New Music at Carnegie Hall: Carnegie Hall Commissions
Commission at a Glance
The Adulteress
Nico Muhly
Recorded on March 13, 2009
at Weill Recital Hall


Jessica Rivera, Soprano; Maryanne Kim, Piano

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Notes on the Work

I am addicted to the King James Bible; I have set biblical text many times, and this is the first time I have used the New Revised Standard Edition. My devotion to religious texts is historical, academic, esoteric, and ecstatic in the monastic, hide-yourself-in-a-cave sort of way. Jessica Rivera’s sense of these texts is immediate, jubilant, and radiantly, ecstatically modern. She feels the texts urgently; it was for this reason that I agreed to set them in this modern translation.

The basic structure for The Adulteress is two psalms sandwiching the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman, taken from the Gospel of John. The piece begins with Psalm 63 in a sort of modified plainchant, and after about two minutes, flashes suddenly to a more narrative, dry voice. Jesus’s interactions with the shamed woman and the angry mob who would stone her are presented in close-up narration, with a severe piano part. The voice occasionally stutters and reduces to syllabic pulsing. As the crowd disperses, Jesus speaks to the woman through a sequence of perfect fifths: little pairs of honest notes. After a slow syllabic pulse on the word “light,” the plainchant returns for a section of Psalm 56, ending with the lines, “You have delivered my soul from death, and my feet from falling, so that I may walk before God in the light of life.”

Nico Muhly