Photo Ana Cuba
Nico Muhly (b.1981) is a composer of operas, chamber and symphonic works, and sacred music whose influences range from American minimalism to the Anglican choral tradition. Described by The Guardian as “one of the most celebrated and sought-after classical composers of the last decade,” he is the youngest composer ever commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and has received additional commissions from Carnegie Hall, the Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Library of Congress, and Wigmore Hall, among other institutions. In more than 80 works for the concert stage, he has embraced subjects ranging from Renaissance astrology to the ethics of artificial intelligence while collaborating with artists as diverse as Benjamin Millepied, Anne Sofie von Otter, and Joanna Newsom.
Muhly has written two operas: Two Boys (2010), a cautionary tale about identity online, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and co-produced by the English National Opera with a libretto by Craig Lucas and directed by Bartlett Sher; and Dark Sisters (2011), about a community of polygamists in the American southwest, set to a libretto by Stephen Karam and directed by Rebecca Taichman. He is at work on a third opera, Marnie, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera for its 2019-20 season and based on the novel that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name.
His additional works for voice include the song cycles Sentences (2015), written for countertenor Iestyn Davies and based on the life of British computer scientist Alan Turing, and Impossible Things (2009), written for tenor Mark Padmore on a text by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy. His major choral works include Bright Mass with Canons (2005); My Days (2011), a commemoration of Orlando Gibbons, written for Fretwork and the Hilliard Ensemble; and Recordare, Domine (2013), commissioned by Lincoln Center and the Tallis Scholars.
In 2015, Nadia Sirota premiered Muhly’s viola concerto, the first work in a three-part commission for the violist. Other recent orchestral works include Control: Five Landscapes for Orchestra (2015), a celebration of Utah’s natural landscape, written for the Utah Symphony; and Mixed Messages (2015), composed for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Beyond the concert stage, Muhly is a sought-after collaborator across genres. He has worked on multiple occasions with choreographer Benjamin Millepied on scores for New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater, and the Paris Opera Ballet. Additionally, he collaborated with choreographers Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor on Machina (2012) for the Royal Ballet, and, for choreographer Stephen Petronio, composed I Drink The Air Before Me (2010), an evening-length work featuring a children’s choir. As an arranger, Muhly has paired with Sufjan Stevens, Rufus Wainwright, Antony and the Johnsons, The National, and Thomas Bartlett (Doveman), among others. He has also written for theater and film, contributing scores for the 2013 Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie, directed by John Tiffany, and for the films Kill Your Darlings; Me, Earl and the Dying Girl; and the Academy Award-winning The Reader.
Muhly is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, co-founded by Icelandic producer-engineer Valgeir Sigurðsson, which was inaugurated with the release of Muhly’s first album, Speaks Volumes (2006). His second album for the label, Mothertongue (2008), included “The Only Tune,” a setting of the traditional murder ballad “Two Sisters,” featuring singer Sam Amidon accompanied by samples of scraping knives and brushed hair.
Born in Vermont and raised in Rhode Island, Muhly studied composition at the Juilliard School with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse, and worked subsequently as an editor and conductor for composer Philip Glass. He currently lives in New York City.