Composing Myself: Nico Muhly

Composing Myself: Nico Muhly



Oh I write music because I I think I found that it was the only thing I was okay when I when I was when I was at that sort of that sort of ripe age for learning what you're gonna do with yourself I must have been said of 10 or 11 years old and I liked reading a lot like thinking about words a lot been music gave me a sort of buzz i was born in vermont and i was raised in providence rhode island both sort of small Asia places in the state and I started playing piano in a sort of basic way that kids play the piano way and then was singing in an Anglican boys choir and I was okay at both of the things then suddenly it all clicked together and I became immediately much better at the piano much better at singing and became really interested in writing and so I was you know he'd start with the sort of imitative little coral pieces and then it kind of blossomed out and then from there it's really been a sort of straight straight ish line to to the present a bridesman right i just wrote more and more and more i ended up in new york for college and i went to Juilliard and Columbia at the same time which is a sort of approach that I've always taken words you you supplement music with something else that has nothing to do with music and of course has everything to do with music at the same time so I read English and then all those things aligned for me my two main sort of identifiable influences are the American minimalist tradition and Renaissance choral music those are my two sort of emotional home bases and then you know from that writes a spending time it was like joy yard you feel like you've been dropped into the stream of this sort of American tradition that doesn't include in any way the American minimal tradition or angle can choral music so you know I arrived all the 60s and 70s minimalism completely memorized and the whole of Herbert howls and everyone looked at me like I was it completely insane I think undoing teen and early 20s prejudice is one of the one of the great things that happen to me is that i was living in new york and you know in your head you received these things through a sort of transmission from the universe or it's like Sebelius is bad and you know Roger sessions is good and there's a kind of hierarchy of information that you just it just kind of floats around then all of a sudden you find yourself infected with it so I tried to undo as much of that as possible Columbia was great because I wasn't doing music when my friends came to the concerts that I was on and Julie are that their reactions were actually way more interesting to me than then professional musicians just because they were there without any agenda and there was no kind of there was no question about style it was always what's happening right now in the immediate sense when I'm writing a piece that has text I really am only interested in either setting the Bible or something that has actually happened real life is so much stranger than you could possibly possibly invent and you know my vocal work has taken a lot of examples from from the newspaper and I think it's just it just completely fascinating the way that people move through their lives two boys is a grand opera and it was a co Commission between the English National Opera in the Met the fundamental story of it is one that's derived from real life in which a younger boy pretends to be a whole sequence of different people online and ensnares an older boy into this kind of world of Lies and and sort of sexual intrigue and eventually it goes into the way it enters the real world and the older boys stabs the younger boys that's that's the basic structure of it what I tried to do in the piece is create all these different atmospheric depictions of what it would it felt like in the early days of these chat rooms and the early days of not knowing not not knowing your conversational partner in the in the same way that you would in real life in a sense the whole thing was a I think a continuation of the project of a lot of operas in which you can only tell the truth if you're in costume you can only tell the truth if you're not just in constant but in it deliberately just deceitful disguise right where you can you can tell someone you love them only if you're pretending to be someone else and that and that you see that most when you see that you see it in baroque opera and it's it's for me the most heartbreaking thing about about operas musi it involve Norway it's where it's about masking who you are to tell a deeper truth so that was that was what craig lucas and i tried to create in the in the text of it we're trying to create this very layered depiction of the possibilities of that that kind of communication being a composer i think there are two possibilities about how you engage not with not with your musical community but with the larger community in which you live i think you know the one way to think about it is that you are a person who makes beautiful things and that those are that in that sense you belong to the world of artists and then there's another sense in which you're making useful things and now in that since you belong to the world of designers and I think for me I want a bit of both I'm happy to make a beautiful thing I'm also happy to make something that is incredibly practical for someone so a piece of music that actually buy a piece of music for film feels to be practical a piece of music for children's choir feels to be incredibly practical I right all my friends for their birthdays I read them ringtones which i think is great because that's incredibly practical and it's something that it's something that new now is connected to your body an alarm tone to wake up to for me it's about negotiating how much of how much of each you feel like you're up to at any given time ideally it's a bit of both right it's a beautiful object that's also functional for me in a typical piece of concert music so we're talking about anything from a you know from a song for one person to an orchestra fees the most fun moment the most exhilarating moment is the second rehearsal right when you and in fact sometimes I don't want to go to the first rehearsal because that's when you chase all those sort of dust bunnies of the closet and you know embarrassing kind of bass clarinet transposition issues or whatever thing I've messed up but the second rehearsal is thrilling because everyone said working through it and it feels like we're all in it together the premiere for me is always really scary mainly just because at that point I'm completely out of control one of the tricks I have is to sort of roll my eyes back into my head and just and solfege through in my mind the g-major brahms violin sonata I've done this for years it it pretty much works because once you get through that first theme and other things happen you kind of forget how it goes you just playing the piano part in your head um so premiers from your very stressful and everyone asks me afterward how did you think it went oh it's great the bronze is always great that's occasionally I'll force myself to be present but it it it's pretty scary a great thrill as a composer is when if you've written something for a bunch of strangers right so for an orchestra or for people you don't know very well if one musician an orchestra comes up to me and says I you know I really like this piece that feels like a personal triumph for me and it feels really really good sort of all over my body and part of that is because I it's my sort of firm belief that if the musicians like playing it whatever it is that transmits immediately to the audience if the musicians are having a good time chances are that that everyone else is having a good time as well and that's that's always when when people ask me or do you consider your audience when you write the answers sort of know because if you've written something that community that where the communication between you and the musicians and the musicians out to the audience is honest and joyful you'll end up with the audience actually really like so it's a little bit of a bank shot but that's that's always how I think it needs to work so when I write for my friends I think we're all sort of in the tank for one another one like you perform that great and they're like you wrote that awesome but with with again with strangers um it's it always feels like you've done something that is communicative in the weird code WL speed right on this manuscript paper in the harp part or in the third clarinet part of something like that and if your mode of participating in that music is as one one little part of a big machine you decide that you like it that sudden that becomes contagious to everyone in the stage and then then it it sort of shoots out until into the listeners from space you

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