Flamingo by the American composer Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) is as quirky, colorful, and unapologetic as the plastic pink ornaments which have long adorned lawns.
Written in 1991 for chamber orchestra, the piece showcases a cast of zany instrumental characters. It blends the blues with the tambourine-infused sounds of a Spanish flamenco dance. At moments, it suggests a TV or film chase scene soundtrack. It delivers action-packed suspense, outrageousness, and furious rhythmic intensity. In the piece’s middle section we find ourselves, suddenly, in a place of haunting mystery with melancholy sighs in the bassoon. Bright, edgy repeating chords (perhaps echoing the first movement of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony) bring Flamingo to a jolting conclusion.
The composer’s program notes evoke distant childhood memories of the great American road trip. The hazy images are shrouded in vintage Americana. Here is an excerpt:
The composition derives its title from the iconic pink plastic flamingo designed by Don Featherstone in 1957. Pink plastic flamingos, which were usually sold in pairs, became a popular lawn ornament on manicured lawns and gardens across America. I remember noticing these plastic flamingo lawn ornaments for the first time when my father and mother drove my four brothers and me for a family vacation, in a Chevy station wagon, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Miami, Florida in August of 1962.
Along the way, we stopped at Winter Haven, Florida. There I witnessed, for the first time, real pink flamingos at Cypress Gardens, a water “theme park” known for its extravagant water ski shows. Cypress Gardens was also a backdrop for MGM water movie musical extravaganzas, such as Easy to Love (1953), starring bathing beauty Esther Williams. As we continued on our road trip and entered Miami, the dream was momentarily interrupted by a news flash on the car radio that the Marilyn Monroe had mysteriously died in Hollywood.
Here is David Zinman’s 1998 recording with the London Sinfonietta:
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- Daugherty: Flamingo, David Zinman, London Sinfonietta classical.net
Featured Image by Robin Lubbock