Nico Muhly (b. 1981)
2020 | 19 mins
Three Fast Lines
Improvisation No. 2
Song [after Traherne’s “Solitude” from Poems of Felicitie]
Throughline was composed especially for the legal and physical restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 virus. A maximum of six orchestral players could be on stage at once, none of which could be a breath-based instrument, who had to be recorded individually. Soloists would be recorded remotely from across the globe, and it would all be assembled through an intricate editing process of both video and audio.
Each of the thirteen movements is a mini-concerto, not just for a Collaborative Partner but for members of the San Francisco Symphony; for instance, one movement features Nicholas Britell on piano, playing with Principal Trumpet Mark Inouye, and in another movement, Pekka Kuusisto plays a kinetic, hyperactive duet with Principal Viola Jonathan Vinocour. Bryce Dessner’s electric guitar is antagonized by trombones and tuba, with musical material shifting between the brass and an electric bass. The goal was to constantly illuminate individual San Francisco Symphony players as soloists as well as showing the musicians as team-players within their sections; in this sense it functions like a concerto grosso but with everybody shifting teams.
At the heart of the piece are three sections with more complicated origin stories. First, a piece of music [Three Fast Lines] in which I composed three lines of counterpoint and an artificial intelligence entity designed by Carol Reiley finished it, lending it a Bachian logic. Esperanza Spalding then improvises a piece for voice and bass, to which I added a subtle glaze of four cellos [Improvisation No. 2]. A brief Bach chorale with solo viola ushers in the last three movements (featuring Claire Chase, Julia Bullock, and Esa-Pekka Salonen), which employ a single set of chords in slow rotation over moderate music (for bass flute), slow music (for voice, with a text by Thomas Traherne), and incredibly slow music, which imagines Esa-Pekka conducting the orchestra through touch and gesture, from 6,000 miles (rather than six feet) away. —Nico Muhly