MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym. /Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos

Some of Daugherty’s finest music to date in bold, innovative scenarios.

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY: Tales of Hemingway; American Gothic; Once Upon a Castle – Zuill Bailey, cello/Paul Jacobs, organ/Nashville Sym./Giancarlo Guerrero – Naxos American Classics 8.559798, 77:43 (9/09/16) ****:

I don’t even know where to begin in discussing this latest release from Michael Daugherty except to say that I love it! I have followed Michael’s music for many years now and I have all his recordings. This one might be my favorite.

The “theme” to this album is not really that of the title work; a brilliant and often moving cello concerto inspired by the novels of Ernest Hemingway, but it is really that of the maverick and eccentric spirit in American art and written with much implied respect to this country where being a maverick, eccentric and occasionally controversial personality is still possible.

To this end, Daugherty has crafted three stunning works which pay homage to the reclusive Hemingway, the often wry and bizarre art of Grant Wood and the unabashedly extravagant William Randolph Hearst. The Hemingway piece, Tales of Hemingway, is a beautiful and inventive four movement cello concerto performed wonderfully by the always amazing Zuill Bailey. The novels represented by each movement include Big Two-Hearted River, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises. This work captures the mood of these masterpieces and, solely as music, is one of the finest works for cello I have heard these past ten years.

American Gothic is essentially a concerto for orchestra after the paintings of Iowa eccentric Grant Wood, including the title work which receives an odd, perky and engaging turn as the “Pitchfork” mentioned in the last movement. Of the three works here this is the one that may sound the most like Daugherty’s signature sound and is a wonderfully entertaining, somewhat wild ride.

Once Upon a Castle, intended to represent the unseemly extravagance of Hearst Castle at San Simeon and the man who created it is absolutely mesmerizing. We get a four movement dream-like visage of the lifestyle of the publishing tycoon and his strangely arrogant but troubled existence. By making the piece an organ concerto, Daugherty allows us to feel both the awe as well as a certain amount of the bizarre quality embedded in the castle’s size, its labyrinthian rooms and long halls that seem nearly pointless. I have been there and my impression was exactly that of awe but oddness; almost creepy. In fact, the “Rosebud” movement channels a famous moment in the movie Citizen Kane wherein the famous couple of the movie (who were intended to be Hearst and his mistress, Marion Davies) argue across a vast, impersonal and pointlessly vast unused room. I also applaud Daugherty for dedicating the “Neptune Pool” to the memory of composer and former colleague William Albright, whose work pioneered new uses of pipe organ – and whose music I heard many years ago.

Ample compliments, yet again, to the Nashville Symphony and maestro Giancarlo Guerrero for stunning performances as well as their ongoing commitment to American contemporary music. This ensemble is becoming one of my favorite American symphony orchestras for these reasons.

If Daugherty’s intent in these works was to simultaneously illustrate the vast array of creative genius in America’s art history and to hold up the culture that allows it; this album is a resounding success. If his intent was simply to create three unusual but highly captivating pieces of music that speak to a wide audience, it succeeds even more. Michael, if you read this; I am a big fan and would love to see what kind of musical portrait you could create of Frank Lloyd Wright, for example.

—Daniel Coombs



Michael Daugherty, “Tales of Hemingway,” “American Gothic” and “Once Upon a Castle” with cellist Zuill Bailey, organist Paul Jacobs and the Nashville Symphony conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero (Naxos).

Here are some cultural marriages not often seen in America – and certainly not in this era i.e. contemporary classical music with some of the best known classic American literature, equally well-known American painting and the lunatic conspicuous consumption of one of our richest and most loonily consuming citizens.

Michael Daugherty is as close to a pop artist a la Lichtenstein and Warhol as contemporary classical music gets. In his tonal musical language, he is usually allusive. His Hemingway piece for cello and orchestra pays tribute to Hemingway’s story “Big Two-Hearted River” and the novels “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Old Man and the Sea,” and “The Sun Also Rises.” Not nearly as successful is “American Gothic” a tribute to the paintings of Grant Wood.


On the other hand, “Once Upon a Castle” refers evocatively to San Simeon, the lunatic castle built and stuffed with artifacts by William Randolph Hearst and so grotesquely re-imagined by Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane.” Not for Daugherty is classical music that exists only of and for itself (the kind that one magazine editor snidely synopsized by retitling an essay by composer Milton Babbitt “Who Cares If You Listen?”)

This is instantly communicative music – in no danger of competing in cultural bandwidth with its inspirations but very appealing at its best. And very well-performed by all, especially cellist Zuill Bailey.

3.5 stars (out of four)

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News and Observer



Zuill Bailey, one of the today’s most celebrated cellists, has a decade-long association with the N. C. Symphony, with his regular appearances spawning a series of live recordings with the orchestra. Following the chart-topping CD of Benjamin Britten’s “Cello Symphony,” their second collaboration is a masterful performance of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante. (A third recording, Beethoven and Brahms concertos, awaits future release.)

Premiered in 1952, the Sinfonia Concertante was composed in the aftermath of the Soviet government’s official condemnation of Prokofiev’s music in 1948. The work is not a casual listen; its frequent dark moods and jagged phrases seemingly indicative of the composer’s response to that judgment. Still, there are many rich, melodic sections intermittently breaking through in the ruminative first movement and the anguished second, ultimately dominating in the hope-filled third.

Few cellists can successfully conquer the composition’s extremes in tempos, rhythms, dynamics and emotions. Bailey’s mesmerizing, deeply committed performance puts this recording at the top, especially because of his warm, rounded tone and jaw-dropping clarity in lightning-speed runs. Equally impressive are Grant Llewellyn’s subtle, precise conducting and the N.C. Symphony’s alternately lush and spiky support. The recorded sound is vivid, crisp and spacious.

Filling out the CD is Prokofiev’s 1949 Cello Sonata, performed with pianist Natasha Paremski. The work shares some of the same darkness as the Sinfonia Concertante but there’s lyrical atmosphere in the first movement, jaunty humor in the second and sunny cheekiness in the third. Both players have beautiful tone in this engaging performance, their instruments recorded quite close, giving them vibrant intensity.

Read more here:

 ZUILL BAILEY/Prokofiev: There's a lot of egghead stuff that is under pining the genesis of the modern classical works here and how they came about in tortured fashion, but in this short attention span world, the back story isn't going to help you enjoy this presentation any more. Finding a new piano foil to play off, Bailey, the classical cello category killer, faces off against the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra in an incredible presentation of music as art that really deserves to be on the next Grammy ballot. If listening to this red hot session doesn't make you feel like a grown up, go back to your PBR and tell us how your team is number one. A winner throughout. 

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