Tag Archives: Nico Muhly


Planetarium’s Wondrous Aural Expansion at Celebrate Brooklyn

July 19th, 2017

Planetarium – Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell – July 18, 2017

Upon reflection, I can’t say that I’ve ever before seen a concert for one album that was recomposed from original concert performances. Planetarium is this year’s grand, ambitious concept album that originated years ago when contemporary classical composer Nico Muhly was commissioned by Dutch concert hall Muziekgebouw Eindhoven to create a performance piece. With the cosmos as his muse, Muhly recruited friends and contemporaries Sufjan Stevens, the National’s Bryce Dessner and the multidimensional James McAlister to bring an ode to the universe to life. Those live performances were unearthed and reconstructed in studio and are now returning to their point of genesis as a monumental set of live renditions played in a small run of special engagements.

Last night, the unexpected quartet, backed by brass and string sections, unleashed Planetarium before an awestruck turnout at Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Special engagements call for special venues and the always enchanting Bandshell’s open natural amphitheater space, nestled among grand old trees, was the obvious home for a performance that needed the freedom to spread into the atmosphere. For this manifestation of universal magnificence here were the fearless voyagers, each a conduit of the sonic forces that merged into a glorious big bang. Their express mission was to widen scope and to inspire earthbound beings to expand perspective at all opportunities.

On this tour through the planets of our solar system, Stevens, doused in glitter to symbolize the infinitum is stars, served as the quintessential vocal guide. After floating in on piano keys from the heavens as an introduction to “Neptune,” he took a moment to welcome everyone with a few words on the significance of their musical observance of the universe. “We must remind ourselves that the universe holds an abundance of truth and purity, dignity and light … let us all remember that.” Joining Stevens, Muhly sat behind his grand piano like the captain at a spaceship’s control deck, his role to lend a limitless depth of field. McAlister, the percussive wizard, sat at his expanded drum set, gracefully keeping time in a timeless medium and adding flourishes of cymbal when needed. All the while, Dessner, armed with his trusted guitar, provided masterful manipulation of guitar strings issuing forth as a million beams of light, adding the particulate matter to the grand tapestry. In the beginning, there was sound, glorious and immeasurable—and artistically reinterpreted by this group of talented musicians, it was a singular and magical thing to behold. —Charles Steinberg | @Challyolly



Great Music for a Worthy Cause

May 20th, 2013

Philip Glass, Real Estate and Friends – Music Hall of Williamsburg – May 19, 2013

The Big Sur Brooklyn Bridge Festival, a weeklong series of events organized around Williamsburg by the Henry Miller Memorial Library in Big Sur, Calif., brought together iconic modern composer Philip Glass along with a well-curated bevy of local musical talents at Music Hall of Williamsburg last night for the festival’s closing concert. Many of the evening’s performers cited the influence and inspiration that Glass’s music has had on their own—and this is perhaps most apparent in the music of pianist and composer Nico Muhly, who performed movements from his dynamic composition “Drones & Piano” with the help of violinist Tim Fain, violist Nadia Sirota and guitarist Bryce Dessner, of the National, who took a cue from the others and used a bow on the strings of his guitar.

Citing Glass’s ability to “do so much with so little,” Dessner also performed a solo guitar improvisation wherein he drew sound from his electric guitar without ever touching the strings. Holding his guitar upside down, Dessner masterfully manipulated the instrument utilizing distortion pedals and feedback, banging and scraping the neck of the guitar on the floor, and using his hands to tap out rhythms on the back, managing to craft an impressively cohesive piece, sans strings.

Rounding out the evening’s contributors were Real Estate, doing a melodic, mellow performance, and wry-pop songwriter Sondre Lerche, who self-deprecatingly asked, “What am I doing here?” while treating the crowd to a lively set that included “Sleep on Needles,” which the singer noted was a song Glass seemed to enjoy during sound check. With the rest of the artists having set the mood for the arrival of Philip Glass, the composer was warmly welcomed onstage, and began by collaborating with Fain for a rendition of “Pendulum.” Glass then brought out everyone else to perform “The Chase,” from his opera Orphée, announcing somewhat amazed: “We actually figured a piece that we can all play together.” Indeed, like much of Glass’s work, the up-tempo piece was hypnotic and lively, and had a unique edge due to the electric-guitar heavy band. For the encore, Glass appeared alone at his piano, closing the show with the fittingly titled “Closing.” The song was spare and beautiful, and along with the tributes from the other performers, an example of his singular talent and profound influence. —Alena Kastin