New York City-based composer, librettist, and multimedia artist Nell Shaw Cohen (b. 1988) evokes visual art, natural landscapes, and the lives of mavericks and artists in her lyrically expressive works ranging from orchestral tone poems to mobile apps.
Cohen has been commissioned by Houston Grand Opera to write a chamber opera (premiere 2021) with librettist Megan Cohen for the HGOco Song of Houston initiative. Her chamber opera Mabel’s Call (2017) received readings in New York City and New Mexico and in 2018, the University of New Mexico will workshop the full score with Cohen in residence. Her monodrama The Coming of Spring (2014) was given a workshop staging in NYC. Cohen is an alumna of the Composers & the Voice fellowship with American Opera Projects and the Composer-Librettist Studio at New Dramatists.
Cohen’s residencies have included Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, NYU Symphony, and a Page 73 Yale Summer Residency with playwright Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. American Opera Projects, Cadillac Moon Ensemble, The JACK Quartet, WordSong, and members of The Chelsea Symphony and A Far Cry, among many others, have performed Cohen's music. She’s presented concerts with the Parrish Art Museum, Harwood Museum, and Peabody Essex Museum, and received commissions from Montage Music Society, Boston GuitarFest, and WordSong, et al. As director of Landscape Music, a national composers' network and online publication, Cohen advocates for music inspired by landscape, nature, and place.
Cohen is also an educational media producer and user experience designer. Her unique videos, multimedia installations, and interactive media have been viewed by thousands online. The Boston Globe described her project Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art as “far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork…[with] loads of information connecting the music and art.” Cohen has received several grants from NEC and NYU for her digital projects and earned an Advanced Certificate from NYU in educational media. View her media design portfolio at beyondthenotes.org.
Raised in San Francisco, CA and Sag Harbor, NY, Cohen studied at New York University (M.M.) and New England Conservatory (B.M.) with Herschel Garfein, Michael Gandolfi, John Mallia, Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli, et al. As as student, her honors included the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award, NEC's Chadwick Medal, and the Presser Scholar Award.
Cohen publishes her music under Faraway Nearby (ASCAP). Scores are available for perusal and purchase upon request.
For a complete list of works, performances, residencies, and honors, download Cohen's Curriculum Vitae (PDF).
- Broadway World, "HGOco Commissions New 'Song of Houston' Operas" (8/07/17)
- The Taos News, "Mabel's life in song: New chamber opera explores the early Taos life of Mabel Dodge Luhan" on Mabel's Call presentation at the Harwood Music of Art. (6/15/17)
- The East Hampton Star, "Nell Shaw Cohen Engages With Nature Through Music" on Landscape Music Composers Network concert featuring Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum. (9/01/16)
- Francesca's clothing boutique, "International Women's Day" profile and photoshoot. (3/06/16)
- The Taos News, "Mabel Dodge Luhan, as operatic vision" on Mabel's Call at the Harwood Music of Art. (8/11/16)
- The Mabel Dodge Luhan House Blog, "Mabel Dodge Luhan Inspires Nell Shaw Cohen Opera" on Mabel's Call workshop concert at the Harwood Music of Art. (8/10/16)
- The East Hampton Star, 'The Coming of Spring' on monodrama workshop at NYU's The Provincetown Playhouse. (4/22/14)
- "Scholar Spotlight" on the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Blog on Point Reyes from Chimney Rock. (3/14/14)
- The East Hampton Star, "Watercolors: Painting With Sound" on Watercolors at the Parrish Art Museum. (11/06/12)
- Newsday, "LI artists open new Parrish" about the grand opening of the Parrish Art Museum, featuring Watercolors. [PDF download] (11/04/12)
- New-York Historical Society Blog, "The Course of Empire: A Conversation With Composer Nell Shaw Cohen" (8/22/11)
- The Boston Globe, "Inspiration becomes backdrop: Namesake composition to be played before 'The Course of Empire' paintings" on "The Course of Empire" and Beyond the Notes. [PDF download] (7/29/11)
Praise for Cohen's Works
On Watercolors at the Parrish Art Museum: "Nell’s extraordinary interdisciplinary vision...was an ideal program to introduce the public to the Museum’s collection through music and images. Two "standing room only" performances [of Watercolors] were met with high praise from attendees. The Director of the Museum cited this event as one of the best of the opening weekend."
—Andrea Grover, Curator of Special Programs, Parrish Art Museum
On workshop performance of opera Mabel's Call: "It was a triumph of beauty, power, and art. To live to see this was a gift from the muse of music. We wept...Nell Shaw Cohen will take this opera all the way to the top!"
—Lois Rudnick, Biographer of Mabel Dodge Luhan
"Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of [painter] Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature."
—Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections and Curator, Burchfield Penney Art Center
On Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art: "Far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork, [Beyond the Notes] contains...loads of information connecting the music and art." —David Weininger, The Boston Globe
"[Point Reyes from Chimney Rock] sounded like an impressionist fantasy – a tone poem – and was most appealing sonically."
—Mark Greenfest, SoundWordSight
"[Movements from Nine Muses for solo flute] were alternately distant but lyrical, lively and playful, and contemplative and precise. [The movements for solo harp] had the most complex musical textures: lush and polyphonic, busy and punctuated, and lively and joyous."
—Basil Considine, The Boston Music Intelligencer
On Watercolors: "I am so glad someone has at last given voice to what one imagines Burchfield might have been hearing in so many of his watercolors. Congratulations on bringing Burchfield alive in a way that I think he would have much appreciated."
—Richard Kahn, art collector
© 2017 Nell Shaw Cohen. All rights reserved.
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