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Nico Muhly's Choral Music

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Read my review published today in the Washington Post:

Charles T. Downey, Nico Muhly with the Washington Chorus at Atlas Performing Arts Center
Washington Post, June 5, 2010

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N. Muhly, Speaks Volumes

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M. Kalman, The Principles of Uncertainty
New York composer Nico Muhly came to Washington on Thursday night to join the Washington Chorus for a concert of his music at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. With this program of works composed since 2002, Julian Wachner, in his second year at the helm of this ensemble, continues to transform a volunteer chorus generally known for performing the chestnuts of the oratorio society repertoire. Wachner pared down the chorus to about 50 singers, with a few professional singers recognized by sight and sound in their ranks, including pleasing solos by soprano Brooke Evers and countertenor John Bohl.

The music showed the influences that give Muhly's compositional style its appeal. A youth spent as a boy chorister provided the background of English liturgical music. The adult years spent working for Philip Glass were heard in some of Muhly's most common tics: the repetition of rhythmic and harmonic patterns; a metronome-like pulse sung on a neutral syllable, recalling Terry Riley's "In C"; and the largely unnecessary use of amplification, which Muhly admitted was just to add reverberation to the sound. [Continue reading]
New Music for a New Age
Washington Chorus and Friends
With Nico Muhly, piano and celesta
Atlas Performing Arts Center

A few thoughts for which there was no space in the review. The performance included the projection of images and text from Maira Kalman's New York Times blog, The Principles of Uncertainty, which has now been published as a book. Nico Muhly set only some of the questions from this series of images -- whimsical, yes, but also philosophical and multi-layered -- in a musical version that seemed more silly than profound. Kalman's illustrations, with colors and a simplified approach to drawing reminiscent of Matisse, are beautiful and often make references to earlier works of art. One of the pieces shown during the concert was her take on a photograph mentioned here recently, an image of three men "browsing" through the bombed ruins of the library of London's Holland House, which featured in Susan Sontag's analysis of the artificiality of photography. What this may say about Kalman's own work, which strikes a similar "uncomposed" pose, is open to question.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Contemporary Jewish Museum, in San Francisco's new MuseumsQuartier, will host a major exhibition dedicated to Maira Kalman from July 1, 2010 - Oct 26, 2010. Thursday nights are $5.