The new classic

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Nico Muhly is very busy. Whether he’s working on original compositions, traveling abroad to meet with his publishers, recording in Iceland, or doing film score mock-ups for Philip Glass, the young composer always seems to have his hand in more than one project at a time.

“If you’re not teaching or getting a Ph. D, you have to keep busy somehow,” he said by phone from London last week, one night before England’s Opera North was to perform one of his collaborations with chamber pop sensation Antony and the Johnsons. “This is very much the life I’d like to be living.”

At 26, less than three years out of graduate school, Muhly has already racked up some lofty accomplishments. Aside from working extensively with Antony and Philip Glass, he’s composed for and recorded with Bjork, played or conducted at venues from Carnegie Hall to the Arnhem Mode Biennale in Holland and had his ensemble works performed worldwide; not to mention orchestrating blockbuster hit “The Manchurian Candidate” for composer Rachel Portman.

Now he joins the Brooklyn Philharmonic for the second concert in its new “BP Presents” series, in which Antony and the Johnsons and the Philharmonic, with Music Director Michael Christie, will perform their recent collaborations with Muhly.

The new songs are “not like your typical jeans and t-shirt ensemble — you know how it works and how it relates to the body,” Muhly said. “Rather, they’re more like costumes: there’s a sense of something subtle and also something spectacular.”

“BP Presents” showcases less-conventional performances than the Philharmonic’s traditional concert fare. The debut performance in the series, for example, featured contemporary female vocalists including Joan Osborne and Laurie Anderson. A concert with Muhly and Antony offers a similarly eclectic blend of the classical and the modern, according to Adam Teeter, spokesman for the Philharmonic.

“Working with Nico was Antony’s idea,” said Teeter. “We’re thrilled that it happened. Nico is one of the next great composers. He is so well regarded in New York, and it’s thrilling to say that [he’s involved].”

Of course, the road to acclaim for Muhly was a long one. Born in Vermont in 1981 and raised in Providence, R.I., it wasn’t until the age of 13 that he started playing piano, which as far as young composers go, he explained, is a pretty late start.

He admits he was “kind of lousy” at first, but his interest in composition accelerated throughout his teenage years, which he largely spent scouring the library for musical scores as well as writing and arranging his own.

Once at college, he enrolled in a joint English literature and music curriculum at Columbia University and the Juilliard School, from which he graduated in 2003. In 2004, he received his Masters in Music from Juilliard.

“Growing up I was just sort of voraciously grabbing at whatever I could find [related to composition] ,” he said. “So when I finally got to school, I realized my musical education up to that point had been pretty odd. I was desperate for structure and I really wanted my ass kicked. I was kind of lost at sea before that.”

Now, Muhly finds himself a part of a community of musicians, his age and younger, who have classical backgrounds, but whose interests and tastes when it comes to composition are wide-reaching. It reflects an intersection between contemporary pop and classical music that, for Muhly, is not two worlds colliding but a sign of individuals writing music that’s true to their own experiences.

“Our generation of composers doesn’t see a distinction between the music we listen to; between classical and something traditionally popular, even though we don’t like those terms,” composer Judd Greenstein, a friend of Muhly’s, said this week. Adding of Muhly, “I think Nico’s music is really special because he manages to integrate the wide variety of music that he appreciates, from ancient music to contemporary music to all kinds of rock music and other non-classical styles, into a voice that is really personal and unique. He actually synthesizes all of his listening experience into something that sounds unlike anything else.”

In the meantime, you might find among the many things on Muhly’s extensive “To Do” list one of the more enjoyable, yet equally vital tasks associated with being a young composer: networking.

“To me, one of the big things about living and studying in New York is that you learn how to talk to people; having a social life, doing the diplomatic extra-musical things,” he said. “Living by your own hand in music, it’s important to just kind of be around.”

“BP Presents Antony and the Johnsons” will take place at 8 pm at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland Place in Fort Greene). Tickets are $55 to $105. For information, call (718) 636-4100 or visit www.brooklynphilharm....

Updated 4:27 pm, July 9, 2018
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