New Nico Muhly tomorrow

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Nico Muhly
  • Nico Muhly
Each year the new-music group Contempo, based at the University of Chicago and currently directed by composer Shulamit Ran, presents a double bill mixing contemporary classical works with jazz; this year's concert is Tuesday evening at the Harris Theater. The jazz part of the program features a trio led by Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara, a group I find irritatingly glib and overly adrenalized, but the classical part looks terrific. It includes the Chicago premiere of "How Soon," a choral work by Nico Muhly.

The work was commissioned by Chicago's Eighth Blackbird—one of Contempo's resident ensembles, along with the Pacifica Quartet, which will premiere String Quartet No. 4 ("Amoroso") by Russian composer Elena Firsova on the same program—as well as by Kennesaw State University School of Music near Atlanta and the Anima Young Singers of Greater Chicago. The piece, a setting for "Mortification" by 17th-century Welsh poet George Herbert, had its world premiere this past April. The concert also includes pianist Amy Briggs performing three tangos by Conlon Nancarrow, Frederic Rzewski, and Ralph Shapey (who founded Contempo in 1964, when it was known as the University of Chicago Contemporary Chamber Players) and Eighth Blackbird presenting the Chicago premiere of Steven Stucky's "Ad Parnassum."

The 30-year-old Muhly has been a wunderkind of the classical-music world in recent years. He's an artist of broad interests who both respects and rejects conventions—his first recordings were released by indie-rock labels, and while he's had work premiered by institutions as tony as the Chicago Symphony, in 2008 he played at the Lakeshore Theater as part of a tour with Sam Amidon and Doveman. This summer he released Seeing Is Believing (Decca), a superb collection of pieces with varied connections to British religious-music traditions—he created new arrangements of works by William Byrd and Orlando Gibbons, and his own "Motion" adapts fragments from the same Gibbons piece ("This Is the Record of John"). England's Aurora Orchestra gives the pieces exquisite readings, and Thomas Gould is terrific as the featured soloist on electric violin—having an electric violinist on works inspired by 17th-century religious music wouldn't seem to make much sense, but Muhly makes it sound completely natural.

Today's playlist:

Art Farmer Quartet, Interaction/Sing Me Softly of the Blues (Atlantic/Collectables)
Tindra, Moder Norge (Talik)
Gang Gang Dance, Rawwar (Social Registry)
Tanja Orning, Hommage à Anna-Eva Bergman (Prisma)
Spunk, Kantarell (Rune Grammofon)

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