One of my two favorite young conductors, Brad Lubman (the other is Alan Pearson) is leading the large ensemble Signal in the American premier of The Corridor by Sir Harrison Birtwistle, one of the most prominent figures in European contemporary music, at Merkin on May 27.  A 40-minute scena, The Corridor is scored for two voices, soprano and tenor, and an ensemble of flute, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and a harp functioning as an Orphic lyre.

The highlight of the evening, however, is apparently the world premiere of Stabat Mater by the seemingly inevitable Nico Muhly.

Which leads to this week’s rude question: is Nico Muhly a) the dreams and prayers of a grateful music world or b) not so much?  Discuss.

67 thoughts on “Rude Question of the Week–Is Nico Overrated?”
  1. “One of our main problems is that there’s not enough to get riled-up about anymore!”

    Howdy from Texas! Shortly before relocating to Houston from NYC, I attended a group discussion at the Brecht Forum with the economics of the independent musician as the subject. It was a full house, with musicians representing New York’s lively rock, hip-hop, classical, jazz, and avant-garde scenes. It was also the most diverse audience I’d seen (outside a few of my own concerts) with regard to age, race, and gender. In twelve years of living in NYC, I’m sad to say that events like the one I’m describing were few and far between (although I had many similarly lively discussions over food and drinks with my fellow creative friends); bitching about colleague no one personally knows on a blog is more the norm.

    And at the Brecht people THREW DOWN, you know what I’m saying? Get a room of artists together to talk about money, race, and classicism and look out – you’re gonna hear some things that you will not read in the New York Times, Time Out, or (although I love this site…) Sequenza21. Matt’s friend is on the right track. Face to face dialogue is crucial if you want to engage in serious conversation.

    So in a way, I’m telling you what riles me up (composers saying “there’s not enough to get riled-up about” – no offense MoFo ☺), AND I’m sharing one idea for channeling some of this irritation we all feel towards our star-f—ing culture (which Nico did not invent – had to get around to him at some point here…). Maybe a forum like the one I attended at the Brecht forum (hosted by Sequenza 21? or the NOW Ensemble?) where musicians in the realm of classical composition talk face to face about our challenges and differences would yield more helpful data (as opposed to the AMC’s online survey or this thread)?

    Come to think of it, it may be that I missed some other public open discussions in NYC where the focus was on the struggles of independent music making (be it classical or whatever) while I was there. That’s not impossible, so let me know…

  2. Thanks for finding that pretty brilliant review, Frank. I had forgotten about it but then I forget a lot these days. Where is jodru now that we need him?

  3. Hi Matt!

    I have to say, I think there’s a big difference between being critical of someone’s music, and being critical of someone’s music to their face immediately after a performance. The former is something we all have to deal with — it’s an inevitable part of being an artist. The latter, though, is plain old bad manners.

  4. I don’t have a dog in this fight (not being a composer or musician), I don’t have much new to contribute to this discussion, and I don’t have a settled opinion on Nico Muhly’s music (though this thread has prompted me to go back and listen to it some more). However in a discussion of Muhly and Sequenza21 I’m surprised that no one has apparently referenced the review of Mothertongue that appeared on this very site a couple of years ago. Whether you agree with the review or not, it at least addresses the music itself as opposed to the hype around it.

  5. If J-Bizzle actually *did* write this contentious post as a way to drive up hits (which seems unlikely), I’d say more power. I criticized this post’s lack of substance earlier, but that doesn’t mean I think he should stop. Why shouldn’t the classical music world get riled-up every once in a while? One of our main problems is that there’s not enough to get riled-up about anymore!

    Even though I disagreed with Nico’s opinion of Jody, and thought it was more mean-spirited than substantive, I admired that he had the guts to put that shit out there, knowing that there would likely be consequences. What made it – and this – so audacious is that it’s simply never done, at least in the U.S. I remember playing a piece of mine when I was in London and a couple people just told me frankly to my face that they didn’t like it at all. I was hurt and offended at first, but then I realized that it would impossible for everyone to like everything I make. Why pretend otherwise?

    There are going to be people who think Nico’s music is overrated. There are going to people who think it’s the bees knees. Why should any of them be silent about it?

