Nell awarded Composers & the Voice Fellowship by American Opera Projects

Posted in awards on July 24th, 2015 by Nell

Composers & the Voice 2015-17 Training Fellows Graphic by American Opera Projects

I am absolutely thrilled and honored to have been selected by American Opera Projects to participate in the eighth season of their renowned Composers & the Voice fellowship program!

Directed by conductor Steven Osgood (The Metropolitan Opera, Beth Morrison Projects, et al), this program gives emerging composers and librettists experience working collaboratively with singers on writing for the voice and contemporary opera stage.

The two-year fellowships, made possible through a generous grant by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, include a year of working with the company’s Resident Ensemble of Singers and Artistic Team at AOP’s home base in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, followed by a year of continued promotion and development through AOP and its strategic partnerships.

You’ll be able to hear my work in May 2016 at First Glimpse, AOP’s bi-annual concert of songs written in the C&V workshops. A second concert in September 2016 will showcase full opera scenes created by the composers over the summer.

Check out AOP’s official announcement to learn more about C&V and the accomplished group of artists I’ll have the privilege of joining this fall. I look forward to sharing the products of this program with you over the coming months and years!

Landscape Music Composers Network Launch

Posted in Uncategorized on July 17th, 2015 by Nell

Members Map
I’ve recently founded the Landscape Music Composers Network: a group of living composers from across the U.S. whose music engages with and reflects upon landscape, nature, and place. This group is affiliated with the online publication Landscape Music, which I launched last winter.

Including artists both established and emerging, writing in a diverse array of styles for a variety of ensembles and media, the Composers Network is a platform for collaborative projects aiming to increase appreciation and awareness of the natural world through music.

We are adding new members on an ongoing basis. Current members include myself, Linda Chase (Boston, MA); Stephen Lias (Nacogdoches, TX); Rachel Panitch (Boston, MA); Christina Rusnak (Portland, OR); Alex Shapiro (San Juan Island, WA); and Stephen Wood (Atlanta, GA).

Biographies and audio samples for each of these composers can be found at the Network’s page on

Stay tuned for updates about future concerts, educational programs, and other collaborative projects that will emerge from this initiative!

Video of “Wanderlust” and “Triptych”

Posted in new recordings on July 7th, 2015 by Nell

Last month at the 10th annual Boston GuitarFest, the Faculty of the Young Guitarists Workshop (Adam Levin, Will Riley, Devin Ulibarri, and Colin Thurmond) gave the premiere performance of Wanderlust for guitar quartet, which they had commissioned from me for the occasion. A full-length video of this performance is now available, courtesy of Brian Dixon.

Devin Ulibarri also revisited Triptych, a solo work that I wrote for him back in 2011.


Music for Guitars in Boston: June 16

Posted in Uncategorized on June 7th, 2015 by Nell

World Premiere of Wanderlust (2015) for Guitar Quartet
Commissioned by Boston GuitarFest’s Young Guitarists Workshop Faculty

And Reprise Performance of Triptych (2011) for Solo Guitar

Boston GuitarFest X: Young Guitarists Workshop Faculty Recital
Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 7:30pm
Williams Hall at New England Conservatory
30 Gainsborough St, Boston, MA 02115
Free Admission (Tickets Available at the Door)

The faculty of Boston GuitarFest’s Young Guitarists Workshop – Adam Levin, Will Riley, Devin Ulibarri, and Colin Thurmond – will be giving the World Premiere of Wanderlust (2015) for guitar quartet (13 1/2 minutes), which they commissioned for this occasion.

On this concert, Devin Ulibarri will also be reprising Triptych (2011), a solo work (7 minutes) I composed for him to perform on Tuesday Night New Music in the very same concert hall back when we were students at NEC!

Wanderlust is my second work performed as part of Boston GuitarFest and my third collaboration with Devin. He and Alicia Mielke premiered Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) (2014) for flute and guitar last year on Boston GuitarFest’s Emerging Artist Marathon.

Watch Boston GuitarFest’s Young Guitarists Workshop for updates.

Music Inspired by Art in the Whitney Museum’s Collection

Posted in art and music, Beyond the Notes, The Coming of Spring, The Faraway Nearby on May 11th, 2015 by Nell

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the stunning new home of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking district of New York City. Three of the artists prominently featured in their wide-reaching inaugural installation of works from the collection, American is Hard to See – Charles Burchfield, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Chiura Obata – have been primary inspirations in my ongoing work of composing music in response to visual art. Each of these artists engaged with nature, place, and spirituality, and conveyed a powerful “musicality” in their images, although in very distinct ways.

