New CD featuring Dayton Philharmonic spotlights guitar-centric works

(left to right) Composer Michael Daugherty, guitarist D.J. Sparr and DPO Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman following a performance of “Gee’s Bend,” which is featured on the latest CD release from the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

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(left to right) Composer Michael Daugherty, guitarist D.J. Sparr and DPO Artistic Director and Conductor Neal Gittleman following a performance of “Gee’s Bend,” which is featured on the latest CD release from the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. PHOTO BY ANDY SNOW

CD of songs by composer Michael Daugherty will air July 3 on WDPR.

Guitar soloists and spoken word pieces aren’t the first thing you’d associate with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. However, these elements come together effectively in the latest recorded project spearheaded by artistic director and conductor Neal Gittleman.

Released in late 2021 by Albany Records, the CD has three exciting but very different pieces from composer Michael Daugherty. “Bay of Pigs” (2006), for classical guitar and strings, features guitarist Manuel Barrueco. “Gee’s Bend” (2009), for electric guitar and orchestra, features D.J. Sparr adding his six-string prowess to Daugherty’s composition. The cheeky “TroyJam” (2008), for narrator and orchestra, is a real departure featuring a libretto by Anne Carson and narration by Michael Lippert.

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Neal Gittleman is the artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED

Neal Gittleman is the artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Neal Gittleman is the artistic director and conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra. CONTRIBUTED

Gittleman recently answered some questions about the project.

Q: How did you discover these Michael Daugherty compositions?

A: By pure accident, I ended up doing the world premiere of “Gee’s Bend,” the electric guitar concerto, with the Alabama Symphony. Whoever was supposed to conduct the concert dropped out for whatever reason and they invited me. I got the score a few weeks before the concert. I learned it and thought it was a really cool piece. I had a wonderful time doing it and I knew Michael. I had done pieces of his before so after the performances in Birmingham, I said, “Let’s do it in Dayton. Maybe we could turn it into a recording.” He said he had the perfect pieces to go with it. His idea was to have an electric guitar concerto, a classical guitar concerto and then a third piece. It doesn’t have guitar in it but it has a very important harp part, so it has these three plucked-string pieces.

Q: So, it was always planned as an album? I wasn’t sure since the pieces weren’t presented in the same concert or even the same season.

A: Yes, we programmed all three pieces with the idea of making an album. We record everything for radio broadcast, and we hoped we’d have the material from those radio broadcast recordings to use for a commercial recording. It took a while for the plan to happen. We had the funding but there were a lot of little pieces that had to fall into place to get it done.

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Q: There are points where the orchestra sits out for long stretches. I know that’s common, but what’s that like for you, as the conductor, following along?

A: Yeah, in almost every concerto-type piece there’s usually at least one passage where it’s just the soloist doing their thing. In some cases, more than one passage. It sort of goes with the territory, but I don’t just sit and listen during those passages. I’m glued to the music and following along because it keeps me engaged. I don’t just sit there and wait for the last three bars before we play. I also have this superstition that if I’m following along, the player won’t have a memory slip. It obliges me to stay in the moment, but, at that point, it’s all in the other person’s hands so I just follow along and wait for our turn to come back in.

Q: What does it mean to have these compositions now available for posterity?

A: It’s always fun to have recordings out there. It’s even more exciting any time you have a project like this CD where you have three pieces which have not been recorded before. It’s an important part of getting these pieces out into the world and having a life so some other orchestra or conductor gets a chance to hear this piece and think, “Oh, I’d like to do that with my orchestra.” It’s an important mission for us to help these pieces along. I’m just thrilled we were able to do that.

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Q: Congratulations on the recent announcement on your five-year plan to retirement. How does that feel?

A: Thanks. It’s good. It’s much better for the organization to have time to decide how to do it and to do it right. If it ends up four years, great. If it ends up being six years, we can probably make that work, too. It gives us a chance to be careful and do the best thing for the institution (because) that’s always what I’ve been all about.

Q: Do you have another CD project you’d like to bring out before you retire?

A: I had not thought of that, but I’d be open to the idea. We could dig back into the archives. The only good thing to come out of this whole (pandemic) is we’ve had this weekly radio show where we’re rebroadcasting concerts from the archives. It’s been really fun for me to go back through the archives and hear all these performances. We almost certainly would not do a recording project from scratch because that’s prohibitively expensive but doing releases from archival material is much more possible. If someone said to me, “In honor of your retirement, we should choose a valedictory CD,” that would be really nice because there is so much great stuff to choose from.

More info: daytonperformingarts.org.

HOW TO LISTEN

What: Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra’s new CD of compositions by Michael Daugherty

Where: DPAA’s weekly “Concert Night” on Discover Classical, WDPR-FM (88.1, 89.9)

When: 8 p.m. Sunday, July 3

More info: discoverclassical.org, daytonperformingarts.org

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