NYU Symphony to Premiere “Point Reyes from Chimney Rock” on March 3

Posted in art and music, awards, performances on February 6th, 2014 by Nell
Tom Killion, "Point Reyes from Chimney Rock", 2012. Used with permission of the artist.

Tom Killion, “Point Reyes from Chimney Rock”, 2012.
Used by permission of the artist.

UPDATE: The recording of this performance is now available!

As Composer-in-Residence with the NYU Symphony, I will receive the honor of having a newly commissioned work for orchestra, Point Reyes from Chimney Rock, premiered on Monday, March 3, 8:00pm at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 566 LaGuardia Place, New York, NY, the preeminent venue for the presentation of cultural and performing arts events for NYU and lower Manhattan. The concert will also include works by Britten, Tchaikovsky, and my colleague Kyle Tieman-Strauss.

While Point Reyes is my sixth composition for large ensemble, it’s the first to be publicly performed. I hope some of you will be able to share this special moment with me.

About the Music

A tone poem inspired by the coastal landscape of the San Francisco Bay Area where I was born and raised, Point Reyes from Chimney Rock takes its title from a woodblock print by contemporary artist Tom Killion (www.tomkillion.com), which I received as gift from my parents in Summer 2013. The print depicts a view of Point Reyes, the peninsula jutting into the ocean north of San Francisco, from which the rugged Pacific can be seen on one side of the rocky, grass-frosted land mass, and Drake’s Bay on the other. Wild irises and grasses in the foreground appear to tremble in a brisk wind, while the water’s horizon and a looming orange-red sky stretch far into the distance.

Killion’s artwork, along with my personal experiences walking in this and similar environs on the Point Reyes National Seashore, informed the sound world I strove to create within the orchestra. This landscape is broad and sweeping on the large scale, yet delicate and intimate in the details; it is bold yet ethereal, in both sunshine and fog. My love and yearning for this place is embedded in the music.

Tags: , , , ,

Preview of “The Coming of Spring” TOMORROW!

Posted in art and music, performances, The Coming of Spring on November 23rd, 2013 by Nell

Sunday, November 24, 2014 at 8:00pm
UrbanAnimals NYU
Provincetown Playhouse
133 MacDougal Street, New York, NY.
Free admission. Full program information on Facebook.

Charles Burchfield, "The Coming of Spring" (1917-43)

Charles Burchfield, “The Coming of Spring” (1917-43)

On the first concert of this series dedicated to presenting new works by current NYU graduate students, tenor Tyler Lee and pianist Alice Hargrove will be previewing an excerpt from my one-act monodrama The Coming of Spring inspired by the writings and paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967). The performance will include a video projection.

Tyler and Alice will be joined by The Chelsea Quintet to present a staged workshop production of the full score this spring. Stay tuned for details!


Tags: ,

Cellists Karlos Rodriguez and Richard Vaudrey to Co-Premiere “Horizon” at Parrish Art Museum

Posted in art and music, performances on November 5th, 2013 by Nell
Parrish Art Museum. Photo: Matthu Placek.

Parrish Art Museum. Photo: Matthu Placek.

November 9, 2013, 12:00-2:00pm - Karlos Rodriguez, Cello
November 10, 2013, 12:00-2:00pm - Richard Vaudrey, Cello
Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY
Performance included with museum admission.
More information on the Parrish Art Museum’s website.
This weekend ,in celebration of the Parrish Art Museum‘s one-year anniversary in its new location, cellists Karlos Rodriguez and Richard Vaudrey will each perform  in the Harriet and Esteban Vicente Gallery (on Saturday, November 9 and Sunday, November 10, respectively). The musicians will both feature Horizon for solo cello, which I composed for this occasion.
Having presented wind quintet Watercolors last year at the grand opening of the new Parrish Art Museum, I’ve written Horizon to celebrate and reflect on the aesthetic quality of the Parrish’s building and the surrounding landscape.
Karlos Rodriguez

