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Composer Nico Muhly’s New Concerto, Sounding, Explores His Home State’s Musical Roots and the Hymn Tunes of a Horse Breeder

April 2, 2024 | By Vermont Symphony Orchestra

Vermont Symphony Orchestra presents the world premiere performance featuring pianist Adam Tendler on May 4, 2024 in Burlington. 

Burlington, VT  — The Vermont Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Music Director Andrew Crust, proudly presents the world premiere of Nico Muhly's new composition. Sounding is a  groundbreaking concerto for piano and orchestra, inspired by the hymn tunes of Vermonter Justin Morgan, premiering  May 4, 2024, at The Flynn in Burlington, Vermont. 

Muhly hails from the rural New England town of Randolph, Vermont, the same town where Morgan died and was laid to rest in 1798. While Morgan is perhaps most famously known as the owner of a stallion named Figure, who became the sire of the eponymous horse breed, he was also a noted composer of  hymns and fuguing tunes typified by their characteristic roughness, directness, and folk-like simplicity. In Sounding, Muhly delves into the distinctive harmonic landscape of Morgan's music, rooted in a folk vernacular.

“My challenge lay in translating the bold, sometimes visceral, delivery of these hymns - deeply rooted in Vermont's cultural history - into a contemporary classical piece,” Muhly said. 

The concerto  unfolds as a single, unbroken movement, seamlessly traversing variations on four of Morgan’s surviving hymn tunes: Montgomery, Amanda, Sounding Joy, and Judgment Anthem. What makes Sounding stand out is Muhly's ingenious use of  piano to both antagonize and complement the hymn tunes. Adam Tendler, the renowned pianist set to perform Sounding at its world premiere, describes the concerto as a major piece that covers a vast terrain, defying its temporal brevity. 

“Nico’s ability to channel various styles, even those not typical of his oeuvre, make Sounding a  captivating and ambitious composition,” Tendler said. 

Known for his meticulous attention to the nuances of performers, Muhly tailored Sounding to Tendler's strengths, creating a piece that simultaneously challenges and deeply resonates with the pianist. Muhly and Tendler have worked together extensively over the years; the concerto becomes a personal conversation between the two Vermont-born, New York-based artists with nods and winks woven into the score. 

Reflecting on the process, Muhly shared, "How often do you have a composer and a pianist, both from Vermont, living just minutes down Route 14 from each other?" The connection to Morgan's legacy adds a personal touch to the concerto, a nod to the shared roots of both composer and pianist.

The world premiere is co-commissioned by Vermont Symphony Orchestra and New Jersey Symphony.

A number of satellite events take place in the runup to the May 4 concert, including:

  • TURNmusic/VSO recitals on April 11 and 14, 2024 (Waterbury, VT): Tendler will perform solo piano works composed by Muhly, including ones specifically written for Tendler, and some other surprises.
  • Justin Morgan’s Music: Then, and Now on April 25, 2024 (Shelburne, VT): Historical musicologist Prof. Larry Hamberlin discusses the 18th century Vermont music scene, Morgan’s hymn tunes, and Muhly’s interpretation of his music almost a quarter century later. In partnership with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
  • VSO’s MasterClef competition on May 3, 2024 (Burlington, VT): The VSO’s third annual MasterClef competition for young composers concludes in a public workshop with Muhly and the students as they explore their own musical creations based on a melody drawn from Sounding.

The VSO’s full May 4 concert program will also include Sinfonia for Orbiting Spheres by Missy Mazzoli, Mille Regretz by Josquin des Prez, and Requiem in d minor, K. 6262 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The concert is conducted by VSO Music Director Andrew Crust and features the VSO Chorus lead by José-Daniel Flores Caraballo. Featured soloists include soprano Mary Bonhag, mezzo-soprano Julie Boulianne, tenor Benjamin Butterfield, and bass-baritone Kevin Deas. 


Generous support for this concert is provided by the Robert De Cormier Fund,  the William Gray Vocal Music Fund, the Natalie Lisman Guest Soloist Fund, the Webb Trust Fund, the Concert Artists Fund at the Vermont Community Foundation, Physician’s Computer Company, M&T Bank, and Courtyard Marriott. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra is a state-funded, non-profit organization.

For more information and ticketing details, visit Vermont Symphony Orchestra.


About the Vermont Symphony Orchestra:

Now in its 89th season, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra is a cultural cornerstone in the region, enriching communities and the lives of Vermonters for over eight decades. With a commitment to artistic excellence, innovative programming, and community engagement, the VSO has established itself as one of the country’s premier state orchestras.

For more information about the Vermont Symphony Orchestra and to purchase tickets for this event, please visit VSO.org. 


Media Contact:

Alexandra Tursi






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