Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nico Muhly's "A Good Understanding" (and four other compositions)

On Saturday, I wrote (on my main “BillBoushka” blog) a posting about recent comments by composer Nico Muhly and others that composers cannot get recordings from performing groups of initial recordings of their own works.

I needed to sample his music, so I ordered his 2010 Decca (i.e. London) CD of “A Good Understanding’, which sounds like one of those “moral philosophy” composition names, number  “B0014741-2”.

Actually, “A Good Understanding” (with marquee print in reverse on the CD jacket) is the fourth of five compositions on the disk, all with mostly female and child voices and limited instrumentation, especially organ and brass. The first is “Bright Mass with Canons” (4 movements), followed by “First Service” (“Magnificat & Nunc dimittis”, 2 movements), “Senex puerum portabat”, then “A Good Understanding”, and then the 3-song “Expecting the Main Things from You”.  Members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale are conducted by Grant Gershon.  Kimo Smith plays the organ; there are parts for trumpets, horn, trombones, horn, violins and viola, and soprano and mezzo-soprano, with the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus in “Understanding.”

Generally, the music is quiet and modal and somewhat archetypal to my ear. But the two shorter one-movement pieces (“Senex” and “Understanding”) seemed to exhibit the post harmonic (sometimes polytonal) tension.  In the first movement of the last song cycle, there is a repeating figure that sounds like an amalgam of Arnold Schoenberg and Philip Glass, if one can imagine that.  Of the five compositions, only “Understanding” ended loudly.

It’s interesting that Muhly uses the word “Understanding” as a piece title. The liner notes discuss a religious, sacramental context for the piece (and all others but the last, based on Whitman). But I can’t help but wonder if there is a hidden reference to Dan Fry’s group in Arizona called “Understanding” back in the 1970s, and the process called “The Area of Mutual Agreement”.   But my experiences with that New Age group occurred just before Muhly’s advent; born in 1981, he would be about 30 now.  That’s old enough, according to one past friend of mine in that lost semester at William and Mary back in 1961, to start playing Beethoven.

Here’s the Amazon link. Recently, I’ve been noticing that Amazon is using Lasership instead of UPS to ship.

Here's a link to an August posting by Muhly, "World to Come".

Here's Nico speaking on "Contact!" on YouTub:





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