If you’ve recently visited the Whitney, plan to visit in the future, or if you’re just curious, I hope you’ll enjoy perusing this little guide to music I’ve composed inspired by artists in the Whitney’s collection. Think of it as an art & music pairing menu!

Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Cricket Chorus in the Arbor, 1917.

On view at the Whitney: Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Cricket Chorus in the Arbor, 1917. More information

The Whitney has an exceptional collection of works by Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), and it was at the Whitney at their 2010 exhibit Heat Waves in a Swamp that I had an impactful first experience with seeing his paintings and drawings in person.

Several of Burchfield’s early paintings are now on display on the 8th floor of the Whitney in a section dedicated to art related to music and sound. Appropriate, then, to pair these works with some music related to art!

My compositions inspired by the works of Charles E. Burchfield include an orchestral tone poem and a one-act opera (listen above).

Watercolors, my wind quintet inspired by four of Burchfield’s paintings, was performed at the grand opening of the Parrish Art Museum. Visit Beyond the Notes to see a complete video of that performance and to learn about Burchfield’s paintings.

Chiura Obata


On view at the Whitney: Chiura Obata (1885-1975), Evening Glow of Yosemite Fall, 1930. More information.

On the seventh floor of the Whitney, you’ll find eight woodblock prints by the (in my opinion, vastly under-appreciated) Japanese-American painter and woodblock print designer, Chiura Obata (1885-1975). It’s a special opportunity to see these rarely-displayed works.

Obata’s woodblock prints and watercolor paintings of Yosemite, the High Sierra, and the internment camp in Utah where he and his family were imprisoned, inspired my piece Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) for flute and guitar (listen above). This piece was commissioned by Devin Ulibarri and Alicia Mielke and premiered last June at Boston GuitarFest. Learn more about Obata’s artworks and my music.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Summer Days, 1936.

On view at the Whitney: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Summer Days, 1936. More information.

My journey creating music inspired by art began in 2009 with Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), an artist long-celebrated by the Whitney. Summer Days, one of many exquisite paintings that emerged from the landscape of her adopted home in New Mexico, is on display on the 7th floor. A few of her abstract works are also visible on the 8th floor.

My music inspired by O’Keeffe’s paintings – especially her vision of New Mexico – has included an art song for soprano and chamber ensemble; an orchestral tone poem (listen above); and a multimedia video work (watch below). Visit Beyond the Notes to learn about Georgia O’Keeffe and my music.

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Launch of Landscape Music, online publication

Posted in art and music, Landscape Music on February 6th, 2015 by Nell

I’m excited to share my new online publication with you, Landscape Music: Investigating Music Inspired by Landscape, Nature, and Place. With this project, I hope to provide a platform for work by composers and musicians creating what I call “Landscape Music” and to raise the profile of related aesthetics, methods, politics, and philosophies.

Visit About to learn more about the goals and ideas behind Landscape Music, or dive right into my new content!


Stephen Lias, Adventurer-Composer
As a self-made specialist in music inspired by the U.S. National Parks, Stephen Lias has been Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Denali, Glacier Bay, and Gates of the Arctic National Parks, and has written over a dozen park-related pieces.

Rachel Panitch: Making Music in Zion National Park
Fiddler, composer, and improvisor Rachel Panitch spent four weeks as Artist-in-Residence at Zion National Park in Utah, where she created several works inspired by the park and performed her music on site.




Composing Point Reyes from Chimney Rock
An in-depth exploration of my process for writing this orchestral tone poem inspired by the coastal landscape of Point Reyes National Seashore.

“Landscape” and the role of art in our understanding of nature – Culture is the way in which we humans necessarily make sense and meaning from the natural world around us, whether it’s through an Albert Bierstadt painting or a Disney movie.

Why Landscape Music is more important than ever – How artists best utilize our time, skills, and insights as creators to reconnect ourselves and our audiences with the natural world?

Why I started Landscape Music – I seek to explore commonalities, divergences, exciting new developments, unexplored potentials, and possibly to derive some general principles or practices for musical landscapes.

Additional content will be coming soon! Follow me on Twitter to receive updates.

