NICO MUHLY: PASTORAL (INDOORS/OUTDOORS)
The 2021 Catalyst contemporary arts commission entitled, Pastoral (Indoors/Outdoors), was a sound installation by American composer Nico Muhly. The first of its kind at Planting Fields, the installation was comprised of two parts which were accessible via guided tour of the concurrent exhibition, Everett Shinn: Operatics for an immersive intersection of historic and contemporary art.
The first part of Pastoral (Indoors/Outdoors) was a six-minute piano piece, recorded by pianist Conor Hanick, that referenced nature-inspired music of the early twentieth century. The music played in the Gallery of Coe Hall, a space characterized by its floor-to-ceiling windows, Gothic beams, minstrel gallery and the Steinway piano once played by Mai Coe and her daughter Natalie. The second part of the installation was a longer, twenty-minute composition, that was be played in a continuous loop and audible inside and around the exterior of the 1915 Tea House in the Italian Garden. The compilation of piano, strings, and woodwinds with electronic enhancements recalled the pastoral landscape, and the fanciful, floral decoration of the Tea House painted by artist Everett Shinn, with hints of birdsong in the spirit of French composer Olivier Messiaen.
“This work at Planting Fields is site-specific in that it’s both inside and outside, natural and constructed. The first part of the piece, designed to be experienced in the main house, is a piece of unadorned solo piano music, whereas the second part in the Tea House is more abstracted, pastoral, and stylized. The tangible and recognizable chamber music in the home has exploded and densified into more modern sounds and variations. So often, in earlier music, you get the sense that nature is to be kept apart. Something that I’ve always felt with Olivier Messiaen, who has been an inspiration for this commission for Planting Fields, is that he’s allowing inside to be outside. Suddenly, it’s like the walls have vanished from the space. You can see things through the glass, and that is what is so magical – that’s what the architecture at Planting Fields does, in its eclecticism. There is access to the outside from everywhere inside, the imagery of birds and nature evokes a sense that outside is being invited in.”
About Nico Muhly
Nico Muhly, born in 1981, is an American composer who writes orchestral music, works for the stage, chamber music and sacred music. He’s received commissions from The Metropolitan Opera: Two Boys, (2011) and Marnie (2018); Carnegie Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, The Australian Chamber Orchestra, the Tallis Scholars, and King’s College, Cambridge, among others. He is a collaborative partner at the San Francisco Symphony and has been featured at the Barbican and the Philharmonie de Paris as composer, performer, and curator. An avid collaborator, he has worked with choreographers Benjamin Millepied at the Paris Opéra Ballet, Bobbi Jene Smith at the Juilliard School, Justin Peck and Kyle Abraham at New York City Ballet; artists Sufjan Stevens, The National, Teitur, Anohni, James Blake and Paul Simon. His work for film includes scores for The Reader (2008) and Kill Your Darlings (2013), and the BBC adaptation of Howards End (2017). Recordings of his works have been released by Decca and Nonesuch, and he is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, Speaks Volumes (2006) and Mothertongue (2008).