Karlos Rodriguez

Karlos Rodriguez made his orchestral debut at the age of thirteen to great audience and critical acclaim and has since performed as an avid soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician. He has appeared at many of our important musical venues, including Carnegie Hall (Isaac Stern Auditorium), Merkin Concert Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Philadelphia’s Kimmel center, The Kennedy Center and Radio City Music Hall. Mr. Rodriguez has worked with distinguished artists such as the Beaux Arts Trio, and the American, Cavani, Cleveland, Emerson, Guarneri, Juilliard, Miami, Orion, Tokyo, and Vermeer String Quartets; and Janos Starker, Lynn Harrell, and Steven Isserlis. He has attended and been a guest artist at the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Grand Canyon Music Festival, ENCORE School for Strings, Sarasota, Aspen, and Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festivals, Cleveland Chamber Music Society, and the Philadelphia Orchestra Chamber Music Society. His teachers have included Richard Aaron, Peter Wiley, and David Soyer. Mr. Rodriguez has been featured internationally on TV and radio with multiple broadcasts on APM’s Performance Today. He is on the faculty at Summertrios and the Sphinx Performance Academy. Mr. Rodriguez has worked on various Broadway musicals and Pop albums, most recently with Shakira and Marc Anthony. In addition to these musical activities he is former Principal Cellist of the Florida Grand Opera Orchestra in Miami and cellist of the The Catalyst Quartet. He is prize winner of the 2012 Bergamo Classical music award (Switzerland). He proudly endorses Pirastro Strings.

Richard Vaudrey

Richard Vaudrey

Brooklyn based Australian cellist Richard Vaudrey is quickly becoming a notable force in the new breed of string players—classically trained and proficient across a multitude of genres. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Richard was a scholarship holder at The Australian National Academy of Music before heading to the United States, where he completed doctoral study in classical cello performance and contemporary improvisation at SUNY Stony Brook, studying with Colin Carr and Ray Anderson whilst acting as Teaching Assistant to the Emerson String Quartet. Richard has had a prolific background in chamber music and performs regularly both as a soloist and collaborator across a multitude of genres including classical, new music, jazz, folk and pop in venues including Carnegie Hall, 92Y Tribecca, the Stone, Alice Tully Hall and the Harvey Theatre, BAM.  Richard’s latest solo project “VAUDREY” a unique blend of post chestral-indie-dub -folk-pop for cello voice and electronics has this year been showcased in Sydney, Melbourne (Toff in Town) and New York City (Rockwood Music Hall, Pianos). The show also pays homage to the late Arthur Russell, a huge influence on Richard’s own compositions and the subject for Richard’s Doctoral Research. Richard is Adjunct Professor of Cello at Western Connecticut State University, and a member of the Numinous Ensemble, Indie band all boy/all girl and plays “The Beleura Cello” – a 1791 William Forster cello generously loaned by the Tallis Foundation. He currently resides in Brooklyn.

Tags: , ,

Nell Selected for Residency with NYU Symphony

Posted in awards on November 5th, 2013 by Nell

NYU logoI am thrilled to announce that I have recently been named Composer-in-Residence by the New York University Symphony, along with two of my colleagues. This is the highest honor offered by NYU to concert music composition students.

I will writing a new work for orchestra to be premiered on a public concert by the NYU Symphony at the Skirball Center in New York on March 3, 2014. Stay posted for details!


October 18: Premiere of “Three Decorations” by New York University Percussion Ensemble

Posted in performances on October 7th, 2013 by Nell

October 18, 2013 at 7:30pm
NYU Mix: NYU Percussion Ensemble
New York University

Frederick Loewe Theatre
35 West 4th Street, New York, NY.
*Free Admission*
View the event on NYU’s website

This concert will include the world premiere of my Three Decorations (2013) for percussion trio, presented by the NYU Percussion Ensemble (directed by Jonathan Haas) in collaboration with the Program in Music Composition.


Trencadís. Photo by Lucy Nieto.

Three Decorations is a work for three percussionists in three movements: Column (Ancient Trees Rising)Trencadís (Shards of Color), and Tapestry (Cozy Castle)Each movement is a musical response to, or evocation of, a favorite image of mine from European decorative art: first, the tree-like vertical extensions of cathedral columns; second, the colorful, asymmetrical style of mosaic popularized by Antoni Gaudí; third, some grand tapestry covered in millefleur designs warming the walls of a dark 15th century castle.

