“Quiet” in parts, in terms of sound – sometimes so hushed you can hear the pedals working on the piano – but only to create a musical chiaroscuro, some points left in shadow while others are brought brilliantly to the fore. And while the music is discreet, even minimal, here’s a third interpretation of the title: it refers to the attitude of emotional quiescence the piece evokes, as in the presence of a monument. It describes stillness. The melody moves slowly, but when it moves, it spans octaves, rising like a giant architecture above the low, cycling chords in the background.
At least half the time, Nico’s music is secretly sacred, and QUIET MUSIC’s cathedral tunes are no exception. Over the low, austere chorale, that melody has the heft of iron bells, tintinnabulant in a style that nods to Arvo Pärt. Nico says this piece is “water music,” meaning a waste expanse of sea--as opposed to the rushing currents of A Hudson Cycle – but you might be forgiven if these great planes of sound instead remind you of he Great Plains. The ghost of Aaron Copland is hanging around here, too, in those wide-open harmonies (denser, warmer, less medievalist than Pärt’s), and in that desolate fanfare.
Whether landscape or seascape, the picture is the same: a deep and endless vista, a straight horizon-line. In this case, the horizontal is the long strand of A-naturals, rippling at the middle range of the piece, that gently but insistently links each section to the next. When it brings us to the coda, the sense we get is less of an ending than of a prelude to something else, as if our gaze has finally wandered upward from the horizon to fix on the sky.
A Graduate of the Juilliard School for composition, Vermont-born Nico Muhly has been causing significant ripples in modern
music circles with a variety of projects. Nico has collaborated closely with artists as diverse as Antony (from Antony and the Johnsons) and Philip Glass....more