Greenville Symphony summons Superman in music

Greenville News Full Article from Greenville News Online

By Paul Hyde: October 27, 2015

Classical composers throughout the ages have found inspiration in myth, folklore and fairytales.

For modern American composer Michael Daugherty, comic books often provide the spark to fire musical imagination.

The Greenville Symphony will present two movements of Daugherty’s “Metropolis Symphony” at the orchestra’s next Masterworks program, taking Peace Center audiences on a musical journey to the world of Superman and his evil foes.

“Michael Daugherty is a very talented, inventive composer,” said Greenville Symphony music director Edvard Tchivzhel. “He’s created a great reflection of American mythology. Everybody knows Superman.”

The program, “Legends, Mysteries, Miracles,” also features works by Tchaikovsky and American composer Christopher Theofanidis.

Daugherty’s “Metropolis Symphony” and Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body” are being presented in Greenville for the first time.

Daugherty, 61, one of the most widely performed American composers of his generation, began writing his “Metropolis Symphony” (1988-93) in honor of 50th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance in the comics.

Daugherty has written that the work “expresses the energies, ambiguities, paradoxes and wit of American popular culture.”

Tchivzhel, who’ll be on the podium for the two concerts (Nov. 7-8), will conduct the first and last sections of the five-movement work.

“Lex,” the opening movement, is a driving, forceful evocation of one of Superman’s most vexing foes, the super-villain Lex Luthor.

The piece includes a fiendishly difficult violin solo (to be played by concertmaster Xiaoqing Yu) representing Lex.

“It reflects the diabolic character of Superman’s foe,” Tchivzhel said. “The solo violin part is played maniacally. It’s a nightmare for solo violinist, practically non-stop.”

The powerful movement notably includes an array of percussion.

The concluding movement of the symphony, “Red Cape Tango,” was inspired by Superman’s fight-to-the-death with another comic super-villain, Doomsday.

Daugherty writes a dance of death in the form of a tango with a melody derived from the medieval Latin death chant “Dies Irae.” That chant, also used in the past by composers as varied as Berlioz and Rachmaninoff, connects Daugherty’s very modern piece to symphonic tradition.

“Metropolis Symphony” includes challenging solos not only for violin but oboe and bassoon as well, Tchivzhel said.

“Rainbow Body,” by the Dallas-born Theofanidis, 47, has been one of the most performed new orchestral works of the last 10 years, having been featured by more than 100 orchestras internationally.

Two inspirations inform the work: a chant by the medieval composer Hildegard of Bingen and the Tibetan Buddhist concept of “rainbow body,” the idea that when an enlightened being dies physically, his or her body is absorbed directly back into the universe as energy, as light.

The program concludes with Tchivzhel’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s ballet music from “Sleeping Beauty,” based on fairytales by Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.

The music reflects the composer’s characteristic fiery spirit and irresistible lyricism.

Tchivzhel chose excerpts from the three-hour work to create a 45-minute piece that seeks to tell the story of the ballet solely in music.

“I went through the entire score step by step,” Tchivzhel said. “It was most difficult to identify what I could leave out. But the most important and dramatic elements are there.”

Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before both performances.

For the latest in local arts news and reviews, follow Paul Hyde on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

YOU CAN GO

What: “Legends, Mysteries, Miracles,” presented by the Greenville Symphony, conducted by Edvard Tchivzhel

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7; also 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 8 (Greenville News arts writer Paul Hyde will present a free pre-concert talk one hour before both performances.)

Where: Peace Center Concert Hall

Tickets: $17 to $66

Information: 864-467-3000 or www.peacecenter.org