A billion years have passed, October 10, 2013

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As of last week, I’ve owned Nico Muhly’s complete album “Speaks Volumes.”As much as I like his music, I’d put off listening to it in hopes of that right moment. Sometimes it just comes by chance, or coincidence likethe first time I slipped Adams’ “Nixon in China” in my CD player on a gray weekday morning. I remember going home that day and writing that “something changed on that drive.”

I invest a lot in sound and place. Last night a similar experience was born. I was sent to pick up take-out dinner, which would be a swift night drive, under the bright lights of my towns busiest boulevards, and a few moments spent on untouched two way streets. It would be a perfect atmosphere for “Speaks Volumes.” I wanted my mind to explore in those musical spaces, where the structure is less visible to a musical novice like myself. The choice was more fitting than I ever imagined. With each of Muhly’s work it was like the hue of the night sky was changing — the violins passages in “Clear Music” were pulling me places in the dark. My little sister rode along with me, and for the sake of hearing the music uninterrupted, we did not talk.
— Written by me on May 11, 2007

In college, my weekly listening diet consisted of Beethoven symphonies from noon to 5 p.m. on a twice weekly basis, Philip Glass once a week, along with Rachmaninoff, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky. Prokofiev on the weekends, namely Sunday nights, and following evening classes a, loads upon loads of Nico Muhly on heavy rotation. The above passage was written in one of the blogs I kept during my college days, nearly eight years ago.

When I moved to New York City his “Speaks Volumes” album was added to a playlist I titled “Snow”. I’m from Alabama, where snow is so rare that New York snow seems magical. That album was the perfect complement to it. I would have many profound days standing on street corners in faux-Ugg boots, looking up as the snow fell down, and listening to Muhly’s album. There is something in the way he can use very few instruments to make a defined space of sound. The kind of room you’d want to sit in and stay for awhile.

In July I had the fortune of meeting Philip Glass on a subway car (another story for another post) but felt that I’d used up my happenstance for the entire year (and quite possibly for my whole life). But there is no measurement or tally for these things, especially in New York where anything can happen just by turning a corner. In the city, the word “improbable” does not exist.

In the weird way millennial are often introduced through social media, I “met” a new friend seeking people to attend concerts and operas with. I felt like the perfect candidate, and sent him a list of all the things on my calendar for the rest of the year, including the premiere of Nico’s opera, “Two Boys” at the MET. My new friend, realizing I was a Muhly fan, invited me to hear him give a talk at Juilliard for students. He forwarded me the invitation. I replied: “I’m freaking out right now.”

 “There’s a private reception after, but I doubt we’ll be allowed to go,” he replied back. Alas.

On Thursday, October 10 I raced from work at the stroke of 6:05 and landed at Juilliard fifteen minutes late for the talk. I darted down the college halls to the theater, crept up the stairs into a seat in the back. Nico was on stage, all in black, very expressive. His hair was cut in a way I was dying to personify.

He discussed his upcoming opera, a few new projects. His past work, his mentorship and time spent with Philip Glass, his relationship with Iceland and the music community there (which according to him, the music community of Iceland is the community of Iceland).  He’s extremely, extremely funny, he metaphors are punctuated by absurd references. His description of the “Cosi Fan Tutte” plot made me tumble over laughing. He even called Renee Fleming “Nene”. For a “surprise performance” he played a Philip Glass piece, and I shook my head realizing how surreal it was to be hearing him play in another city, in another mindset, so far away from home.

The host of the evening told everyone to go to the bar for the private reception, which made me excited, we were getting to go! My friend and I joined the crowd with our glasses of white wine, and tried, like everyone there, to get a few words in with him. My friend is better at pouncing celebrities, and we edged closer to him, finally cutting in to say hi. I spoke to Nico for what seemed like forever, about being from Alabama (he’s been to my hometown of Mobile), the dancers we mutually knew. He was extremely personable, asked me questions about myself, not even checking his watch.  

“Oh before I moved here, I used to listen to your music when I drove at night, never imagining that I’d be living in New York. Now I’m having a drink with you, it’s very surreal, I was just telling my friend this,” I said. He laughed. I told him I was coming to the opera, sitting in the rafters in the Family Circle. He told me to say hi, I told him I was excited. We took a photo and the next set of guests walked up to say hello.

At the end of the event my friend and I giggled as we bounced down the Juilliard main hall steps. “I can’t believe that happened!” I said, like a kid who’d just gotten a photo and a signed home run ball from Derek Jeter. Meeting him was like the kind of thing that would often follow the phrase "never in a billion years." 

I parted with my friend and waited for the bus home. There was a pre-fall chill, so my hands were slipped into my pockets. No snow, but it still felt pretty magical.