Park Slope: Home of American Music
Monday Nightcap

Cocktail Conversation: Nico Muhly

Image006 Over the past year-and-a-half, I've had the good fortune to meet - and become friendly with - a fair number of musicians in and around New York. Some of these musicians you've probably heard of; others may be more obscure. All are contributing invaluable threads to the fabric of what is becoming known as 21st century music.

Many of them, I've discovered, also like to drink. As do I.

So, today begins a new feature where I invite one of these musical acquaintances to sit and chat over a cocktail or two. For my first C.C., I caught up with composer Nico Muhly last night in the back room of Temple Bar on Lafayette, near the studio where he works. Nico was in between trips to Paris, where his ballet Triade is receiving it's world premiere performances at the Palais Garnier. Just last week, he was at Le Poisson Rouge, supporting singer-songwriter Ólöf Arnalds on piano. And, over the summer, he completed his 802 Tour with fellow Vermont-natives (and frequent co-conspirators) Sam Amidon and Tom "Doveman" Bartlett.

Following is some of what transpired. (I'm doing this from memory, so much of this is paraphrased. Next time, I'll try to remember the recorder):

On Food: "I'm of French heritage, so I was brought up to take cooking very seriously. The French are meticulous in how they prepare food: everything is arranged on the plate is a very precise way, in specific portions. In other words: their food is composed."

On Money: "My only source of income is writing and performing music. I never had any desire to get my D.Mus. and teach. That model never made sense to me."

On Musicians: "You can usually tell from someone's personality what instrument they play. The only ones I can never tell are straight male violinists."

On Musician Friends: "Nadia (Sirota) knows exactly how I'd want something to be played, without me having to tell her. That sort of knowledge makes such a difference. She's developed a certain way of playing, which she now uses to play other people's music. That just blows my mind."

On Travel: "I think it's important to be there in person when someone's playing my piece, especially as a young composer, since there's this perception that I'm of the MySpace generation that never does anything face-to-face. Even if I just say one or two things, I think it makes a differnce."

On Classical Music: "People have this perception that classical music institutions are like Mordor. When you get right down to it, the Chicago Symphony is, like 2 women. The Met is, like, 20 people, but it's really just Peter Gelb. All that history is important, but it only means something to a relatively select number of people. It's actually tiny compared to popular music."

On the New York Philharmonic: "I can't even remember the last time I was there. Would I accept a commission from them? Of course!"

On Indie Rock: "Sure, I go to shows all the time. Usually I go to Bowery, since it's, like, five minutes from my house. I'll go see anything. If someone recommends something to me, I'll go."

On Iceland: "I was playing with Björk when I met her engineer, Valgeir (Sigurðsson.) He listened to some of the demos I put out when I was at Juilliard and told me, 'These sound like total shit! You need to come to Iceland right now so I can record you.' And I said: 'Ok!' And I've been going back four or five times a year ever since...The musicians there are amazing. They play everything: classical, jazz, folk, indie rock. To them, it's all the same thing. I think they've become such great musicians because noone there is afraid to fail. There's no stigma about failure there the way there is in this country."

On Text Messages: "Good Lord. I can't even tell you how many I get each day."