Three Decorations is my first foray into writing for drum set in a chamber music context. As a former rock drummer, I opted to utilize the kit in similar ways I would in a popular music idiom: to create groove, accentuating and supporting the interlocking syncopations heard in the pitched instruments.


This Sunday: “Nine Muses” at Proclaiming Pan in Boston

Posted in performances on October 7th, 2013 by Nell
Proclaiming Pan's "Nine Muses" Poster

Proclaiming Pan Poster (Click for Full Size)

Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 3:00pm
Tufts University

Distler Performance Hall, Granoff Music Center
20 Talbot Ave, Somerville, MA. 
*Free Admission*
RSVP on Facebook

This Sunday, those of you in the Boston area will have a chance to hear  Proclaiming Pan, the interdisciplinary program presented by flutist Elizabeth Erenberg and an ensemble of some of Boston’s finest musicians, scholars, and actors. The performance will combine music, literature, and theater to sound the stories of Greek mythology.

Nine Muses (2009), my set of nine miniatures for flute, violin, and harp—performed by Gabe Terracciano and Maria Rindenello Parker, respectively—will be included on this program in its fourth public performance.

Each movement of Nine Muses take its title and musical character from one of the nine Muses of Greek mythology. The Muses are goddesses who were thought to personify and inspire art and knowledge and are often referenced in Western art and literature (especially in epic poetry). Nine Muses was premiered at New England Conservatory on March 10, 2009. I am honored that Elizabeth Erenberg has given these miniatures continued life through Proclaiming Pan.


Day 1: The Giant Forest

Posted in John Muir's Yosemite on July 1st, 2013 by Nell

“Between the heavy pine and silver fir zones towers the Big Tree (Sequoia gigantea), the king of all the conifers in the world, ‘the noblest of the noble race.’” —John Muir (Read Chapter 7 of The Yosemite  for more from  Muir on the sequoias in the Giant Forest and nearby locales.)

On June 10, 2013, I arrived with my partner John at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park (south of Yosemite National Park) with the intention of photographing, filming, and experiencing majestic ancient sequoia trees for my project Illuminating John Muir’s Yosemite (which could more accurately be called Illuminating John Muir’s Yosemite and Surrounding Relevant Areas!).

McKinley Tree

Can you spot tiny me in front of the giant McKinley Tree?

The Giant Forest (name coined by John Muir) is an exceptional stand of giant sequoias and other conifer trees. We entered the Forest in the late afternoon after a 4 or 5-hour drive from the Bay Area, where we had ended a several-day cross-country train trip from New York on Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited and California Zephyr.

Driving southeast through the dry San Joaquin Valley—where we saw endless, rolling fields of golden-brown dried grass, irrigated almond farms, ranches, and small highway-side farm towns—we  climbed winding Route 180 up and up into the pine-covered mountains, entering into Kings Canyon National Park. Heading further south into Sequoia National Park, we stopped at the Lodgepole Visitor Center to acquire trail maps and refill our water bottles, then made our way to our eventual destination at an elevation of roughly 6,400 feet.

We meandered down from the moderately busy parking lot to the General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest living tree by volume, then walked a fairly short loop on the paved Congress Trail, where the number of fellow tourists rapidly decreased.

The giant sequoia’s broad trunks were more massive and ancient (they can live over 3,000 years, third oldest in the world) than I could comprehend. Snapping photos and attempting vainly to capture the sheer size of the trees in my viewfinder, I spotted a number of deer, squirrels, butterflies and ants (all of which John Muir loved) and enjoyed the fern-dotted slopes of exposed soil coated in beds of dried pine needles. Peeking through branches, pine-covered rolling hills hovered in the distance, hazy and blue.

The light was a bit difficult for shooting this evening: slightly overcast and flat, with brief, beautiful moments of golden light breaking through. Once the sun was too low to continue, we drove back to our room at Stony Creek Lodge for a modest dinner of vacuum-sealed grocery store sandwiches (the only readily available food at that hour!) and rested up for our first full day in the Sierra Nevada.

