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A Hudson Cycle

from Speaks Volumes by Nico Muhly

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A HUDSON CYCLE was written as a wedding gift for two friends, one of whom was leaving Manhattan behind to effect their union. This is music of longing and anticipation; losing a beautiful place, approaching a beloved person. The right hand and the left struggle to synchronize, now succeeding, now failing to coincide. The primary rhythmic figure--a restless polyrhythm of two beats in the right hand for every three in the left--should recall the onward rush of the titular river, which very much represents “home” for the composer. (There it is, out his window.) It should also recall the music of Philip Glass, one of Nico’s most important influences, who’s made extended two-against-three one of his compositional trademarks.

Regardless of complexity, scale, or ambition, music that uses a constant pulse, limited pitch materials, and gradually developing, repetitive structures is usually tagged as “minimalist.” Musical “minimalism,” of which composers like Glass have been accused, is an inherently erotic language, mimicking physical love both in the often frenzied repetition of its outward gestures and in the titillating slowness of its progress, and with that in mind we might also consider the possibility that, as befits the occasion, the friction between the two rhythms suggests the friction between two human beings. Of course, while Glass is famous for the neoclassical cool of his recent music, which often unspools itself in smooth, seamless quantities, this piece is more interested in the bumps and hiccups with which a minimalist score develops. It’s unsettled – hot – all seam.

Still, its relentless rhythms propels the piece as a river of sound, dark and liquid, especially as Valgeir’s mixed it here. Compare the tone of this piano to the keener, more metallic texture of Quiet Music; A Hudson Cycle is at once smoother and more intense, restless, sensual and driven.

— Daniel Johnson


from Speaks Volumes, released September 10, 2006
Nico, piano


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Nico Muhly New York

Nico Muhly is a composer of orchestral music, stage works and sacred music. His work for film includes scores for for The Reader and the BBC adaptation of Howards End. Recordings of his works have been released by Decca and Nonesuch, and he is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, Speaks Volumes and Mothertongue. ... more

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