Tackling Opera To Folk, Composer Nico Muhly Defies Categorization

Download Audio
Composer Nico Muhly. (AP)
Composer Nico Muhly. (AP)

Here & Now's Robin Young spoke with Juilliard-trained composer Nico Muhly ahead of the premiere of his “Drones and Piano" in Boston Thursday.

BOSTON-- The revelation of music's importance to Nico Muhly came to him during his childhood choir performance of William Byrd's “Senex Puerum Portabat" in Providence, R.I.

"Something in my head happened while we were singing this bird motet, and I just thought, 'this is life-changing,', and [had] full-body shivers, and I thought, I would attempt to devote my life at recreating that experience," Muhly said in an interview with Here & Now's Robin Young.

A long-time chorister, Muhly's plan for re-creating that once-in-a-lifetime moment was...well, he didn't have one.

At age 29, the Juilliard-trained composer has already built an eclectic career composing chorales, ballets and “Two Boys,” which will be performed by the Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera.

"The way I've gotten away with doing so many things is by not making too many plans. There's really no itinerary. Everything I've done has been a natural extension of wanting to work with friends, and wanting to surround myself with people whose music, or music-making, I really like," he said.

He's worked with musicians Bjork and Rufus Wainwright, perfumer Christophe Laudamiel and composed film scores including one for 2008's “The Reader.”

The secret to his melodic genius may just be his openness to appreciate all kinds of music, and his insatiable appetite for listening to it.

"I listen to as much music as I possibly can. It's not about going from point A to point B inside the work of Beethoven, it's more like, 'OK, so you'd listen to this Beethoven and then you'd listen to three hours of Tracy Chapman and then you'd listen to some crazy CD that someone handed you in the street, it's about trying to survey the whole thing, which of course is impossible..." he said.

But he tries anyway.

Composer Nico Muhly's “Drones and Piano” premieres in Boston on Thursday.

This segment aired on February 10, 2011.


More from Here & Now

Listen Live