Read the next post in the series (Day 2)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

Tags: ,

Day 2: Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow

Posted in John Muir's Yosemite on July 1st, 2013 by Nell

On our first morning in Sequoia National Park (having explored some of the Giant Forest the previous evening), John and I drove through the Giant Forest to the Moro Rock trailhead. There we climbed up to the summit of a granite dome that is notable for having a readily accessible concrete stairway built into it (complete with railings… at least for part of the way!) for  non-climbers such as myself. Trivia of note: the unlikely stairway itself, an engineering and construction feat, is in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Alongside panting tourists and some more well-prepared hikers, I carefully walked up the 1/4 mile (300+ feet elevation gain) of stairs, treated to incredible pine and chaparral-blanketed mountain vistas all along the way.

After this little adventure, we continued following the footsteps of John Muir by visiting Crescent Meadow—which he  nicknamed the “Gem of the Sierras.” Muir writes about it in an essay on pioneer Hale Tharp:

“Resting awhile … it seemed impossible that any other forest picture in the world could rival it. There lay the grassy, flowery lawn, three fourths of a mile long, smoothly outspread, basking in mellow autumn light, colored brown and yellow and purple, streaked with lines of green along the streams, and ruffled here and there with patches of ledum and scarlet vaccinium. Around the margin there is first a fringe of azalea and willow bushes, colored orange yellow, enlivened with vivid dashes of red cornel, as if painted.

Then up spring the mighty walls of verdure three hundred feet high, the brown fluted pillars so thick and tall and strong they seem fit to uphold the sky; the dense foliage, swelling forward in rounded bosses on the upper half, variously shaded and tinted, that of the young trees dark green, of the old yellowish. An aged lightning-smitten patriarch standing a little forward beyond the general line with knotty arms outspread was covered with gray and yellow lichens and surrounded by a group of saplings whose slender spires seemed to lack not a single leaf or spray in their wondrous perfection.

Such was the Kaweah meadow picture that golden afternoon, and as I gazed every color seemed to deepen and glow as if the progress of the fresh sun-work were visible from hour to hour, while every tree seemed religious and conscious of the presence of God.” —John Muir

Crescent Meadow is a gloriously lush, marsh-like, medium-sized meadow ringed by sequoias and other conifers, quaking aspen trees, and fern-carpeted slopes, adjoined by the equally beautifully (and less tourist-y) Log Meadow. The fragile meadows themselves are protected from the trampling of visitors, so we took a leisurely hike in the forested areas looping around the two meadows, stopping to snack on trail mix while watching deer snack on leaves. The atmosphere was idyllic as we took in the delicate music of a small creek (a common feature of the forests and meadows in the area) and the colors of diminutive, elegant wildflowers, which were plentiful in this moderate late-spring weather.

Hoping to reach our room at the historic Wawona Hotel before dark, we made the 2 1/2 hour drive up through the southern gate of Yosemite National Park and into Wawona, where we enjoyed yet more beautiful meadow and forest scenery on a sunset hike on a loop trail around the (mosquito-infested yet lovely) meadow adjoining the golf course across Highway 41 from the hotel. Tucking into dinner in the super-quaint old fashioned dining room then settling into our room, we prepared ourselves for the following day and our first glimpse of the great Yosemite Valley.

Read the next post in the series (Day 3)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

Tags: ,

Day 3: Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point

Posted in John Muir's Yosemite on July 1st, 2013 by Nell

Having visited the Giant Forest, Moro Rock and Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park, the third day of my John Muir-inspired pilgrimage into the Sierra Nevada brought me, finally, to Yosemite Valley.

My partner John and I were welcomed by the “Tunnel View” as we drove out of the tunnel that leads between Wawona and the Yosemite Valley. The famed granite domes of El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Range and the Bridalveil Fall—gushing with delicate yet powerful streams of springtime snowmelt—greeted us in unreal majesty.

We continued into the valley and visited Yosemite’s Greatest Hits during the morning and afternoon. Numerous roadside pull-overs offered clear meadowed views of the aforementioned sights, and we followed short trails to Bridalveil Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls—the foot of which was home to John Muir’s cabin for two years–and Mirror Lake, where we were treated to a classic tree-framed view of Half Dome and Mount Watkins.

