The 802 Tour at the Museum of Fine Arts, August 24, 2008
GETTING GRIMM: Muhly’s reconfigured fairy tale made for a spooky finale.
“There’s someone from Vermont in here, I can smell it,” said Nico Muhly to a two-thirds-full Remis Auditorium at the Museum of Fine Arts. He wasn’t on an anti-Vermonter kick, just reassuring himself that he was close to his home state — and that of fellow performers Sam Amidon and Thomas Bartlett (a/k/a Doveman).
Muhly, Amidon, and Bartlett are all VT-to-NY transplants and long-time collaborators. Their musical styles have little in common, but that only invigorated them as they swapped instruments for a show that Muhly explained would avoid discrete sets in favor of coaction. At points, Muhly and Bartlett seemed positively snuggly as they crossed arms, simultaneously playing a baby grand piano, a synth, and a keyboard connected to a MacBook.
Muhly is a 27-year-old Juilliard-schooled composer whose résumé includes working for Philip Glass and Björk as well as writing music for the Boston Pops. After an opening piece by Muhly and a song from Bartlett, the trio collaborated on a chunk of songs by Amidon, a dust-covered folksinger old beyond his years, a possible time traveler from the mid ’60s. “All Is Well” and a cover of Ella Jenkins’s “Little Johnny Brown” glowed with Amidon’s intimate, honest delivery, carried along by his warbling voice and serious banjo skills.
Bartlett’s piano-based ballads, all of which he sang in a heartfelt, high-pitched whisper, lacked the energy of his callaborators’ pieces; most of them feyly recalled reflective moments from romantic films. Muhly’s innovative compositions were the highlight, particularly his Grimm-inspired finale, “The Only Tune,” a creepy tale wherein one sister pushes the other into the river, she drowns, and a “deranged miller” finds her body and crafts a fiddle from it. Muhly joked that his parents would sing this to him at bedtime when he was a child; this performance incorporated the sounds of rain and thunderous drumming. Amidon’s half-shouted vocals, live and sampled, gradually crescendo’d with the piano and electronics until the music burst into chimes and settled with soft, sad singing and weeping viola. Sweet dreams after all.
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