Nico Muhly - Juilliard Training

Brett Banducci: Let’s talk a little bit about who you studied with at Juiliard, maybe inspiring professors or composers.

Nico Muhly: I had two teachers in my five years there I had...for two and a half years with Christopher Rouse, then two and a half years with John Corigliano. Very very different teachers, very very different composers. The great things about Christopher Rouse is that he was obsessed with knowing the rep like he's like a crazy “know the rep” person. And he kind of, he gave these endless listening lists and if you didn't know all of the Nielsen's chamber music you know he'd make you listen to it. And you know it seemed like kind of a joke sometimes because he’d have you listen to these obscure things, the nero is actually that you know there is nothing that you can lose by spending a couple of days of the scores of Roger Sessions’ symphonies. Nothing to lose. I mean it's time you won’t get back at the end of your life but it's you know you learn, even if the music is of questionable value. Just the act of just the act of doing, it's kind of great.

And he...Rouse is amazing at steering you towards things that have solved a similar problem to what you're dealing with. And I remember he recommended me that...I don’t remember what this was, it was some orff cantata there, wasn't even a recording of it. It was like it was like the...it wasn't it wasn't like a Chile Carmina or like Triomphe. It was some other thing. It was a basically lesser orff. And he'd be scrounging around...I was in the library like digging through these, I finally found some you know a record of it and some score that was written on like toilet paper. And it was actually really great and I was like he made me listen to this because I am doing the same oscillation between these two chords. And that's how you do it. And I was like it's genius. It was so useful. It was sort of like a scavenger hunt through the rep. And Lord have mercy I've listened to now is so much Marcel Poot. And it's like every obscure Dutch like crazy person who ever wrote a string sextet.

Corigliano was also great because he saw through my bullshit really quickly. He saw through my really obvious young composer problem, which was that I had a million great ideas and I was really quick at writing them out and my idea of how to write a piece was like putting all those things in a row. Which is not a piece, it's actually just ideas in a row. It's like Tapas, do you know what I mean? But Corigliano was great ‘cause he was like okay that's cool like all this is great, but a piece actually like a piece does is a different thing. And a piece has to have this emotional landscape and this emotional journey and it has to...What I love about him is that he is so unabashedly devoted to the principle that a piece unfolds in time and has a very specific emotional itinerary.

This is a kind of romantic idea but it's an actually really useful one because what it means is that you can draw out your pieces and figure out what they're doing. And you know a lot of the music that I like, I mean that trick doesn't really even apply to I don't think Renaissance music or to like Philip Glass or to the minimalists and to the early church music. But for me as it turns out it was actually really useful thing, because you know to get out of that problem which so many young professors have and which I still have of you know I have a jillion ideas and they're really awesome and now I'm just gonna like I don't know alphabetize them and throw them on the page and send off the score you know. So he really got me in shape with that stuff. And I still every day I think do his techniques and you know just map out a piece like what you know make the flight map.

Brett: So you'll start off mapping out the piece graphically?

Nico: Yeah. Totally...I mean my music is so simple I think it’s just straight line you know it's like...But even then you know what's going on.

Brett: And then you reference back to this?

Nico: Oh yeah. Tape it up on the thing or you know I scan it and sing at my iPad like you know. I'm totally devoted to it. It's kind of insane but I find it incredibly useful.

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