|Planetarium. Photo courtesy of the artists|
Bryce Dessner, Nico Muhly, and Sufjan Stevens are musical multi-taskers and have been friends for over a decade. The idea of finding a project to tackle together floated around while tours, recordings, and maxed-out schedules got in the way. Their idea was to create a true collaboration, not just something shaped by emailing musical files back and forth. In Muhly’s words, they wanted “to have that effect of everyone cooking in the same kitchen at the same time, as opposed to an assembly line.” Over the course of a few years, Planetarium materialized simply by carving out time together. Muhly is a composer in residence at Muziekegebouq Eindhoven in Holland, which, in collaboration with the Sydney Opera House and the Barbican Centre in London, commissioned Planetarium, at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from March 21 to 24.
MusicNOW festival, a celebration of contemporary music, in his hometown of Cincinnati. Composer Muhly has written two operas, film scores (including 2008 Oscar Best Picture nominee The Reader), and choral and orchestral pieces. He has served as an arranger for artists such as Jónsi, Mew, Grizzly Bear, and Usher. Muhly is also a frequent orchestrator for The National and has appeared with the band.
Sufjan Stevens’ prolific offerings as a multi-instrumentalist range from introspective, folk-influenced songs in his fragile tenor to interwoven synth blasts on an epic scale. He has contributed to the The National’s recordings and performances, and the Dessner brothers played guitar on Stevens’ first collection of Christmas songs. The 2006 compilation curated by the Dessners for the Red Hot Organization, Dark Was the Night, included contributions by all three musicians.
|Sufjan Stevens and Bryce Dessner. Photo: Daniel Boud|
Stevens, who has experimented with large organizing principals—a series of albums named after states, for example—established the planetary theme. Another starting point was the muscular instrumentation, realizing a shared desire to work with Holland’s renowned New Trombone Collective. The three have strong ties to many visual artists, so the introduction of a graphic element to the production surfaced early. A 16-foot orb receives film projections, representing the planets, the sun, and the moon, by Deborah Johnson. There is abundant room at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House to deliver this atmospheric accompaniment. “The music really lends itself well to that and the visual show is really spectacular,” Dessner said.