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Nico Muhly

Nico Muhly

The Guardian interviews composer Nico Muhly:

How do you listen to music?

In general, I listen at home on my big speakers. When in transit, iPhone with headphones. On the road, via satellite radio tuned almost entirely to 90’s on 9. Radio 3 until once they played Hindemith saxophone music and I had to take a month off.

What was the last piece of music you bought?

Via iTunes, Tallis: Ave, rosa sine spinis and Other Sacred Music, recorded by The Cardinall’s Musick and Andrew Carwood.

What’s your musical guilty pleasure?

No music should be associated with guilt; it is all pure pleasure. (Real answer: the Indigo Girls)

If you found yourself with six months free to learn a new instrument, what would you choose?

The oboe! Although one gathers it takes somewhat longer than half a year to get past the painful parts.

Is applauding between movements acceptable?

Sure, why not? Or maybe you should be tried at The Hague for it. I don’t know. The press have decided to invent some great crisis about applauding and I’m not entirely sure why. You know what’s scary? Going to the jazzzzzz clubbbbb. I have no idea what to do, when to applaud, how to grow my facial hair, when to stroke it etc. Go bother them about elitism and audience participation for a few years and let us get on with our work here, then let’s check in.

What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?

I’ve always thought that in England particularly, it would be great to have a free program, particularly at the opera. It’s never struck me as being a £5 question to know who that lovely tenor was, or, indeed, to remind me of the basic plot of something fussy like La Forza del Destino. Even a simply printed thing would be, I think, useful; it doesn’t need to be glossy or have commissioned essays.

What’s been your most memorable live music experience as an audience member?

It hasn’t happened yet in the concert hall – for me, the sublime is attained on a random Tuesday, at a sparsely-attended evensong somewhere, with an Orlando Gibbons verse anthem being sung almost perfectly.

What was the first ever record you bought?

Lol, “record.” I think it would have been Different Trains, by Steve Reich, in 1992. It was a CD.

Do you enjoy musicals? Do you have a favorite?

I have a particular obsession with Sondheim. Into the Woods is a triumph in every way, and I live for Merrily We Roll Along.

How many recordings of the Goldberg Variations do you own? Do you have a favorite?

I own the world’s most fantastic collection of the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) played not on the keyboard. Violas da gamba, reeds, accordions, harp, you name it. One of the things about Bach is that once you start ignoring the performance practice crazy people, with their orthodoxies and internecine cattiness, you realize that Bach works despite a saxophone arrangement. That having been said, I put on Slow Late Gould when I am feeling self-indulgent and Fast Early Gould in moments of controlled mania. If Wendy Carlos got her act together and made a recording I would buy it in one second.

Which conductor of yesteryear do you most wish you could have worked with?

I think I would have to say Pierre Boulez, even though he is still, at the time of this writing, quick. I’m obsessed by his Stravinsky recordings: how he teases out the brittleness and brightness of the woodwinds. I have a recording of the Symphony in Three Movements with Chicago that gives me chills to this day.

Which non-classical musician would you love to work with?

James Blake. I keep on telling English papers to tell him to call me and nobody is making it happen. Also those boys from Disclosure. I’m leaving this in your hands now.

Imagine you’re a festival director here in London with unlimited resources. What would you program – or commission – for your opening event?

Obviously Tom Adès arrangements of Beyoncé’s entire catalogue – including Destiny’s Child-era best-of. Then you get a huge orchestra together, fly Bey over, and get a graphic designer to make a big deal about accents aigu and grave with perhaps a commissioned sculpture and boudoir photographs. I’m shocked nobody has done this already. Can you imagine his version of “Nasty put some clothes on [gong] I told you [bell + muted trumpet] don’t walk out the house without your clothes on [piccolo filigree]?“

What do you sing in the shower?

See above.

The Guardian

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