I’m looking for contributors! Please let me know if you’re interested in writing for Landscape Music, or if you have suggestions of composers or works I should consider profiling.

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Upcoming Boston Concerts: Works for Guitar

Posted in performances on February 5th, 2015 by Nell

Are you in Boston? Do you enjoy guitar music? I hope you’ll be able to make it out to hear two upcoming performances of guitar music I’ve written for Devin Ulibarri and other Boston-based artists.

Friday, February 13, 2015 at 6:00pm
Devin Ulibarri, Guitarist
On this installment of the “A Musical Apertif” Concert Series themed “Love, Loss, and Love Again,” Devin will be revisiting two works I composed for him:Triptych and Dai-Shizen (Great Nature), which will feature Alicia Mielke on flute. Democracy Center at 45 Mt. Auburn Street in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. $10 admission.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 at 7:30pm
Boston GuitarFest
Young Guitarists Workshop Faculty Recital
I’m thrilled to be writing a new work for guitar quartet for premiere by the Boston GuitarFest’s Young Guitarists Workshop Faculty (Adam Levin, Will Riley, Devin Ulibarri, and Colin Thurmond). Admission details TBA. Watch Boston GuitarFest for updates.

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Reflections on an Inspiration: The Hilliard Ensemble

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20th, 2014 by Nell
The Hilliard Ensemble

The Hilliard Ensemble

As I write, The Hilliard Ensemble – the English male vocal quartet that has produced countless wonderful recordings of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and contemporary Music – is onstage at Wigmore Hall, where they are celebrating a 40-year career and singing their final concert.

Much has been said about the Hilliard’s music and enormous legacy, but the ending of this group has caused me to reflect on what their influence has personally meant to me as a composer.

It was my encounter with the Hilliards’ recordings of new music around eight years ago that was perhaps the single biggest epiphany leading me to pursue classical training in composition and to channel my artistic efforts into concert music.

At around age 18, I found myself at a crossroads. Having independently released my one-woman-band progressive rock opus Tempus, my next steps were unclear for reasons both practical and creative. I felt that my current approach was no longer fulfilling my artistic inclinations and professional ambitions.

Although I first began listening to The Hilliard Ensemble because of my long-standing love of Early Music, it was their recordings of contemporary music that showed to me that the kinds of artistic expression I’d been seeking through other genres and methods of music making could be realized through “classical” performance practices, aesthetics, and venues. The album A Hilliard Songbook, in particular, opened up a world of possibilities to me.

The new music The Hilliard Ensemble recorded was unlike anything I’d heard. And, unlike the broad gloss of choral music, or the 19th century-derived aesthetic of modern operatic singing (both of which I have come to appreciate in their own right), there was an intense, jewel-like delicacy in the Hilliards’ singing. In one of my old favorites among their interpretations of newly-composed music, Stephen Hartke’s Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain, every note, rhythm, and gesture emerges in sharp relief; every opportunity for expression is captured and realized, born out of a tremendous sensitivity to text, line, and harmony.

Their performances were immaculate yet intimate; technical, yet seemingly effortless; overwhelmingly beautiful but, above all, utterly human. They blended their voices in a way that was both balanced yet individualistic, taking full advantage of the inherent transparency of the small ensemble sound. Whenever I have listened to this group, I hear not only “The Hilliard Ensemble” but the perfectly allied voices of David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold (or John Potter), and Gordon Jones, plus the ineffable ambience that the combination of those voices produces.

Although I had certainly experienced classical music before hearing The Hilliard Ensemble, through their recordings I began to realize that contemporary concert music might be “my” music.

It was with all of this ringing in my ears that in 2007 I wrote a 12-minute setting of Saint Augustine for solo soprano, countertenor, tenor, and bass, titled Memory (listen to an excerpt). This was my first completed composition that was 1) fully notated, 2) envisioned for classically trained performers, and which 3) didn’t involve drum set and/or guitar! I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to record this work with top-notch singers in NYC (members of Lionheart, et al).

This recording went into my artistic portfolio and helped me to secure spots and scholarships in several composition programs (including New England Conservatory, where I went on to pursue my Bachelor of Music). Now, seven years later, I’ve completed a Master of Music at New York University and produced compositions and performances for chamber ensembles, orchestra, multimedia, and voice, including a staged one-act monodrama for tenor, The Coming of Spring, .

