Nico Muhly: Throughline

Digital album recording from the Grammy-winning San Francisco Symphony

The San Francisco Symphony adds to its Grammy Award-winning SFS Media discography with the one-of-a-kind release of Nico Muhly’s Throughline. Recorded as part of the SF Symphony’s Throughline: From Hall to Home digital concert event, Muhly’s “work of remarkable expressive power” (San Francisco Chronicle) offers a kinetic and seamlessly collaborative musical experience that captures the vibrant individualism of its performers. This recording is available available now wherever music is streamed and downloaded. 

Program Notes: 


BORN: August 26, 1981, Randolph, VT. Currently living in New York City


RECORDED/WORLD PREMIERE: September 2020 in Davies Symphony Hall and around the globe. Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, Throughline premiered as part of the digital presentation Throughline: San Francisco Symphony—From Hall to Home, which was first broadcast on local television and streamed online, November 14, 2020.

INSTRUMENTATION: violin, piano, electric guitar, bass, vocal, and flute soloists; 2 flutes (2nd doubling piccolo), oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion, harp, keyboard, and strings

DURATION: About 17 mins

Nico Muhly offers the following comments on Throughline:

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 video and audio editing process.

Each of the thirteen movements is a mini concerto, not just for one of the San Francisco Symphony’s Collaborative Partners but for members of the Orchestra; 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 improvised 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


San Francisco Symphony
Nico Muhly



    Nico Muhly, Composer, Conductor, Piano

    Pekka Kuusisto, Violin

    Nicholas Britell, Piano

    Carol Reiley, Artificial Intelligence, Co-Composer

    Bryce Dessner, Electric Guitar

    Esperanza Spalding, Bass, Vocals, Composer

    Julia Bullock, Soprano

    Claire Chase, Bass Flute 


Producer: Jason O’Connell, Nico Muhly

Engineering Support: Jon Johannsen, Nick Abreu, Denise Woodward

Post-Production:  Jason O’Connell

Cover Photo: Heidi Solander

Performance Photos: Kristen Loken
Video Stills: Courtesy of the SF Symphony

Label: SFS Media 

Recorded:  September 22-25, 2020 in PCM 
and 24-bit/96kHz audio. 


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