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Nico Muhly

Publisher: Chester Music

Seeing is Believing (chamber orchestra version) (2007),
Commissioned by Aurora Orchestra
Work Notes
Percussion: Marimba, Vibraphone, Metal Pipe, Woodblock, Bass Drum, Claves
St. Rose Music Publishing
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Sub Category
Chamber Orchestra
Year Composed
25 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)
Six-string electric violin
Programme Note
Nico Muhly Seeing is Believing (chamber orchestra version) (2007),
Seeing is Believing references the exciting and superstitious practice of observing and mapping the sky; while writing it, I wanted to mimic the process by which, through observation, a series of points becomes a line – this seemed like the most appropriate way to think about a soloist versus an orchestra. The electric violin is such a specifically evocative instrument and has always reminded me of the 1980’s, and I tried, at times, to reference the music attendant to 80’s educational videos about science, which always sounded vast and mechanical — and sometimes, quite romantic.

The music begins and ends with the violin creating its own stellar landscape through a looping pedal, out of which instruments begin to articulate an unchanging series of eleven chords which governs the harmonic language of the piece. Three minutes in, the woodwinds begin twittering in what seems to be random, insect-like formations. Eventually, the piano and solo violin ‘map’ them into the celestially pure key of C-major; rapturous pulses ensue. A slightly more stylized and polite version of the insect music appears, and the violin sings long lines above it. After a brief return to the first music, slow, nervous music alternates with fast, nervous music. The fast music takes over, pitches are scattered around, the violin calls everybody back to order with forty repeated notes; rapturous pulses again ensue. The piece ends as it began, with looped educational music depicting the night sky.

Nico Muhly

Preview the score

  • Ensemble
    Aurora Orchestra
    Thomas Gould (electric violin)
    Nicholas Collon
The score itches with minimalism, then basks in Coplandesque sunshine. But he wears what he takes lightly and distinctively. The opening was especially arresting, [Thomas] Gould using a looping pedal to stack up embellishments on a brief, lonely curlicue.
Erica Jeal, The Guardian,11/05/2011
The thing that created a special buzz of excitement was the UK premiere of Seeing is Believing. He's very hot property just now, and this concerto shows why he appeals to the zeitgeist. It has a wide-open feeling of much American music, a rich harmonic palette reminiscent of Berg, and a bright, sharp-edged sound-world. The unfolding narrative cleverly feints at things...without committing itself to any of them. All of this plus the solo instrument...conspires to create a strange 'virtual' music that...has the power to entrance.
Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph,09/05/2011
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