As The Hilliard Ensemble ends its long career this evening, I’m faced with the knowledge that I’ll never have the opportunity of fulfilling my “bucket list” dream of composing a work to be performed by this group. However, while contemplating the pivotal influence that the Hilliards had on my path, I renew my hope that I might someday have an opportunity to revisit writing for small vocal ensemble and continue following the inspiration of this group in future, unforeseen ways.

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Explore John Muir’s Yosemite: OFFICIAL LAUNCH!

Posted in Beyond the Notes, John Muir's Yosemite on November 10th, 2014 by Nell

I am so excited to share with you the final version of this project, which has been in the works for about a year and half!

Multimedia installation for web and iPad app Explore John Muir’s Yosemite, illustrates the writings of naturalist and conservationist John Muir through interactive photography and music, offering an engaging new interpretation of Muir’s vision of nature.

The 2014 launch of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite commemorates the centennial of John Muir’s death, the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.


Back in June ’13, I traveled with my partner John Resig to Yosemite and nearby Sequoia National Park to capture about 1,000 videos, photographs, and audio recordings of sites that were important to John Muir. You might have seen my travel diary on this blog from this special trip.

Visiting the site of John Muir’s cabin at Yosemite Falls.

Over the following several months, I designed and constructed an interactive media experience integrating selections from Muir’s essays with my photography and a non-linear score I composed and produced specially for this project. John then coded the Javascript engine that drives the animations and interactivity in the installation.

I was honored to exhibit the beta version of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite for renowned Muir scholars last March at the 2014 international John Muir Symposium at The University of Pacific in Stockton, CA, with support from NYU’s Student Senators Council Academic Conference Fund Grant.

Since then, John and I have been refining things under the hood and converting the browser experience into a visually immersive iPad app, which I’m excited to report is now available as a free download in the App Store.

If you like the iPad app, please consider leaving a review in the App Store.

Enjoy the finished product! I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Production of Explore John Muir’s Yosemite was supported in part by a Challenge Grant from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

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Premiere of “Dai-Shizen (Great Nature)” at Boston GuitarFest, June 28

Posted in art and music, performances on June 25th, 2014 by Nell

UPDATE: video recording of this performance is now online!

Movements (played continuously):

Devin Ulibarri

Devin Ulibarri

The World Premiere of Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) for guitar and flute will be performed by fellow New England Conservatory alumni Devin Ulibarri and Alicia Mielke on the Emerging Artists concert at the 9th annual Boston GuitarFest this Saturday, June 28, 3:00pm in Jordan Hall.

Alicia Mielke

Alicia Mielke

I am honored to have my music presented on this prestigious festival by these two wonderful performers!

Visit the Boston GuitarFest website for more information about this concert and for tickets.

Dai-Shizen and Chiura Obata

When guitarist Devin Ulibarri – who I previously collaborated with in 2011 on Triptych – asked me to write a piece for him and flutist Alicia Mielke relating to Boston GuitarFest’s theme of “American Odyssey,” I gravitated towards the woodblock prints and ink and watercolor paintings of  Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975). Obata lived and worked primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and devoted himself to bringing traditional Japanese aesthetics and techniques into American art. Obata’s own “American Odyssey” as an immigrant deeply devoted to the culture and landscape of California was complex and richly represented by his artwork.

Chiura Obata, "Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California"

Chiura Obata, “Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California”

While composing this piece, I considered specific images and qualities I perceived in Obata’s art and used those as prompts for musical ideas. I felt the lush yet restrained, and powerful yet delicate expressiveness of Obata’s prints and paintings would be reflected very effectively by flute and guitar. On a more personal level, my choice to respond to Obata’s artworks relates to my own background as a Bay Area native and love for California landscapes, as well as Devin’s deep commitment to Japanese culture and language.

I was particularly inspired by Obata’s ability to follow his philosophy of dai-shizen (Great Nature)—nature as a source of artistic inspiration and spiritual harmony—throughout the best and worst moments of his life. Obata and his family spent over a year in internment camps during World War II, primarily in Utah. Despite these demeaning conditions, Obata strove to bring meaning into the lives of those around him. He founded an art school with his fellow internees and created stunning, emotionally charged watercolor paintings juxtaposing the dreary manmade structures of the prison camp against broad expanses of desert, mountains, and fiery sunsets.

Chiura Obata, "Sunset, Watertower, March 10, 1943"

Chiura Obata, “Sunset, Watertower, March 10, 1943″

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