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Hey Guess What

from Monday, May9th of the year2011.

Hey guess what? I moved to London again; this time for a few months for a few reasons. One reason is that my first opera, Two Boys, is going into production at the English National Opera next week. Then, the delicious Aurora Orchestra is releasing a bunch of my chamber orchestra music on Decca, including some arrangements of Byrd and Gibbons. So, Aurora did a mini-residency at King’s Place, and generated two nights’ worth of music, and made this gorgeous programme for it which was, in part, inspired by Nick’s genius design of this very website. We had an album release party afterwards, at which my new friend Luke Ritchie played, as well as Puzzle Muteson, whose album is coming out Imminently. As is mine, for that matter — UK people can pre-order it here and I think the rest on Amazon. Then the next day, I had the enormous privilege to introduce David Lang’s Little Match Girl Passion at LSO St. Luke’s, and then I made a little introduction to Owen Pallett at the Barbican, and played a series of polyrhythms with the Clogs. My fingers are getting tired of finding all these hyperlinks! It was hyper-linked: a free-wheeling, exhausting weekend, and the attendance at the Reich Marathon (as well as, I should add, my own competing Saturday night concert — a heartbreaking scheduling problem for all involved because I wanted more than anything to hear 2×5 live; as I’ve mentioned, on the CD it sounds like something has gone awry in a later, possibly hidden, world in MarioKart) is a testament to the hunger London audiences have for not just Reich’s music but for the music that has come out of it in a variety of iterations. It was great. London people were mad appreciative.

I was delighted to be able to see Proverb live, which I haven’t seen in maybe ten years. It is such a gorgeous and personal piece; it starts with a lovely tune, and makes a canon around it, and then a Reichean texture of hocketed mallets comes in. But then! The tenors sing a stylized figure straight out of the 13th century composer Pérotin. These elements work with, and against, one another in a satisfying, loosely erotic ballet, and Reich, at the end, adds a cryptic but so fucking satisfying coda. It drives me nuts how gorgeous this piece is, and how personal, and how committed to its style. The three do not always go hand-in-hand; Reich’s music is so fully devoted to itself, in the best way; watching his music live can put me in a historical or anthropological space, like watching an obscurely compelling Balinese ritual. Simultaneously, and more personally, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to write non-religious music with that level of commitment to process and style; I always bank on a capriciousness (a natural one, but you know what I mean), and listening to Reich’s music live, and David Lang’s music, for that matter, is always humbling and cause for many days of reflection, self-doubt, and remembered delight.

Paul Hillier/Theater of Voices

Wait you guys how come there is only one recording of this piece! ¡Escándalo! Everybody should record this ahora mismo and send me mp3’s; it’s nothing wrong with this recording, this recording is beautiful, but I’m shocked!

At the Decca/Aurora lovefest, by the way, I got interviewed by this unexpected magician called Neil — it was approximately four thousand degrees, so you can see me looking hot, but not as hot as this rabbit must have been:

Notice, by the way, the cool buttons on the top. That’s an amazing result of collaboration between three organizations who would not necessarily always be on the same page about cross-promoting things. I know very little about how classical music PR works but my sense is that this is the way to do it — always reference the next thing, even (especially?) if that thing is in a different venue or context. It feels more fluid and less random.

Also somebody needs to tell England about this old trick. If your venue is freezing cold before people come in, do not adjust the thermostat. This is good. When people come and start drinking, they will make it hot in there, and then you will wonder why it is so hot. It’s very much like resting steak. It seems counterintuitive (“I want hot meat!”) but everybody knows that you have to do it, except sometimes people don’t, and wonder why everybody thinks they steak is fucked up. The same applies to the Temperature up in here almost universally. My flat has an aircon unit and fans and a system of windows and shades; anybody who wants to come over and see how it do is welcome at The Campari and Dubonnet Masterclass in Ventilation and Temperature Regulation, weekdays, from 6:45 to 7:30, in my heezy. Closed on bank holidays, and for four random days on either side of the bank holidays, with auto-responders put on all forms of communication.

Now that all of that over, I have about four days before the opera really kicks into gear. I am dealing with the usual circular litany of miseries surrounding the gas bill one does not have being the obstacle preventing getting a proper (rather than a Terrorlicious Pay-As-U-Go) phone, as well as a bank account, in various combinations of inconvenience. Today, a man at the phone shop suggested that I move to a house in which my name was, indeed, on the gas bill! I sort of like the idea that one’s real estate choices would be informed, or even dictated, by wanting an iPhone on contract; it feels very now.

