Nico Muhly: Seeing Is Believing

Nico Muhly: Seeing Is Believing

by Thomas Gould


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Nico Muhly: Seeing Is Believing

American composer Nico Muhly, who burst onto the new music scene when his albums began to appear with regularity in 2006 when he was 25 (he was 29 when this album, Seeing Is Believing, was recorded), is obviously a natural talent with a profligate gift for invention. He has been inundated with high-profile commissions, for the score of the film The Reader, from the Metropolitan Opera, the English National Opera, the Chicago Symphony, and the Boston Pops, among many others. At his best, and for the most part, Muhly uses tonality and repetition in ways that don't just turn over old ideas and procedures but that are fresh and forward-looking. It's not surprising, given the dizzying extent of his output and the high pressure of his many commitments that he is still in the process of working out an individual style independent of the shadow of the Big Three of American minimalism: Glass (for whom he has worked as an assistant), Reich, and Adams. His music is often characterized by an unselfconscious spontaneity and a cheerful lack of inhibition. He has a broad and secure grasp of vocal, choral, instrumental, and orchestral writing and his textures are notable for their transparency and brightness. His devotion to the music of the English Renaissance -- Byrd, Tallis, Gibbons, and Weelkes, for instance -- frequently undergirds his creative process, but might or might not be immediately audible to the listener without prior knowledge of his intent. His four original compositions on this album are interspersed with chaste arrangements of three choral works by Byrd and Gibbons whose sensitivity demonstrates the obvious respect, understanding, and affection Muhly has for these classics. The most substantial original work is a concerto for six-string electric guitar, "Seeing Is Believing," written for soloist Thomas Gould and the Aurora Orchestra, led by Nicholas Collon, who perform it here. It's a subtle, lovely work that spins out a hypnotic narrative, clear in its direction and full of delightful, surprising details. "By All Means," for chamber ensemble, is a sophisticated reaction to Webern's "Concerto for 9 instruments, Op. 24," and the motets of Thomas Weelkes. Muhly writes of his goal of synthesizing "the scattered points of Webern's orchestration organized by a Tudor resolution, or the shimmering counterpoint of Weelkes sent astray by sudden chromatic variation," and the distinguished, coherent work that results is a testimony to his success. Decca's sound is clean and luminous. This is an album that should be of strong interest to fans of new music that's in the tradition of post-minimalism, but moving into uncharted waters.

Product Details

Release Date: 06/21/2011
Label: Decca
UPC: 0028947827313
catalogNumber: 001560602


  1. Civitas sancti tui (also anthem "Bow Thine ear, O Lord"), motet for 5 voices (SAT Bar (or tenor) B)
  2. This Is the record of John, anthem for voices
  3. Miserere mei Deus, motet for 5 voices (SATBarB or SMezATB)

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