Milan Gets a New Soundtrack

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Milan Gets a New Soundtrack

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MILAN — Michael Nyman, the 73-year-old British minimalist musician, cross-disciplinary artist and video documentarian, has a new muse: Milan.

He moved to the city in November, in part because, he said, “Even though, ostensibly I know more composers in London than I do here, we’re all isolated. The interesting thing about Milan and Mexico City” — where he also has a home — “is you don’t avoid each other.

“People want to meet me,” he continued. “They don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time with me, but on the other hand, they seem to be very happy and surprised I’m here.”

The result has been a kind of cross-pollination within the city’s creative community that has given Milan a whole new soundtrack.

One of the people Mr. Nyman met, for example, was Miuccia Prada. They ran into each other at the architect Stefano Boeri’s birthday party, where Mr. Nyman was performing. “I found her quite daunting,” he said.

A few years before (2008, to be precise), he made a film called “Cleaners Wear Prada.” In town for a concert, Mr. Nyman was walking through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping arcade when he noticed two cleaners in the window of a Prada boutique. One was moving methodically; the second appeared later, frenetically cleaning the window’s exterior. Struck by the scene, Mr. Nyman filmed it, later composing a soundtrack inspired by the Milanese vignette. Ms. Prada remembered.

Then a chance encounter with James Bradburne, the Canadian-British director of the museum Pinacoteca di Brera, in the historic district of Milan, produced a spontaneous invitation to attend a student music performance there. Now Mr. Nyman is the museum’s first composer in residence and plans to compose scores to accompany future exhibitions.

And on it goes.

While he was taking advantage of an invitation to view documents in the Archivio di Stato, Milan’s archive, Mr. Nyman saw a 1483 manuscript that included a sentence about Spaniards discovering new continents. “I think it could become part of a song, or part of a piece; there could be a musical version of this, or a musical diary,” he said.

During the visit he was also shown a 1770 book of coats of arms from the Italian region of Lombardy. He intends to use the images for a future commission celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, in 2020.

Finally, at the April opening of an installation by the British artist Paul Cocksedge at the site of the Fondazione Luigi Rovati — scheduled to open in 2018 as the first private Etruscan museum and cultural center in the city — Mr. Nyman was introduced to the Rovati family, collectors of the ancient civilization’s art. They have become friends, and, he said, an opera inspired by the vanished culture may be in the works.

“I think anywhere that generates generosity toward other people is a very good place to live,” Mr. Nyman said.

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