EXCLUSIVE: Nico Muhly on Bedroom Whale Watching, Nadia Sirota's Friendship, Diving with Joanna

By Ian Holubiak on Feb 04, 2016 03:41 AM EST

With Nadia Sirota finishing up her much-anticipated residency at Symphony Space, so, too, has her latest episode of WQXR-Q2's Meet the Composer podcast just wrapped with everyone's favorite working composer, Nico Muhly. And for their parts together, Sirota and Muhly will soon be packing up to hit the road with one of our own favorite working composers' collective, Iceland's Bedroom Community--for the third iteration of their grand "Whale Watching Tour."

Of course, Muhly's also on the bill for his labelmate's gig at Symphony Space. And, lucky for us, Nico found the time to type back some answers as to the nature of his relationship with Nadia, getting their Bedroom band back together and just what it's like taking direction from one Joanna Newsom.

CLASSICALITE: When we spoke with Nadia Sirota last month about this month's residency at Symphony Space, she seemed particularly excited about the world premiere of Donnacha Dennehy's Tessellatum. I assume you are, as well?

NICO MUHLY: I am hugely excited to share an evening with Donnacha. I love his music, and it's actually been a huge thrill to have my friends tell me how much they love learning and playing [Tessellatum].

CL: Clearly, there's a kinship, musical and otherwise, with Nadia. So, how did you two first meet?

NM: I have known Nadia Sirota since we were both undergraduates at Juilliard. We met in the traditional way, but very quickly developed a fast-moving and wide-ranging friendship and collaboration. Nadia, as the daughter of a composer, is fiercely committed to new music, but in a communicative and not-cultish way. Her's is a wide-open musicianship, with the technical chops to demolish anything from any century, but with the skills of a true musical communicator.

CL: In other news, there's a tour in your's and your collective's midst. What's it like corralling everyone--then, "Whale Watching," as it were--after some five years dormant?

NM: The fun thing about Bedroom Community is that, while the touring wing has been dormant, we've all been crazily busy with other things. Nadia and I have been up to a million projects with one another--as, indeed, we have been since 2001, when we met. I wrote her a concerto last year, which we've done in a million places. And she has started a fantastic podcast series called Meet the Composer, the latest episode of which focuses on me and my music. Sam Amidon has released two other albums. Ben Frost has been on what seems to be a relentless world tour. Valgeir [Sigurðsson] has been working on four zillion different things and film scores. So, the tour is a chance for all of us to get back together, as it were, and see the ways in which we've all changed as musicians, collaborate again, and remember how it's all sort of still the same, too!

CL: You've done a lot of arranging, often for artists who aren't explicitly "new music," much less "classical," per se. We posted about your recent orchestrations for Joanna Newsom's "Anecdotes," off Divers from Drag City. What was that collaborative process like?

NM: It was fantastic. She is one of the smartest people around, and her arrangement notes to me were some of the most detailed things I've ever seen. She knows what she wants in a really specific way, but also likes, it would seem, being surprised by unexpected results from the poetry of her prompts.

CL: Finally, any future arrangements with her?

NM: Not that I know of.

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Classicalite Q&A, Nico Muhly, Bedroom Community, Whale Watching Tour, Nadia Sirota, Symphony Space, Joanna Newsom, Divers, Donnacha Dennehy, WQXR, Q2, Meet the Composer

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