- I Drink the Air Before Me, ballet
It's tricky to try to pigeonhole the music of American composer Nico Muhly, born in 1981. A protégé of Philip Glass, Muhly had begun making a name for himself when barely out of his teens, and by his late twenties the Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera had co-commissioned him to write a full-length opera. It's possible to hear in his work suggestions of minimalism, English Renaissance polyphony, early American hymnody, Britten, and a healthy dose of cutting-edge experimental rock, to name just a handful of influences. Pulling it all together is an unconventional inventiveness that's virtually unpredictable, but that manages to sound inevitable in its musical and emotional trajectory. Muhly wrote "I Drink the Air Before Me," an hour-long score for chamber ensemble, children's chorus, and electronics, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Stephen Petronio's dance company in 2009. The piece is in 12 clearly differentiated movements featuring a variety of configurations of the six instruments, some using processing to create a multiplicity of layers. This is transparent music; it is obviously the composer's intention to communicate directly with audiences, even if the substance of the message itself is emotionally complex, and it's that dichotomy that gives Muhly's work such appeal. The instrumentalists and the Young People's Chorus of New York give the music a committed, accomplished performance, and it's beautifully engineered. Muhly is definitely a composer to watch out for. This is an album that should interest any fans of early 21st century trends in American new music.