American composer Nico Muhly works in eclectic contexts and at a dizzyingly prolific pace. Drawing inspiration equally from English Renaissance liturgical music, downtown minimalism of the 1960s and 70s, and more popular forms, Muhly has created not only orchestral works and choral compositions, but also film scores, ballets, and string arrangements for rock bands.
Muhly’s music has a stunning emotional depth and clarity that is rooted in the complexities of daily life and the richness of human experience. In addition to lush instrumentation, Muhly incorporates sounds like scraping knives or whistling wind into his recordings. Though often evoking anxiety or loneliness, his works are radiantly beautiful. Muhly’s compositions are often generated as much from phrases or emotions as they are from musical ideas. Some works, for example, are mapped out with mental images translated into language—a walk at night; columns of light coming at you from cars; a nocturne; a music with stars.
Muhly’s project for the Aspen Art Museum plays with the ways that music can be conceived, performed, or experienced as public. Muhly has composed a new work for low-power FM broadcast. The work is as pervasive as the radio waves that carry it, and whether accessed through bedside clocks in hotel rooms, receivers in cars, or portable radios on a hike, the experience of it will be both intimate and collective. Muhly has written a score to be layered on top of the composition, allowing musicians to augment the work with their performances. As part of Aspen’s Old-Fashioned Fourth of July Parade, this open-ended music will be played by a procession of musicians to accompany the broadcast.
Born in Vermont in 1981 and raised in Providence, Rhode Island, Nico Muhly graduated from Columbia University in 2003 with a degree in English Literature. In 2004 he received a Masters in Music from the Juilliard School, where he studied composition under Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano. Muhly’s orchestral works have been premiered by the American Symphony Orchestra, the Juilliard Orchestra, the Boston University Tanglewood Institute Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and the Chicago Symphony. In 2005, the Clare College Choir broadcast Muhly’s evensong canticles live on BBC3, and New York’s Saint Thomas Church commissioned and performed his Bright Mass with Canons, a work that has entered their regular repertoire. With designer/illustrator Maira Kalman, he created a cantata on Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style that premiered at the New York Public Library. In addition to scoring the films Choking Man, Joshua, and The Reader, Muhly has worked with dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied to create the ballets From Here On Out and Triade. He has also lent his skills as performer, arranger, and conductor to other musicians, including Björk, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Grizzly Bear, and Antony of Antony and the Johnsons.