12 February 2010 – Artists
Read Nico Muhly’s own words on the opera he is creating for The Metropolitan Opera / English National Opera (ENO) with libretto by Craig Lucas:
The chatroom is the masked ball of the 21st century. There, the princess can be the peasant bar-wench, and the 60-year old man can be the 15 year-old girl he should have been 45 years ago.
The opera I've written with Craig is a love story, a murder ballad, and a proper mystery.
Invisible crimes (Internet crimes, White-collar crime) are the new murders. Even though Bernie Madoff's crimes were digitally manipulated, he still had to wear a bulletproof vest to court: the intersection between the virtual and the real is always ecstatic or violent.
My adult life is grafted to the development of the internet. When I was 14, in 1995, we got the internet in our house. From that time, I've maintained friendships that have been exclusively online. I think this is explicitly true for people of my generation, but also secretly true for older generations.
A love-story based on texts whose authors nobody can see is the most exciting love story I can think of. It's an epistolary novel where everybody is lying about who they are.
An opera that takes place primarily online suggests immediately a synthesized orchestra; I resisted this. The orchestration for this project is entirely acoustic. In Britten's A Death in Venice, the world of forbidden sexuality is marked with a highly stylized gamelan music; I have stolen this idea and my opera is permeated with heavily manipulated Balinese ostinati which symbolize the look-but-don't-touch online universe of lies and seduction. I worship at the altar of operas with synthesizers; I think Nixon in China is a high water-mark of Western Civilization and if people say anything bad about Satyagraha they have to fight me. Adams, Glass, and Reich created a world where the synthesized is incorporated into the acoustic; I was interested, in this piece, in forcing myself to conceive of the soundworld entirely acoustically.
One of the things that so immediately attracted me to this case is the fact that the younger boy "composed" a very complicated piece of drama: many different personæ who, through content, grammar, diction, and orthography, manipulate their audience into submission. The eventual fate of this composer is a knife to the heart in the parking lot of a shopping center — is there a story more tragic?
I am as infatuated with online personalities as I am with people I have met in the flesh. I am as angry with online personalities as I am with people I have met in the flesh.
Craig Lucas's libretto is wonderfully settable. I got the first draft as a PDF and within twenty minutes of reading it, I knew how the opera needed to sound.
I made a decision early on in this process to have invented internet characters have as much personality (if not more) than real people. How many of us have relationships with people online that are more nuanced, complicated, and emotionally involved than the people we see everyday?
It's all about an opera that is relevant to the social structures that govern us. I spoke to four people on the phone today, but sent 150 emails from my computer, 62 from my phone, and an uncountable number of texts.
My first experiences using the internet were ones that very explicitly and deliberately resisted (and of course, articulated) my upbringing: I searched for anything that would horrify my parents who are bohemian-bourgeois artists and academics. The characters in this opera are engaged in similar pursuits: they are crossing class, race, and geographical lines to invent a life for themselves in a virtual space.
Online I am invincible; online I am with my friends in New York as opposed to in an efficiency apartment in East London, online I am with my grandmother in Heaven eating her roast capon, online I have access to all the music I want to listen to, online nobody notices what I am wearing, online I can simultaneously research King George VI and a proper recipe for a za'atar mixture. Online I am chatting with a high church vicar as well as an homosexual shopkeep in New Haven; online I can research an Icelandic noun before I try to decline it haphazardly.Tweet
What the press says
The EP is a lilting, sometimes arch set of modern classical composition – by no means intimidating to neophytes, and encoded with delightful little motifs.
Breaking down as a cycle of five efficiently short pieces, the results are captivating and continue to strengthen the case for Nico Muhly as one of the world’s consistently brilliant young composers.
Brubaker alternates between lovely ivory lines and frantic, freeform eighty-eights pounding, while Sirota tends to supply sublimely droning string swells in the background.
Drones & Piano is an expressive, enchanting, moving skein.
...it’s real appeal is in savouring how Muhly creatively uses consonance and dissonance with his chosen drone.
Don’t assume this five-song collection sounds like your aunt singing Duran Duran whilst lugging a Dyson across the living room… the bedrock of these pieces becomes highly charged; stuck within a confined space they so desperately want to break free of.
For a large part of this quarter of an hour, Brubaker pokes the keys of his piano in an obsessive and compulsive way, and gives a strength and intensity to the story that at times abstracts any particular genesis or conception of the project, as if everything came to life on its own and full of meaning much beyond the constitution and starting point of the scores.
...it is both playful and studied, something incredibly hard to achieve. Well worth a closer look.
These are drones with an intellect.
The sharp bites of fingers crashing against the piano’s keys put against high pitched whirrs of the violin take you on a incredible journey through suspense and terror.
Nico Muhly has an intriguing creative mind; [Drones & Violin is] an interesting work and yet another addition to his diverse back catalogue.
Muhly’s versatility has been commented on plenty at this point, and this series finale is yet more ammunition.
Muhly challenges his compositional skills rather brilliantly and creates three intensely captivating series of compositions.
What is noteworthy here is the way songcraft repeatedly emerges from tension. Muhly’s explorations never fail to find something worthwhile.
Drones is a necessary acquisition for anyone interested in Muhly’s work outside pop.
...Nico Muhly’s pieces feel like a series of archly posed questions. In their formal inventiveness, love of blank space, and haiku-like neatness, they arouse the part of your brain that suspects it’s being outsmarted…To feel your intellect being playfully, patiently tested, as if he is circling your mind and kicking its tires, can be a wonderfully maddening experience.
“...the best thing I’ve ever heard of Muhly’s…”
One of the most impressive aspects of these pieces is the variety of relationships that unfold between the “solo” instruments and the drones…beautifully despondent.
“...the latest from this brilliant, boundary-pushing composer [...] is post-minimal virtuosity, sometimes rollicking in nods to the likes of Rzewski, sometimes static sculpture, sometimes rock-and-roll. It’s, vitally, never timid.”
A hugely rewarding album that’s surely set to be one of the finest modern classical releases of 2010.
..it’s the sheer variety of the invention, and the soundworld created for it, that holds the attention…
Throughout, Muhly realizes some magical effects
In a transfixing exploration of the sung voice’s possibilities, he draws on Icelandic myth, English folklore, 17th-century church politics and royal superstition. It is never less than fascinating.
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