Nico Muhly on Mixed Messages, contemporary music, and Bernstein’s legacy

Nico Muhly

Tagged Under: 2017.18 Season, Bernstein Festival, Conversations with Composers, Guest Artist

This weekend, the Milwaukee Symphony will be performing Nico Muhly’s Mixed Messages. Throughout the 2017.18 season, we are celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centenary as well as American music and composers. We reached out to Nico for his thoughts on Bernstein and contemporary classical music, and he kindly shared the following:

It is always so heartening for me to see American orchestras like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra programming contemporary music as part of their regular subscription seasons — our collective musicianship as performers and conductors and educators should naturally suggest this: a modern and forward-looking vision for classical music that honors the other traditions (European and otherwise) from which our modern practice stems.

It is a thrill to “share,” as it were, the first half of this programme with Jennifer Koh, who is herself a perfect embodiment of the modern American musician. She is a champion of contemporary music, having commissioned more music than I could ever keep track of, but is also a brilliant interpreter of the classics, both well-known and otherwise.

Leonard Bernstein, whose centenary we are all celebrating, is one of the titans not only of American music, but of American musicianship, using his prominence as the music director of the New York Philharmonic to speak to the general public — both children & adults — about opera, about contemporary music, about the makeup of the orchestra itself. Even as an adult, I find myself referring back to his Omnibus series for guidance, particularly about opera’s ability to communicate a jumble of text performed simultaneously. I love the countless ways Bernstein’s legacy lives on through conductors, composers, musicians, and the music directors and artistic staff who continue to shape the landscape of American music-making in which we all live.