Composer Nico Muhly ’99 creating original music with his alma mater this spring

April 21, 2021

Thirty-five high school musicians, one 9th-grade poet, and one world-class composer named Nico Muhly ‘99 will debut original music this spring at Wheeler. Muhly is donating his time and talent to compose a one-of-a-kind piece of music at his alma mater based on a poem selected from student submissions.

Muhly will set 9th-grader Isabelle Mitchell’s poem, “A Trance” to music as a gift to the school and is working with the student singers and players as they learn the music. All students in the Upper School were welcomed to submit a short lyric poem of eight to sixteen lines, written in response to any topic of their choosing.  Muhly read all the submissions and made the selection.

Wheeler’s Choral Music Director Kristin Sprague, who taught Muhly at Wheeler, says of the musical process underway, “The musicians come from all grades – 9 through 12, some play jazz, some classical, some both, some pop. It runs the gamut. They all have busy lives, but they’ve thrown themselves into this, and it’s quite exciting to see them dig in. The music is very challenging, but not above them. It really stretches them in a good way. And the thrill of seeing a student’s poetry set to music is indescribable. It’s always a treat to come to school to make music with kids, but this is icing on the cake!”

Nico Muhly is a composer and sought-after collaborator whose influences range from American minimalism to the Anglican choral tradition. The recipient of commissions from The Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Tallis Scholars and St. John’s College, Cambridge and others, he has written more than 100 works for the concert stage, including the opera Marnie (2017), which premiered at the English National Opera and was staged by the Metropolitan Opera in the fall of 2018.

Muhly is a frequent collaborator with choreographer Benjamin Millepied and, as an arranger, has paired with Sufjan Stevens, Antony and the Johnsons and others. His work for stage and screen include music for the Broadway revival of The Glass Menagerie and scores for films including the Academy Award-winning The Reader. Born in Vermont, Muhly studied composition at the Juilliard School before working as an editor and conductor for Philip Glass. He is part of the artist-run record label Bedroom Community, which released his first two albums, Speaks Volumes (2006) and Mothertongue (2008). He lives in New York City.

Learn more about Muhly and his works since graduation from Wheeler in 1999, here. You can find him on Spotify, Apple Music and Twitter.


Young white man, Nico Muhly, talks to students over computer about a music composition.
Composer Nico Muhly ’99 talks to Wheeler students about the piece he is composing for their spring performance.

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