say something new. “Did you see Mad Men Sunday? At the end, when You Only Live Twice comes in, it changes the atmosphere and you know exactly what’s happening.”

Shelley’s Oh Come to me in my dreams my love sounds like sultry jazz-pop from the 1960s.

“You don’t expect a Victorian poem in that sort of pop setting,” Daugherty said.

In Jennifer Goltz, Daugherty and Present Music have a soprano who can handle assorted styles and can negotiate the tricky, syncopated rhythms. She also articulate the words well. Goltz was terrific in the rehearsal.

“I wrote it so you can always hear the singer and make out the words,” Daugherty said.

The Rambert Dance Company, London, co-commissioned Labyrinth. Marguerite Donlon will choreograph. The score abounds with springy, danceable rhythm, if Donlon chooses to go that way, but Daugherty didn’t concern himself with dancing as he composed the piece.

“I just wanted to write something dramatic,” he said.

Another singer, Robin Pluer, will appear on this concert. Pluer is well known in Milwaukee, especially for her interpretation of French popular song and an affinity with Edith Piaf. Pluer’s program: Domino (1950), music by Louis Ferrari, lyrics by Jacques Plante; You’ll Be Loved Again (1988), by Mary Margaret O’Hara; Strange Libertango (1973), music by Astor Piazzolla, lyrics by Grace Jones; La Vie en Rose (Life in Pink), 1946, music by Louiguy Guglielmi, lyrics by Edith Piaf; Padam, Padam (Kaboom Kaboom), 1951, music by Norbert Glanzberg, lyrics by Henri Contet.

Michael Gordon‘s acdc and Bright Sheng‘s Kazakhstan Love Song complete this program, the last of Present Music’s 2011-12 season. It will begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, at Turner Hall, 1032 N. 4th St. Tickets are $35/$25/$15/students half price. Students must buy at the door or by phone, 414 271-0711. Others can also order at the Present Music website.

Note: Present Music has sweetened the pot a little, with a nod to the love theme of this concert. Some extras: 75 red potted geraniums (take them home if you wish); cocktail tables and candle light; PM personalized M&M’s; 300 complimentary chocolate truffles from Kehrs Candies; pre-concert strawberries while they last; pre-concert talk in Turner balcony with Michael Daugherty and WPR’s Lori Skelton staring at 6:45pm

Display picture on A&C page: Michael Daugherty works with percussionist Carl Storniolo. TCD photo.

Don’t miss anything. Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to the 2012-13 season, sponsored by the Florentine Opera.



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