Notes by Nico Muhly

On NOVA's upcoming concert we will be presenting 3 chamber works by acclaimed composer Nico Muhly. Program notes by the composer are included below:

Radiant Music, for flute and pre-recorded cd (2002)
Radiant Music
 was written for Alice K. Dade at her request for a short recital piece. The tape part is made up of several episodes of shimmering music for electric flutes, dulcimers, organs, baroque strings, trumpet, and choir. This piece is focused on a simple progression of three chords; this progression appears in the sequence that opens the piece. This sequence reappears in each episode as a harmonic goal for the flute, whose part circumnavigates it but never hits it exactly. Also at play in Radiant Music is a notion of fast music that moves slowly versus slow music that moves quickly. This is most evident in the “Throbbing” music which is very fast, but has an immensely slow harmonic motion, and in the conclusion, which is made of one chord reworked over a long stretch of time.  Radiant Music is dedicated to Alice K. Dade.

Clear Music, for cello, harp and celesta (2003)
Muhly writes, “Clear Music is an extended exploration of a single measure in John Taverner’s (1490-1545) motet Mater Christi Sanctissima. I have structured the piece into a series of peaks featuring the highest registers of the treble voice ““ here, the cello. I remember very vividly performing this piece and being struck by how distant the treble was from the other voices ““ sometimes, there are spaces of over an octave between the treble and the alto ““ and I attempted to recreate the somewhat terrifying and exposed contours of these lines. The end result is, I hope, a prolonged and transparent recollection of the Taverner which exposes not only my appreciation for the music itself but also my response to performing it.”

The unaccompanied cello solo opening the piece quotes an expressive passage, near the end of Taverner’s antiphon, in which the trebles soar to a pitch two octaves higher than the next part down, the modal melody. Quoting such a high passage on such a low instrument, Muhly evokes not only the deeply stratified sonorities of Mater Christi but also the physical exertion of vocal performance.

The semiquaver syncopations that join the cello owe less to the backbeats of a rock song or a Beethoven symphony than to the rhythms of composers like Taverner, whose music antedates the use of barlines””here creating a smooth and constant motion that gently pulls the cello forward and bears it aloft. – Program Notes © 2007 Daniel Johnson

Duet No1: Chorale Pointing Downwards, for viola and cello (2003)
Duet No1: Chorale Pointing Downwards
 is the first in a series of short string pieces that serve as harmonic and technical studies for both composer and performers.  Duet No 1 is constructed around a cycle of fourteen chords repeated almost without stopping throughout the work. However, the cycle is subject to several simple rhythmic processes and two cryptic interruptions and, by the middle, assumes a sort of fervent perpetual-motion perseverance. Here, I attempted to convey a kind of harmonic rapture with technical reserve (music that sounds like a string exercise). The piece ends slowly and quietly, with a series of ascending and descending scales trailing the fourteen chords behind them.  Duet No 1 is dedicated to Nadia Sirota with great thanks.


Nova Chamber Music Series
Nova Chamber Music Series

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