A highlight of my life was that 8th blackbird Bang on a Can played, together, Reich’s recent Double Sextet. It was ravishing; all the players figured out exactly how to control the vibrato to keep the sound alive but without sacrificing the principles behind Reich’s austere but ecstatic vision. Speaking of austere visions, I’ve objected before to people insanely not capitalizing the names of their music or ensembles or whatever. And as you all know I think Match Gurl Pash is the best thing in the history of time. But David, strangely, presents it without capitals. And you know what happened? People fucked up, because it’s confusing, and ended up capitalizing the piece but not capitalizing one of the textual sources, namely Saint Matthew, or, as they rendered it, Saint matthew. Everybody just quit it. It drives everybody nuts and makes any paragraph in which it appears look off-balance — not in any obvious way, but in that way that somebody who has done something a little bit too ambitious to the eyebrows always looks a touch off-center.

Some good news in the English food front: Tesco sells Hollow Vegetable!!! Ung CHOI! Xiàncài ??? ! I nearly peed:

In other, more alarming, retail news, look at the design of this substance meant to be used to hand-warsh one’s delicates:

St John restaurant has now opened up a third branch, a Hotel! It’s early days still, but I’ve now been a few times and the restaurant is heaven, as is the bar. The original bar at St John, which is absolutely the most gorgeous non-ecclesiastical space in London, if not the world (and, it should be said, photographs terribly, as the height and simplicity of the big shapes commingling in the head with the details of the small irregularities of texture can never come through in a photograph; it’s rather like Reich’s music in that way, where a simultaneous and real-time awareness of big shapes and small textures is the key to unlocking the vast emotional possibilities of what would otherwise seem like a severe, almost punitive space), wouldn’t work in a hotel, I don’t think, so instead they have gone for a nautical effect which works very well, especially because they stay open until loosely 2. Check out these lamb’s sweetbreads and a fennel, carrot, and barley thing in the background:


  • Your Grandfather
    May 9th, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    First of all, why the Rabbit?

    Secondly, it should always be a little too cold. The reason for this is that being hot makes people sleepy and being cold makes them attentive. Old people like me should bring extra clothing. We are the complainers. Old people should always be complaining about the cold, then you know the temperature is right.

    And what do you mean about capriciousness?

    I live for this blog, checking for updates at the very least daily, but that is probably just sad.

  • Terrific Aurora concert (streamed by The Guardian), although I’m not sure about the magician. Your concerto is a masterpiece, and I know that it would enter the repertoire were it not written for so esoteric and bizarre an instrument. How about a version for a regular old acoustic violin?

  • Nico,
    I agree with Your Grandfather, as I too rejoice every time you post a new blog. I can’t wait to read your opinionated, polymathic and oh so funny and yet personal comments about whatever has been going on in your life. But above all I want to thank you for posting the various pieces of music that occupy you at the moment: the ear delights, the mind opens and life reaches another level of satisfaction when I listen to them. William Byrd, Reich, others . . . I am already looking forward to the next posting.

  • Firstly, I feel I should say ‘Welcome to London’! As an avid reader of your blog for a considerable time, and a very excited attendee-to-be at the ‘Two Boys’ performances at ENO, it’s brilliant to hear that you’re enjoying the city. Alas, I was unable to attend the Reich festival this weekend (grrrr….), so I can’t pass comment on the 2×5 comments you make. However, I’m very excited about seeing ‘Three Tales’ in Köln in June – first time – woop!
    Anyway, hope you have a great time in the UK and good luck at ENO. Right, I’m off to Tescos to buy me copious amounts of Ung Choi…! Laters.

  • 2×5 was exhilarating and dancy. But it was so late I missed the last train :/ Also so wery excited for Two Boys. Thank you Mr Muhly!

  • “Then the next day” sounds like the best day I could ever imagine. A little piece of me dies with every Owen Pallett show I miss. Also, Clogs and the effing LMGP! Hats off, sir. Hats off.

  • Man, you are busy and passionate!
    got your ADHD diagnosis yet? 🙂

    curious about the hollow vegetabels. are those some sort of pee’s?


  • […] Nico Muhly discusses his recent move to London and some upcoming projects. It is likely that we shall be forking over some cash for Seeing Is Believing once it’s […]

  • Nico,

    Heard anything about the opera Moby-Dick,
    Music by Jake Heggie, Libretto by Gene Scheer? Any good? It’s opening in my town in a couple weeks.