Although Muhly must still contend with the usual criticisms of young composers—the devil word derivative, for instance, thanks to his association with minimalist forefather Glass—this ballet could showcase a more mature ability to blend his own style with someone else’s. “I knew Benjamin had a huge love for Bach,” he explains. “So when the opportunity came up to work together, I thought, This boy needs a repetitive bass line, if I know one thing about this piece!” That line is indeed the crux of the 25-minute piece, overlaid with signature Nico touches: effervescent flourishes (“sparkles,” as he often calls them with a wave of the hands), moody string lines adding intrigue, brief cacophonies of trumpets. It’s a mix of his primary influences—the radiant harmonies of early-music masters (like Byrd and Tallis) and the slow build of minimalism (Steve Reich and John Adams—“the stuff I had a very serious teenage emotional connection to”). Pulsing through the whole thing is Muhly’s own alternately aggressive and pristine energy.
There’s about a month to go before the premiere of From Here on Out, and Muhly is watching a rehearsal of the pas de trois at the ABT studio downtown, quite close to his own space within his mentor’s Looking Glass Studios. (He won’t be leaving Glass’s employ anytime soon—“I have this job, ostensibly,” in which he helps out when needed, gets health insurance, and has ample time for his own work.) In signature Nico fashion, he first pranced into ABT with a Perrier for Millepied (“It’s your nutrients!”), but now he’s grown quiet, marveling as Millepied directs the dancers. He’s collaborator turned spectator, at least for the moment. Watching these dancers, like making classical music, is an “opportunity to break out of your biography a bit.”
Muhly is one of those rare young artists who can get away with suggesting that he’s outgrown youth—that the prodigy label might want to be retired about now. “There’s been a difference lately between my age being the first thing people say to its being the second or third,” he says. “I know how old I am. The process of writing music is the same, the work is the same. But people used to be listening for the reason of ‘It’s freakish that young people can come up with these ideas!’ Maybe now people will actually just listen.”