Monday, March 3

panoramas of shifting energy: the sky, the ocean

Nico Muhly: "It Goes Without Saying" from Speaks Volumes, created in Reykjavík and New York City (read liner notes)

He paints the sky with his work. The melody and notes are almost invisible, and he thinks in terms of these panoramas of shifting energy, which at their best are so beautiful.

-- Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, on the composer Nico Muhly, quoted by Rebecca Mead in "Eerily Composed: Nico Muhly's sonic magic" at The New Yorker

The piece began with the melancholy song of the electric violin—looped, three-note phrases overlapping, but never precisely matching up, to create disordered sonic patterns, like uncharted stars. Gradually, other instruments joined in, strings and woodwinds picking up the violin’s three-note signature to form clear constellations of sound. As the momentum built, the entire orchestra was shaped into harmony by the resonant, otherworldly violin. Toward the concerto’s conclusion, the violin engaged in a duet with the celesta—an instrument named for its heavenly sound, and much favored by Muhly—while the other instruments faded out, as if vanishing into a lightening sky. [more]

-- Rebecca Mead, on Nico Muhly's "Seeing is Believing" violin concerto, in "Eerily Composed"

New Yorker Audio: Nico Muhly (includes a live recording of "Seeing is Believing")

The dramatic layering of the opera, paradoxically, requires Britten to consolidate his musical gestures into a few simple ideas that need to expand, like gas, to fit the space they inhabit. Grimes's motives and themes are like little individual drops of water that, when you zoom in, become as complicated and churning as the ocean. After the death of Peter's apprentice, we have another drone piece: the Moonlight Sea Interlude, which obsesses over an E-flat in the violas and French horns, a creamy, unctuous swell. The whole piece is notated a beat away from where you think it should be, a trick of the shadows. Little shimmers of light arrive in the form of a harp and two flutes, and other instruments gather around these focal points, in a series of basic arpeggios. There is barely a tune, barely an idea, except for the swell and the pitch obsessions; starting with the insanely rapturous climax, there is an E-flat held constantly in one instrument or another for about three minutes, even when the harmonies desperately rub against it. [more]

--Nico Muhly, writing on Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes, in "A Friendly Face in the Crowd" via The Metropolitan Opera

Alex Ross on Aldeburgh
, setting of Britten's Peter Grimes (with audio)

Nico Muhly website