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from Monday, January18th of the year2010.

I write this from London; I have finally finished one of my favorite tasks, which is Provisioning “” buying those weird necessities that you never think about: band-aids, tea, shampoo, blu-tak, the proper house lotion, the proper loofah for the shower, the right kind of garbage bag. My girl Jamie came over not twelve seconds after I arrived bearing a bottle of Dubonnet and another bottle of Gin, so now I can make the drink of which the Queen Mum & the Queen herself were/are most fond. (I also got into a whole “gin and dubonnet internet wormhole featuring articles and pictures and all sorts of shit). Provisioning in London is not the easiest thing in the world because their drugstores or supermarkets don’t tend to have that genius “sundries” aisle like up in the Duane Reade. So, for instance, I just spent the better part of an hour trying to find anywhere within walking distance of my apartment that would sell me any kind of adhesive; near the end of the hour I grew so desperate I almost got all Margaret Cho’s mom and just bought some cooked rice and made a little sticky ball.

I am in London this month in residence with the Britten Sinfonia; the residence is multi-faceted and multi-media. There are three main elements to it, though. I programmed for them a lunchtime concert lasting precisely one hour, which consists of three Orlando Gibbons motets arranged by me for clarinet, piano & strang quartet. Then, they perform the Howells Rhapsodic Quintet, a new work by me (Motion) based on a Gibbons motet, and then the Copland Sextet for dessert. It’s a perfect little hour; I love that Howells so much because it is so awkward “” he is a melodist, and the melodies are delicious, and he also tries to write little clarinet licks that are not so successful but there is something very beautiful about it. And the Copland is a classic! So that’s Part the First of my Residency. This lunchtime experience is happening all over the UK (and it happened in Krakow yesterday) and everybody should come because what better way to spend a lunchtime hour?

The second part is a big show “” but a one-off “” at the Roundhouse in London this coming Sunday. The Britten Sinfonia, conducted by Nick Collon, are doing two older works of mine (By All Means & Step Team), I am gonna play Philip Glass Mad Rush on the Pianoforte, I’ma conduct Steve Reich City Life, and Sam Amidon’s going to come and sing three songs, including a newly exploded and orchestrated version of The Only Tune. So that’s part two of the thing.

Part Three, and sort of the most involved part, is a big concert with a string orchestra, tenor Mark Padmore and violinist Pekka Kuusisto. I wrote Pekka a violin concerto and Mark a song cycle that happen to be the same piece of music, so it’s kind of a double-concerto but not really. With it, we’ve programmed Adams Shaker Loops, my favorite, Britten Les Illuminations, my favorite, and Reich Duet for Two Violins & Strangz, also my favorite. What more could you ask for? All of this kicks off in Eindhoven, NL, later this month and then arrives in the UK in the beginning of February.

One of the frustrations of my life is dealing with institutional PR imbalances. A good example is this gig at the Roundhouse. It is, by far, the most “high-profile” of all of the three shows “” people are tweeting and blogging about it, half of my inbox is Roundhouse-logistics. But in terms of the actual work for me involved, it’s pretty minimal. It’s older works; I have to re-learn Mad Rush which is hard, I have to conduct City Life which is hard, during which you sort of have to think about 9/11 never 4get but! Compare that, which is a fun, fabulous, glamorous one-off, to the work of writing a thirty minute new work for violin and tenor! There are so many chores involved in doing that “” you have to choose the text, in this case, newly translated Cavafy Poems. You email back and forth with the translator, you make crazy sketches, you write down the words ‘Alexandria’ and ‘Homosexual’ in nine different colors. You skype Finland. You buy every single recording Mark Padmore has ever made. You ask everybody in Christendom & the Caliphate what they think about Mark Padmore’s Voice. You sort through those emails. You buy Ian Bostridge’s thesis for six hundred dollars, high on ambien. You cut a poem. You add another. You make diagrams of the structure. You figure out that Mark Padmore has a very handsome e-flat. You fall down an internet wormhole about e-flat. You figure out that Pekka Kuusisto plays Sibelius better than anybody and avoid calling him asking him to play “that note from the second movement of the Sibelius concerto” over the phone and then doing the same to Hilary Hahn. You call the translator in Germany and ask if he means savoir or pouvoir. You fend off an email asking for programme notes before you’ve finished the third movement, a nice passacaglia. You argue with your copyists about syllables. Snippy words are exchanged. You go to Cambodia, you volunteer at the circus school, and somehow, your phone has reception and it’s people asking for more programme notes! It’s an enormous amount of work, a new piece, and there is something very relaxing about presenting a concert of older works. I’m not complaining; this is a good problem to have. But it’s complicated.

A big problem with my life was that my e-mail filter was marking as spam all emails from two very important English women who are sort of going to be coördinating my life for the next bit “” Pippa Ricketts and Camilla Stagg. I lost almost a week of emails from both of them before I realized what had happened.

The big moral of the story is that I encourage all fine Englishpeople to come to all three events, as it will give you a pretty comprehensive portrait of my goings-on for the last six months. One is a lunchtime snack, another is a one-off extravaganza, and the third is a beautifully curated and, I hope, well-wrought evening of song and strings.


  • Can’t make London this time but will be there again in April for the WWT2 @ the Barbican! Looking forward to the ‘beautifully curated and well-wrought evening of songs and strings’ in Eindhoven – see you there!

  • Liner Notes Danny
    January 18th, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    Oh CHRIST this sounds gorgeous start to finish. I’d seriously paypal you three dollars just for an mp3 of you doing Mad Rush.

  • Heard you on radio 4 tonight having not heard of you before, but Byrd and Glass sound like wonderful inspiration! Enjoy your stay in London, I hope you find all the provisions you need


  • I just came from the Britten Sinfonia lunchtime concert in Cambridge – brilliant. The way you captured the combination of nervousness, methodicalness and joyfully being enmeshed in the music in “Motion” was particularly enjoyable. And it was great to see that you were there in person! Enjoy the rest of your stay in the UK.

  • Charlotte Higgins
    January 19th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    Très bon lunchtime concert today, M. Muhly. The Howells is too rich for my delicate blood, but Gibbons-Muhly, Muhly and Copland were all most enjoyable. I love a lunchtime concert and it was, indeed, a perfect hour. I hope you manage to fit in sufficient dinners at St John during your London stay.

  • A devoted reader of your blog, it was wonderful to discover that in person, you talk exactly as your write. Much enjoyed the Wigmore hour Howells was something of a curate’s egg, but Motion was startling and thrilling and it was wonderful to be reminded of what a fine modernist Copland could be. Meant to interject (a propos your comment about Stravinsky writing for Benny Goodman) about the master’s finest contribution to popular culture:

    In late 1941, Barnum contacted Balanchine asking him to choreograph a ballet; he suggested bringing in Stravinsky. Balanchine contacted the composer and later recounted the conversation:
    Balanchine: “I wonder if you’d like to do a little ballet with me.”
    Stravinsky: “For whom?”
    Balanchine: “For some elephants.”
    Stravinsky: “How old?”
    Balanchine: “Very young.”
    Stravinsky: “All right. If they are very young elephants, I will do it.”

  • Will this exploded and newly orchestrated “The Only Tune” be recorded and available for ease of listening across the Atlantic? Please?

  • Will this exploded and newly orchestrated “The Only Tune”??? Yes, oh, yes, I’d seriously paypal whatever you asked for that mp3/4.