Nico Muhly: Big Time - Lark Quartet - Yousif Sheronick: Percussion
Nico Muhly: Common Ground - Claremont Trio
Nico Muhly: How about now - NOW Ensemble
Nico Muhly: Far Away Songs - Lark Quartet - Aaron Wunsch: Piano - Jennifer Zetlan: Soprano
Nico Muhly: Motion - Lark Quartet - Aaron Wunsch: Piano - Todd Palmer: Clarinet
If anyone still had any lingering doubts about the ever-growing popularity of the American composer Nico Muhly, who has recently made the headlines with his first full-fledged opera Two Boys at the Met, they would have immediately come to realize that he has indeed become one of the hottest names on the current music scene after catching a glimpse of the line sneaking around the Upper West Side’s Advent Lutheran Church over one hour before the performance's starting time last night.
Presented by the ever-dynamic and laudably altruistic Music Mondays organization, the "Nico Muhly: Beaming Music" concert was to focus on a few random works from the young man's already dazzlingly prolific and eclectic œuvre with introductions by the artist himself in the intimate setting of the pretty church. In short, this would be the perfect little pick-me-up after a rather gloomy winter Monday.
We started the evening on a fun note with “Big Time”, whose unexpected changes in gear, from the driven opening to the soft finale, were a large part of the entertainment value. The Lark Quartet sounded like they were having a good big time, and the audience did as well. So far so good.
Put together right after he graduated, “Common Ground” was Muhly's first foray into professional chamber music writing. While it did feel a bit unsettled at times, this engaging endeavor never lacked in endearing energy, boasted of an unabashedly lyrical passage, and concluded on a high-spirited punch. Listening to the Claremont Trio’s appealing sounds, it was easy to pinpoint hints that bigger things were obviously in store for the tirelessly inventive budding composer.
The title “How about Now” made me fear a dour existential journey, but I was quickly proven wrong. The NOW ensemble was a not so common combination of double bass, piano, flute, clarinet and electric guitar, and their take on the piece that was written for them was refreshingly organic and deeply knowledgeable. All sounds fit in seamless into a harmonious whole, discreetly enhanced by neat jazzy overtones.
The one vocal interlude of the evening was a set of "Far Away Songs", which were inspired by three poems by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy revolving around the theme of death and the impressive singing skills of Jennifer Zetlan, who was even at hand to sing it. Solidly back by the Lark Quartet and Aaron Wunsch at the piano, the fast-rising soprano's voice displayed steely strength, remarkable flexibility and sharp pointedness. This may have been just the darker moment of the evening, but it turned out to be first and foremost one of reflection and beauty.
The most religious work of the evening, “Motion” ended the concert with some palpable anxiety that eventually grew pretty intense before the liberating release.
The capacity crowd was then released as well, back in the cold night but with some cool music in their ears.