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Nico Muhly’s Liar, Suite from Marnie

The Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin kicked off its new season with a world premiere of Nico Muhly’s Liar – a Suite from Muhly’s new opera, Marnie. The opera’s US premiere is at the Met in New York next week. Based on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1964 film starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery (which was an adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1961 novel), this is a musical thriller.

Image courtesy of BBC Radio 3. Copyright BBC 2018

The orchestra rose exultantly to the challenge. Individual instruments represent the characters: Marnie is coloured by the oboe, while her husband is associated with the trombone. The Suite oscillates from expansive dark tumultuous moods, to gentler reflections, with the orchestration providing colour that brings to mind Hitchcock’s intrusive camera work. Textured and compelling, the pulse is intense and often brooding.

Nico Muhly acknowledged the warm applause, a tall, lean man who plainly appreciated the instrumentalists. His mother is an artist and as a teenager, apparently, he spent time in the American Academy of Rome ( Is this a secreted clue? The colour and tempos of this Suite seem to me as Mediterranean as they are from Manhattan, where he now resides.

The diminutive and energetic conductor told us at the outset that this commissioned piece now belongs to Philadelphia. Will it grow in stature as the last item on tonight’s playbill, Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances? This was premiered by the Philadelphia Orchestra under its legendary leader, Eugene Ormandy in January 1941. Tonight, Yannick – as he likes to be known – draws the passion from his strings that made the orchestra world famous under Ormandy and is the essence of Rachmaninoff (unabashedly nostalgic to his dying day for a lost Russia).

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