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Nico Muhly

Since early in his career, composer, pianist, arranger, and conductor Nico Muhly has defied easy categorization, working steadily in both the contemporary classical and pop/indie music spheres. His resumé includes vocal, choral, opera, piano, electronic, chamber, and orchestral compositions; film scores (The Reader, Kill Your Darlings); and recordings with artists as wide-ranging as Philip Glass, Kronos Quartet, Björk, the National, and Paul Simon. He worked as an assistant to Glass on scores such as 2002's The Hours and Naqoyqatsi, performed on Björk albums, and wrote string arrangements for Bonnie "Prince" Billy before releasing his solo debut, Speaks Volumes, in 2006. Thereafter, he continued to juggle arranging, performing, and writing, releasing solo compositions, film scores, and collaborative albums with artists such as singer/songwriter Teitur (2016's Confessions), Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner (2017's Planetarium), and Thomas Bartlett (2018's Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music). Dessner also appeared on the San Francisco Symphony's Grammy-nominated recording of Muhly's Throughline, a 2020 mini-concerto he composed to accommodate COVID-19 pandemic restrictions including limits on the number of performers on-stage. Muhly was born in Vermont in 1981. After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in English, Muhly went on to earn a master's degree in music from Juilliard. He worked on a number of well-received projects, including a cantata on the Elements of Style by Strunk & White. Muhly added film scoring to his repertoire beginning with Choking Man in 2006 and Joshua in 2008. His abilities to move from genre to genre soon paid off, and Muhly began working with some of the music world's most well-known names, including Björk, Anohni (of Antony and the Johnsons), and Grizzly Bear, in addition to modern classical composer Glass. Muhly's debut recording, Speaks Volumes, was released in 2006. It was followed in 2008 by a collection of his collaborations with other artists titled Ekvilibrium. The follow-up to his debut, Mothertongue, appeared in 2008. That year also saw the release of his aforementioned original score for the motion picture Joshua. His score for Stephen Daldry's 2008 film The Reader followed in 2009. Muhly's commissions soon multiplied in earnest, as did even more requests by other artists for his string arrangements (including Usher and Antony Hegarty). A Good Understanding, a collection of his choral works, was released in 2010, as was I Drink the Air Before Me, co-produced by Dan Bora and Valgeir Sigurðsson. Seeing Is Believing arrived in 2011 and was followed by three limited-edition EPs in 2012 -- Drones & Piano, Drones & Viola, and Drones & Violin -- which were compiled as the full-length Drones and released widely in November of that year. Muhly's score for the beat poets' biopic Kill Your Darlings was then released alongside the film in late 2013. He worked with Kronos Quartet, yMusic, and members of the National for the classical recording Richard Reed Parry: Music for Heart and Breath, issued in mid-2014. Later the same year, Nonesuch released his opera Two Boys, performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus. In the spring of 2016, Muhly joined Angela and Jennifer Chun on a recording of his Four Studies and Honest Music, which were paired with two works by Philip Glass for Harmonia Mundi. A collaboration with Valgeir Sigurðsson called Scent Opera, "an opera for your nose" with scents, premiered at the Guggenheim Museum in 2009 but was issued as a 14-minute recording for the first time in August 2016. He also partnered with singer/songwriter Teitur for Confessions, a collection of songs recorded with the ensemble Holland Baroque Society and released by Nonesuch that October. Originally commissioned by Muziekgebouw Eindhoven and performed in 2012, a recorded version of Planetarium was issued by the 4AD label in June 2017. Inspired by the solar system, the collaborative piece featured music by Muhly, Sufjan Stevens, the National's Bryce Dessner, and drummer James McAlister. The following year, Nonesuch released Peter Pears: Balinese Ceremonial Music, a set of original songs by Muhly and Thomas Bartlett (Doveman). They were inspired by gamelan transcriptions by ethnomusicologist Colin McPhee, three of which were also included on the recording. Muhly returned in 2020 with the single "In This House," a collaboration with San Fermin and Attacca Quartet. That year also saw the Sony Classical-issued world premiere recording of Three Continents, his collaborative cello concerto composed alongside Sven Helbig and Zhou Long, and performed by cellist Jan Vogler. Additionally, Muhly's 13-movement mini-concerto Throughline, a piece composed with COVID-19 pandemic performance restrictions in mind (a maximum of six instrumentalists on-stage at once, no breath-based instruments), was premiered by the San Francisco Symphony with guests including Dessner (electric guitar), Nicholas Britell (piano), and Esperanza Spalding (double bass). The recording, which was released on SFS Media in 2021, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Orchestral Performance the following year.
© Chris True & Marcy Donelson /TiVo


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