Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical Music

598.x231.class.muhly.opPaul Sullivan in The National:

The world of contemporary classical music is a traditionally foreboding place. As the British critic David Stubbs underlines in his recent book Fear of Music, the sonic avant-garde, in many ways, lacks the mainstream resonances of its visual equivalent (the volume’s pithy subtitle is Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get Stockhausen). Yet Stubbs’s thesis ignores one or two key facts: contemporary composition amounts to much more than abrasive anti-melodic experiments, 30-minute instrumental loops and minutes at a time of subversive silence. Leading this charge of adventurous new music that doesn’t make listeners leap for the eject button is Nico Muhly.

Effortlessly straddling the academic and the popular, the 29-year-old Muhly’s sprawling oeuvre spans pieces premiered by the Chicago Symphony and American Symphony orchestras, film scores for Choking Man and The Reader, special commissions for the American Ballet Theatre, not to mention a long-term working relationship with Philip Glass (as editor, keyboardist, and conductor for numerous film and stage projects), and a multitude of creative exchanges within the upper echelons of the alt.pop world: think Antony and the Johnsons, Björk, Bonnie Prince Billy and Grizzly Bear.

Muhly’s natural eclecticism and Herculean work ethic have made him a poster boy for the edgier side of the classical scene, with newspapers and magazines on both sides of the Atlantic drooling over his multifarious talents and infectious energy. In what can be seen as a breakthrough moment, The New Yorker published an in-depth profile of him in 2008, while the UK’s Daily Telegraph has hailed him “the planet’s hottest composer”.