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June 20, 2011

Buzz around young composer Nico Muhly gets louder by the minute

If you haven't heard the name Nico Muhly yet, you haven't been paying attention. He is not just the hot composer de jour; he may well be the hot composer de la decennie and beyond.

Even Baltimore, a place some people unfairly lump together with the provinces, has had exposure to Muhly's music, thanks in large measure to Mobtown Modern.

I am hoping that more local organizations will take note of this remarkable American composer, who is about to gain some amazing exposure this week, when English National Opera presents the premiere of "Two Boys." This work, inspired by a creepy event that happened in England some years ago, is also scheduled for a Metropolitan Opera debut during the 2013-14 season.

To quote Nadia Sirota (the fine violist and, incidentally, daughter of former Peabody Conservatory director Bob Sirota): "I'll pause for a minute to let the full awesomeness of that sentence sink in: A new opera by a composer under 30. A FIRST opera done by ENO and already slated to hit the Met."

Sirota's comments come from an entry she wrote on the Web site of ...

New York's WQXR, which has just launched a week-long Muhly festival to celebrate the composer. Should be fun tuning in (via streaming, for those of us out in the, um, provinces).

You can also check out recent recordings of Muhly's music, including a fascinating disc from Decca titled "Seeing is Believing" -- that's the name of a a concerto for electric violin included on the recording, which will be released Tuesday. The repertoire also includes Muhly's hauntingly beautiful arrangements of vocal pieces by William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons.

As for "Two Boys," the plot is based on the bizarre 2003 case of a 14-year-old in Manchester who, using fake personalities online and the promise of sex, gradually induced a 15-year-old boy to syab him him -- a kind of suicide wish (the kid survived). The issue of what can happen when people enter the largely uncontrollable online world of sex and fantasy seems even more timely in the wake of the Weiner scandal.

A lot is riding on "Two Boys." English National Opera is providing what looks like a major production, directed by Bartlett Sher. There has been heavy promotion, including via a cheeky video of a guy going up to strangers asking them to "friend" or "follow" him. When I first looked at the video a week or so ago, it had been seen by maybe 200 people; the number if over 800,000 now -- a viral video pegged to an opera premiere, how unusual is that? You can bet the British music press is chomping at the bit for Friday's premiere.

I've posted the WNO's Web trailer for the opera below, along with that offbeat can-I-be-your-friend promo.

Whatever the outcome of this particular venture, it seems likely that Muhly's star will only get brighter.




Posted by Tim Smith at 9:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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