Monday, March 19, 2007

The New Nico

Steed’s brother Osbert and I enjoyed an imaginative concert Friday night at Zankel Hall, Carnegie’s smaller venue programmed for the more adventurous parts of the classical music world. The snow-sleet had accumulated by the evening, giving the night a beautiful whiteness, charged with crisp, clean cold air as I walked over to 57th street.

The concert was programmed by John Adams as part of his farewell to the Composer’s Chair at Carnegie, and it featured one of his protégés, Nico Muhly.

Til now, Nico could only refer to the startling beauty who cut such a vibrant swath across the 1960s. That may change as this charismatic, accomplished, 25-year composer and musician continues to make his mark. (Although the original Nico “pre-punk’s celestial wraith” still has her followers, as Simon Reynolds tells us, by way of Mr. Wolcott. There must be something in the air. . . .)

Our contemporary Nico is reminiscent of Rufus Wainwright in the embodiment of beauty and ability. His collaborators are all young, deeply talented, photogenic musicians. Maybe there is something in a name . . .

For this concert, Nico reached back to his Anglican choir boy roots to pieces of Renaissance polyphony that he particularly loves. He performed his own pieces against the a capella masterpieces, performed by George Steel’s Vox Vocal Ensemble, creating an interesting antiphonal evening.

As much as I could appreciate the obvious accomplishment of Nico’s work, for me it all paled greatly against the light of the genius of the Renaissance. Especially the powerful Weelkes “When David Heard,” with Absalom’s mournful lament for his son in dramatic 6-part writing.

What was exciting about this mixture of musical genres was what it offered to the audience. The sold-out crowd was mostly the young downtowners, attracted by that magnetic pull of the hip-who-are-really-talented. For Nico to give his imprimatur to Renaissance music is a valuable thing. The Vox Ensemble was sterling in their performance—it was an excellent introduction for those who would never go to a Tallis Scholars concert. The best of all types of classical music must make it into the living space of the next generation. Maybe Nico will post something about it on his MySpace page, then all will be well.

Osbert quite enjoyed the evening. He had been commissioned by George to create a new edition of the Byrd "Senex puerum portabat." By a strange quirk of fate, we were sitting center seats, second row, so close that we could see the Vox holding Osbert’s scores. It was a very nice New York moment.