Notes by Michael Daugherty
Lift Up Thine Ears (2021) for orchestra was commissioned in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Omaha Symphony. The theme of my three-movement 20-minute symphony is how the human spirit can be uplifted by learning to listen with new ears.
The first movement recalls Shakespeare’s dramatic words, “Lend me your ears,” from his play Julius Caesar. These four words are echoed in a four-note musical motive that I have composed, which is heard at the beginning of the movement, played by the strings. I then develop the four-note motive through various orchestrations, melodic transpositions and rhythmic transformations.
The title of the second movement comes from Martin Luther King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he wrote “it rings in the ear” as a lamentation and call for action after he was arrested for leading a civil rights protest. I have composed a musical lament introduced by the English horn and harp, developed by the woodwind section, and then leading into the cellos and French horns playing a melody that evokes Dr. King as “a wayfaring stranger traveling this world of woe.”
The third movement turns a phrase from Emily Dickinson’s poem –“The Spirit is the Conscious Ear”-- into a celebration of the spirit, energy, and power of music.
As they listen to each other, the conductor and the musicians of the orchestra, playing diverse instruments in the woodwind, brass, percussion and string sections, collaborate in pulsating rhythmic counterpoint to create an uplifting experience for all listeners.
It has been my great pleasure to compose this work in honor of Maestro Thomas Wilkins, who has enthusiastically conducted the Omaha Symphony for many years, in his own words, “to explore and celebrate the benefits of listening to each other” and to make “the orchestra a celebration of community through sound.”