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12 February 2010 – Artists

Nico’s Opera

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.  

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.

Boomkat (May 25th 2012) Read all reviews

Brubaker alternates between lovely ivory lines and frantic, freeform eighty-eights pounding, while Sirota tends to supply sublimely droning string swells in the background.

Exclaim! (May 25th 2012) Read all reviews

Drones & Piano is an expressive, enchanting, moving skein.

Lucy Jones — The Telegraph (May 28th 2012) Read all reviews

...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.

Playground Mag (June 22nd 2012) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

...it is both playful and studied, something incredibly hard to achieve. Well worth a closer look.

Boomkat (August 7th 2012) Read all reviews

These are drones with an intellect.

Robinson Meyer — The Atlantic (August 20th 2012) Read all reviews

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.

Francesca Davison — Dummy (August 30th 2012) Read all reviews

Nico Muhly has an intriguing creative mind; [Drones & Violin is] an interesting work and yet another addition to his diverse back catalogue.

The 405 (September 5th 2012) ★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

Muhly’s versatility has been commented on plenty at this point, and this series finale is yet more ammunition.

Boomkat (September 6th 2012) Read all reviews

Muhly challenges his compositional skills rather brilliantly and creates three intensely captivating series of compositions.

Bruno Lasnier — The Milk Factory (September 6th 2012) ★★★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

What is noteworthy here is the way songcraft repeatedly emerges from tension. Muhly’s explorations never fail to find something worthwhile.

Tobias Carroll — Dusted (October 5th 2012) Read all reviews

A compelling trio of EPs.

eMusic (November 12th 2012) Read all reviews

Drones is a necessary acquisition for anyone interested in Muhly’s work outside pop.

AllMusic (November 19th 2012) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

...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.

Jayson Greene — Pitchfork (November 29th 2012) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

“...the best thing I’ve ever heard of Muhly’s…”

Steve Hicken — Burning Ambulance (December 4th 2012) Read all reviews

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 Boston Globe (December 22nd 2012) Read all reviews

“...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.”

Create Digital Music (December 26th 2012) Read all reviews

A hugely rewarding album that’s surely set to be one of the finest modern classical releases of 2010.

Boomkat (September 21st 2010) Read all reviews

..it’s the sheer variety of the invention, and the soundworld created for it, that holds the attention…

Guardian (September 30th 2010) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

Muhly is definitely a composer to watch out for.

All Music (October 21st 2010) ★★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

Throughout, Muhly realizes some magical effects

Pitchfork — Pitchfork (December 8th 2010) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

"Weird, and intermittently wonderful."

Andy Gill — The Independent (May 13th 2008) ★★★★★★ Read all reviews

"As accomplished as Muhly’s debut was, I wasn’t quite ready for him to unfurl the full length of his ambition in the way he does on Mothertongue."
"Here, Muhly brings classic instrumentation, electronics and voices together into a piece of work which is at the forefront of contemporary classical music. Truly magnificent."

themilkman — The Milk Factory (June 3rd 2008) ★★★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

"the three extended sound collages here are radically different in conception but are lent unified coherence by the central role of the various singers, all deployed at the extremes of human vocal expression."

Nigel Williamson — Uncut (June 17th 2008) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

 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.  

Dan Cairns — The Sunday Times (July 22nd 2008) ★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

"Muhly always wants to be perceived, and here, we witness the junkyard of his memory being spun into something at once utterly ordinary and utterly strange."

Pitchfork Media (August 19th 2008) Read all reviews

"It makes a change to come across an album of contemporary music that's not merely a document of a "performance" but a piece of creative recording in its own right."
"POSTMODERNISM’S TRIUMPH"

Atli Bollason — Morgunblaðið (October 17th 2006) ★★★★★★★★★★ Read all reviews

"This is a dazzling album...a brilliant stylistic uniqueness."

Touching Extremes — Touching Extremes (April 2nd 2010) Read all reviews

"a highly evocative and beautiful album..."

FdW — Vital Weekly (April 2nd 2010) Read all reviews

"The combination of Muhly's formidable modern classical chamber compositions and Valgeir Sigurðsson's greatly textured and varied production makes for some pretty remarkable listening.... If you’re after one of those records no one’s heard off but that everyone will want to own once given an airing - this is the real deal. Gorgeous."

Boomkat — Boomkat (April 2nd 2010) Read all reviews

"A NEW ORTHODOXY - composer nico muhly speaks fluently"

Will Welch — The Fader Magazine (April 2nd 2010) Read all reviews

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