The Revival of Classical Music

Nico Muhly is one of the most prominent composers of the 21st century. This graduate of Juilliard boasts an incredible list of accomplishments, ranging from composing music for Oscar-winning movies such as “The Reader”, to becoming the “youngest composer”[1] to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Muhly’s success, however, extends beyond the recognition and respect he has earned in the classical music industry. Whether through the very current and trending topics he uses in his operas, the refusal to label his music and his openness to experimentation, or the relaxed and approachable image he presents of himself, Muhly is redefining the classical music scene. Essentially, Muhly is encouraging the revival of classical music by making it more approachable and relatable to the expectations and the norm of today’s society.

One of Muhly’s talents is his ability to compose operas with a “socio-political timeliness”[2] that prove their relevance to the important topics of today. His debut opera, Two Boys, explores the dangers created by modern technology on relationships and social interaction, and serves as a warning of the dark side of the Internet. This complex work holds its storyline on the frontier of technology and presents an allegory of “sexual yearning”[3], awakening and mysterious corners of the web. With such an intriguing and significant topic, Muhly attracts today’s generation, providing them with a narrative that is all too real and grim to be ignored. The best way to grab someone’s attention is to elicit strong emotions in them, and shock seems to be the most reliable way to achieve that. Using this tactic, Muhly incorporates yet another shocking and provocative theme in his opera, Dark Sisters. The opera features a discussion of polygamy in the “Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”[4], a much ignored, yet enthralling topic. By disclosing such gripping stories, Muhly is well underway to gaining a larger audience while at the same time expanding interest in classical music.

“Muhly considers his merging of the conservatory and pop to be more generational than personal. ‘I think that whatever I’m doing is pretty firmly outside the academy, but with definite roots there’.”[5] Muhly, like most 21st century composers, is keeping up with the trends of the modern times. Even though he does not like his music to be labeled as a specific genre, as he states that “genre does not matter anymore”[6], the experimentation with, as well as the cohesion between the traditional values of Western art classical tradition and popular music, is apparent in his writing. By combining styles of music that are on the opposite side of the spectrum, Muhly is building a bridge between lovers of classical music and lovers of popular music, merging them together into one unified group. This is Muhly’s way of keeping classical music significant-by cherishing its values, while, at the same time, creating an original voice that is appealing to the minds’ of younger generations.

Nico Muhly is a perfect representation of how to survive and succeed as a contemporary composer. “Respected business authors stress that the economy going forward will be more dependent than ever on entrepreneurs,”[7]. Muhly serves as a true entrepreneur, utilizing his undeniable charm to attract the audience. The seemingly nonchalant image he presents of himself is carefully chosen. By humanizing himself and being an “ardent user of Twitter”[8], a blog writer and a passionate cook and runner, Muhly is creating personal relationships with his audience and fan base, and fostering the image of a warm, relatable “everyday guy”. Most importantly, he is promoting the engagement and connection of the audience to his music, therefore securing the future and the vitality of classical music.

                                                Bibliography

Kirk, Shana. “Random Access: Working Together To Prepare Music Students For 21st-century

Careers.” American Music Teacher 63, no. 5 (2014): 43-45. http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43540348 (accessed April 17, 2019).

Kraft, Tristan. “Instant Message.” OPERA NEWS – Instant Message. October 2013. Accessed

April 17, 2019. https://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2013/10/Features/Instant_Message.html.

Martin, Gale. “Opera Phila’s Dark Sisters Powerfully Illuminates Female Suffering.” By

Bachtrack for Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and Dance Event Reviews, Bachtrack Ltdhttps://Bachtrack.com/Themes/bachtrack2013/Mastheadlogo.png, 12 Feb. 2013, bachtrack.com/review-opera-phila-muhly-dark-sisters.

Sullivan, Paul. “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical

Music.” The National. September 03, 2010. Accessed April 17, 2019. https://www.thenational.ae/uae/cool-and-calmly-composed-nico-muhly-changing-the-face-of-classical-music-1.493699?videoId=5754807360001.

Tommasini, Anthony. “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the

Met.” Nico Muhly RSS, New York Times, 22 Oct. 2013, nicomuhly.com/press/2013/nico-muhly’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

Whittington, Lewis. “Nico Muhly Takes Opera in New Directions with ‘Dark Sisters’.” Nico

Muhly RSS. 2012. Accessed April 17, 2019. http://nicomuhly.com/press/2012/nico-muhly-takes-opera-in-new-directions-with-dark-sisters/.


[1]  Anthony Tommasini, “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the Met,” Nico Muhly RSS, New York Times, 22 Oct. 2013, nicomuhly.com/press/2013/nico-muhly’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

[2] Gale Martin, “Opera Phila’s Dark Sisters Powerfully Illuminates Female Suffering,” By Bachtrack for Classical Music, Opera, Ballet and Dance Event Reviews, Bachtrack Ltdhttps://Bachtrack.com/Themes/bachtrack2013/Mastheadlogo.png, 12 Feb. 2013, bachtrack.com/review-opera-phila-muhly-dark-sisters.

[3] Tommassini,  “Nico Muhly’s Ambitious ‘Two Boys’ Makes Its American Debut at the Met,”, nicomuhly.com/press/2013/nico-muhly’s-ambitious-‘two-boys’-makes-its-american-debut-at-the-met/.

[4] Lewis Whittington,  “Nico Muhly Takes Opera in New Directions with ‘Dark Sisters’,” Nico Muhly RSS, 2012, Accessed April 17, 2019, http://nicomuhly.com/press/2012/nico-muhly-takes-opera-in-new-directions-with-dark-sisters/.

[5] Paul Sullivan,  “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical Music,” The National, September 03, 2010, Accessed April 17, 2019, https://www.thenational.ae/uae/cool-and-calmly-composed-nico-muhly-changing-the-face-of-classical-music-1.493699?videoId=5754807360001.

[6] Tristan Kraft, “Instant Message,” OPERA NEWS – Instant Message, October 2013, Accessed April 17, 2019, https://www.operanews.com/Opera_News_Magazine/2013/10/Features/Instant_Message.html.

[7] Shana Kirk,  “Random Access: Working Together To Prepare Music Students For 21st-century Careers,” American Music Teacher 63, no. 5 (2014): 45, http://0-www.jstor.org.lib.utep.edu/stable/43540348, accessed April 17, 2019.

[8] Paul Sullivan,  “Cool and Calmly Composed: Nico Muhly, Changing the Face of Classical Music,” https://www.thenational.ae/uae/cool-and-calmly-composed-nico-muhly-changing-the-face-of-classical-music-1.493699?videoId=5754807360001.

By Ivana Biliskov

One thought on “The Revival of Classical Music

Add yours

  1. I enjoyed reading your statement “The best way to grab someone’s attention is to elicit strong emotions in them, and shock seems to be the most reliable way to achieve that.” That is very true, despite the uncomfortable situations that may possibly yield. I’ve discovered Caroline Shaw is doing something similar to all the things you described Nico Muhly is doing. .Even though their music sounds very different they both keep the classical tradition close yet they incorporate a lot of contemporary influences to create a very original sound. They are both good representations on how to survive as classical musicians and composers.

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