  6. Last night, still full of pride and joy and warm feelings for my students’ achievements and their recognition at a humdinger of a commencement, I got home and turned on the computer – only to see that all hell had broken loose at Sequenza 21.

    I’d like to set part of the record straight here. Jerry and Steve have never, ever, given contributors any static about the viewpoints we express on the site. They’ve also never suggested we cover something with an eye toward driving revenue or page views. Indeed we’re given tremendous creative latitude; the experience I’ve had here for three years has been quite positive. I think it speaks volumes about their approach that we have many talented contributors who work very hard to provide the site with content day in and day out.

    The notion that we are having staff meetings discussing cheap page view spikes is the exact opposite of the vibe of our ad hoc online collective. We’re not compensated for our work, nor do we ever expect to be. Indeed, as Jerry points out, he has subsidized the existence of both the site and the Sequenza 21 concerts. I’m very glad that the site was willing to take on my blog after Splendid ( folded. I can’t think of too many other venues on the internet that would allow me to discuss such a wide range of musical topics.


    Now, part two: Jody and Nico and blogosphere animus.

    For those curious, here again is Nico’s post about Jody Redhage and other NY new music ‘scenes’:

    It does seem pretty mean-spirited from where I sit. But obviously, as someone who regularly composes for Jody and has written about her music, I can’t comment objectively on that, other than to say that Muhly and I disagree! And while his critique did reference her music, I don’t think it was particularly detailed. For those interested in a more in depth portrait of Jody’s work, I’d recommend the feature I contributed to Musicworks Issue 102 (Winter 2008) available at:

    I think Muhly’s very talented, BTW (as I wrote here: but as someone who has regarded Birtwistle highly for a long time, I’d have liked to see Sir Harry getting top billing on the Merkin show!

    Still, I can understand why he doesn’t, since Muhly probably is a better draw in NYC than Birtwistle. If people come for the Muhly and stay for the Birtwistle, its win-win in my book!

    I think Jerry was trying to be an agent provocateur. Those who don’t regularly read the site may not be used to his terse yet effective set ups for many conversations we’ve had here on the homepage. I think I’ve overheard folks having the same conversation he was trying to foster here on the web at nearly every Nico performance I’ve attended.

    Nico was commenting on “new music scenes.” He was being a bit provocative himself. In both cases, rhetoric escalates and feelings get hurt… and words get hurled.

    There’s an old story about St. Francis de Sales. A penitent comes to him and confesses to saying something to besmirch a fellow parishioner’s reputation. As penance, St. Francis asks him to go out onto a windy hilltop and tear apart a down pillow. Then, he is to retrieve every feather. The penitent, aghast, says that’s impossible. St. Francis replies, so is retrieving every bit of damage you may have done to that person’s reputation with your words.

    Its a hard parable by which to live as a music critic. But I still think its an excellent cautionary tale for those of us who blog to ponder as we wade into the online discourse. In fact, I might tape it to my monitor as a reminder.

  7. The adage “no such thing as bad press”, I think, overrules the “slander sells” argument people are posing here in regards to this post. If there’s a marketing scheme happening by posting something of this nature, it’s only including the key-words “Nico Muhly”. Major online pubs with a vested interest in building site hits run multiple stories a week, whether positive or negative, about the most searched-for artists / news events / gossip. The fact that the question is large part aimed at being critical of that exact same method for concert programming is a saving grace for an otherwise hasty posting.

    I’m an occasional and infrequent reader of S21, nonmusician, enthusiast (maybe why I am tending to easily side with Jerry’s perspective). Clearly regular readers would prefer to read something a more well thought out and substantive piece, but I do disagree with Andrew (58.) that sound bites or specific attacks on Muhly’s presence and sound bites would’ve made the argument better. The whole point is that those who read music writing are already saturated with lots of information, have probably bought the albums with high expectations, and the piece was set out as a barometer to see what the readers of this blog thought. I get the sense Jerry felt maybe a little too comfortable with his audience rather than hoping to add a new “edge” to the site. It’s obvious people enjoy reading Jerry’s writing and opinion and would prefer more of it rather than being left to fill it in for themselves.

Comments are closed.