Nico Muhly, Seeing is Believing

by Nico Muhly

Written for the concert Mimesis: Musical Representations, performed on October 16, 2015 at Carnegie Hall.

Born August 26, 1981, in Vermont
Composed in 2007
Original version premiered on January 7, 2008, at the Royal Academy of Music in London by the Aurora Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Collon with violinist Thomas Gould
Full orchestra version premiered on January 23, 2015, at the Destiny Worship Center in Miramar Beach, FL by the Sinfonia Gulf Coast conducted by Demetrius Fuller with violinist Tracy Silverman
Performance Time: Approximately 15 minutes
Instruments for this performance: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 2 French horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba, percussion (vibraphone, claves, bass drum, marimba, wood block, metal pipe), 1 piano, strings, and solo six-string electric violin

Seeing is Believing references the exciting and superstitious practice of observing and mapping the sky; while writing it, I wanted to mimic the process by which, through observation, a series of points becomes a line—this seemed like the most appropriate way to think about a soloist versus an orchestra. The electric violin is such a specifically evocative instrument and has always reminded me of the 1980s, and I tried, at times, to reference the music attendant to ‘80s educational videos about science, which always sounded vast and mechanical—and sometimes, quite romantic.

The music begins and ends with the violin creating its own stellar landscape through a looping pedal, out of which instruments begin to articulate an unchanging series of eleven chords which governs the harmonic language of the piece. Three minutes in, the woodwinds begin twittering in what seems to be random, insect-like formations. Eventually, the piano and solo violin “map” them into the celestially pure key of C major; rapturous pulses ensue. A slightly more stylized and polite version of the insect music appears, and the violin sings long lines above it. After a brief return to the first music, slow, nervous music alternates with fast, nervous music. The fast music takes over, pitches are scattered around, the violin calls everybody back to order with forty repeated notes; rapturous pulses again ensue. The piece ends as it began, with looped educational music depicting the night sky.

Nico Muhly is a composer of chamber music, orchestral music, sacred music, opera, ballet, and music for collaborators across a variety of fields.