Two world premiere recordings of works by the brilliant composer Nico Muhly are at the heart of Unexpected News, a new release from Omega Ensemble, on ABC Classics. It is an album that explores the American modern tradition through four works by Muhly and the great Philip Glass.
The album contains three works by Muhly and one by Glass, performed by Omega Ensemble conducted by Gordon Hamilton, with baritone Brett Brown, violinist Alexandra Osborne and pianist Sally Whitwell. Commissioned by Omega Ensemble for this recording, Unexpected News, the piece from which the recording takes its name, describes a dramatic evening in a relationship, a slow transformation from an oppressive but quiet atmosphere of waiting, to the shimmering pleasure of seeing a long-awaited friend to, finally, a luxurious sense of pleasure.
Muhly is a musical polymath and one of the most exciting composers in the world today. A remarkable example of how music in the 21st century crosses genre barriers more than ever, he was the youngest composer to be commissioned by The Metropolitan Opera in its 139-year history, has written operas, pop songs, chamber music and more, and has worked with everyone from the Tallis Scholars to Icelandic icon Björk and indie rock darlings The National and Grizzly Bear.
The three Muhly works on this album are incredible examples of his style: wearing their influences proudly, but leaping forward into new modes of musical expression with extraordinary beauty and lush instrumental textures. Muhly describes his other piece No Uncertain Terms as “a gallery of my own obsessions”, from Steve Reich to William Byrd and much more in between. A thrilling piece of music, it has moments of pulsing tension as well as yearning, ecstatic release.
Muhly’s third piece on this disc, By All Means was commissioned by the Juilliard School and the Royal Academy of Music as a response to Anton Webern’s Concerto for Nine Instruments. In it, Muhly seeks to turn the Concerto’s concise, severe serialism into thick, rich chords brimming with meaning and profound significance.
Philip Glass’s Sonata for Violin and Piano is in many ways typical of Glass’s writing, with repetitive, locomotive rhythm pulsing with energy. The challenge for any performer of Glass’s works is to sustain the repetition while finding the subtle variations within it – and this recording is blessed to feature Sally Whitwell, a world-renowned performer of Glass’s music. Whitwell has released two albums of Glass’s solo piano music – Mad Rush (winner of the 2011 ARIA Award for Best Classical Album), and the complete Etudes for solo piano (nominated for the 2018 ARIA Award) – receiving rave reviews from around the world.
This album was recorded with Nico Muhly overseeing the sessions, and produced and engineered by Tonmeister Virginia Read, who won the ARIA Award for Best Engineer for Sally Whitwell’s Mad Rush. Featuring a world-class line-up of musicians, this is an extraordinary, internationally significant recording of some of the most beautiful music written this century.
The tracks: 1 MUHLY No Uncertain Terms */ 2 MUHLY Unexpected News * (Commissioned by Omega Ensemble) Brett Brown baritone/ 3 MUHLY By All Means/ 4-6 GLASS Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano
Alexandra Osborne violin
Sally Whitwell piano
Gordon Hamilton conductor
* World premiere recordings
1CD | Available 13 September 2019 | ABC 481 8617