Strongly Recommended (Limelight)

Muhly • Glass: Unexpected News (Omega Ensemble/Hamilton)

Glass and his apprentice conjure up some minimalist magic.

by Steve Moffatt on February 19, 2020

New York minimalist Nico Muhly has been racking up frequent flyer points with visits here in the past year or so when his newly commissioned works have been featured by three diverse Australian groups. Among them is the Sydney-based Omega Ensemble, founded and directed by clarinet whizz David Rowden, for whom Muhly set the sensual poem Unexpected News by Greek-Egyptian writer Constantine P Cavafy, about a man waiting endlessly in a café for his friend to arrive. This work, sung by baritone Brett Brown, receives its world premiere on Omega’s excellent new ABC Classic album, which takes its name from the piece.

As it happens, Rowden studied on a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Music and met Muhly as part of a Juilliard exchange scheme. “It was a formative experience and a really good vibe, for me,” Muhly told Limelight in an interview with Clive Paget. “We kept in touch and couple of years ago he said this thing has come up and did I want to do it?”

As in all of Muhly’s works it is left to the listener to decide what to make of it. “I want each listener to feel an intensity inside the music, and I only want to provide a few suggestions about where to look for it,” Muhly said.

The 37-year-old cut his chops as an intern to Philip Glass, whose majestic sonata for violin and piano – brilliantly performed here by Alexandra Osborne and Sally Whitwell – closes the album. But it is another minimalist, Steve Reich, who is the inspiration for the first work, No Uncertain Terms, written in 2017, which references Reich’s iconic opening bars of Music for 18 Musicians. The third Muhly work, By All Means, is another entertaining challenge to our preconceptions, marrying the concept of Anton Webern with the renaissance Anglican choral tradition! Strongly recommended.