Young composer Nico Muhly draws wide range of fansby Euan Kerr, Minnesota Public Radio
Nico Muhly isn't 30 years old yet, but the protege of Phillip Glass is already recognized as a major force in contemporary classical music. A Juilliard graduate he's composed for, among others, the Boston Pops, the Chicago Symphony and Bjork. He also wrote the soundtrack for the recent movie, "The Reader." Tonight and tomorrow he will perform a program of chamber music at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.
St. Paul, Minn. — Nico Muhly's most recent album, "Mothertongue" consists of three choral pieces. They include 16th-century texts and early colonial songs mixed with chamber instruments and the sounds of someone making breakfast.
One piece features mezzo-soprano Abigail Fischer in a piece Muhly wrote for her. He said he wanted to use her vocal range in a new and interesting way.
"What I wanted to do was to build her an archive, a library of memories to run down ecstatically," Muhly said. "So she is chanting her phone numbers and all the addresses she ever lived at and the alphabet and ways to remember language."
Muhly is pulling in fans from all over, at a time of rising interest in new music. Long-time collaborator, violist Nadia Sirota, puts it down to the way younger people are sharing a broader range of cultural influences. She said having that common experience is an entry point that makes new music more accessible to young audiences.
"And even though someone like Nico, who has spent a ton of time studying classical forms and all this stuff that is very heady and very like high-level masters degree style schooling," Sirota said, "there is still going to be some sort of access or hand hold because -- "
"I'm 27," Muhly interupts.
"You're 27," she finishes.
And the accessibility of the internet, Nico Muhly said, has been a huge boon to contemporary classical music.
"Because before, it seemed that the access to new music was limited to the people who had access to new music in a sense it was a self-fulfilling community," Muhly said. "Whereas a 20-year-old in Minnesota has the same access to music that I do as a 27-year-old in Manhattan as does an 18-year-old in North Dakota."
Muhly will join Sirota on keyboards to play his composition "Keep in Touch," in Minneapolis. It's a piece he wrote for her some years ago that Nadia now plays more than any other piece.
"Yeah I have probably played it in concert 150 times, " she said.
Muhly said that by now it feels just as much hers as it is his.
"That's the best feeling as a composer really, when you can write something that someone else can own," he said.
The concerts at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis are generating great excitement, as local music fans come to see a rising star. Muhly seems genuinely surprised
"It's kind of an honor to play outside of your home town for me," he said. "I'm always amazed when people turn up to see me play in New York, like 'Don't you have anything better to do? Shouldn't you be at dinner or something?' So the idea that people in other places would be interested is amazing and exciting."
This is the first time Muhly and Sirota have played together as a duet and they are looking forward to it. When asked what audiences should expect at the Southern, they said, good music and a good time.
- All Things Considered, 05/20/2009, 5:54 p.m.