John Muir spent weeks on end exploring and contemplating this landscape in relative solitude. I  saw some of what Muir saw and got a glimpse into his world, but I haven’t experienced it in the remarkable way that he was able to. Even in the middle of a weekday and early in the season, tourists crowded the roads, the viewpoints, and the free park shuttles that brought visitors between trailheads, campgrounds, and the Village (home to gifts shops and eateries). At about a mile wide, the valley floor itself is fairly intimate and traffic, buildings, and paved paths often felt omnipresent. A deeper communion with the landscape and the wildlife would necessitate moving away from the roads and tourists and getting up into the trails—and on this particular visit, I had neither the time nor the physical skill to take on many of the hikes leaving from the valley (such as the trails up to Upper Yosemite Falls or Glacier Point).

On our way out of the valley we took the moderately nerve-wracking drive to Glacier Point to view an astonishing panorama of the valley from above the height of Half Dome. Every landmark, small and large, was visible in the distance like miniatures on a movie set, including the camps and buildings on the Valley floor. The waterfalls moved slowly in the distance as we shivered in the cool high-altitude air and, wishing we could stay to watch the sunset but eager to make the long twisting drive to Wawona before nightfall, continued onward.

Read the next post in the series (Day 4)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

Tags: ,

Day 4: Tioga Road to May Lake, Tenaya Lake, and Tuolomne Meadows

Posted in John Muir's Yosemite on July 1st, 2013 by Nell

“With your heart aglow, spangling Lake Tenaya and Lake May will beckon you away for walks on their ice-burnished shores.” —John Muir (Read  Muir’s descriptions of his favorite excursions to these spots in The Yosemite, Chapter 12.)

On my second full day in Yosemite National Park (and the fourth day of my John Muir pilgrimage), my partner John and I visited a region of the park much beloved by Muir. After a long winding drive from our base at the Wawona Hotel (about 2 1/2 hours to Tuolomne Meadows) taking the Tioga Road northeast of the Big Oak Flat entrance to the park, we followed a short, rugged road to the May Lake trailhead.

There we hiked up through the stark, rocky terrain leading to a gorgeous, medium-sized lake beneath the peak of Mt. Hoffman. The cold, fresh mountain air and white sunlight were restorative. I could almost imagine myself in the midst of one of Muir’s two or three-week journeys of climbing and botanizing. Passing long chains of sturdy horses carrying supplies up to the High Sierra Camp at May Lake (and and a few very comical yellow-bellied marmots munching on the horses’ droppings), we reached an elevation of 9270 ft. Unaccustomed to the thin air, we were winded but inspired: this trail rewarded us with some of the most incredible vistas of our trip.

After walking back to the trailhead and dreaming about someday returning to spend a few nights at the High Sierra Camp, we drove onward to enjoy the view from Olmsted Point, then Tenaya Lake. I was particularly taken with the lake, the largest in the park and a stunning pool of bright blue sky-reflections beneath spare granite peaks.

We continued onward to Muir’s beloved Tuolomne Meadows, one of the locations I’ve been most looking forward to visiting. There the Tuolomne River travels gently through a broad carpet of lush, emerald green ringed by pines and bounded by stunning, craggy granite peaks (featuring the distinctive Cathedral Range and Lembert Dome). It felt as though we had crossed through some barrier and entered a mountain paradise. In his turn-of-the-century language, Muir described it as:

“…the widest, smoothest, most serenely spacious, and in every way the most delightful summer pleasure-park in all the High Sierra.”

This was not a solitary paradise, of course: we ate burgers in the parking lot of Tuolomne Meadows Grill alongside groups of long-term backpackers following the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail through the vast swaths of the northern Yosemite Wilderness, a conservation area inaccessible by vehicle.

After visiting Soda Springs, a natural spring from which Muir and others acquired naturally carbonated water (although beautiful, it didn’t look too tasty to us) and walking on looping paths through the meadows, we tore ourselves away to make the long drive back to Wawona before dark—agreeing that if we could have an extra few days in Yosemite, we would have likely spent it at these and other sights off of the Tioga Road.

Read the next post in the series (Day 5)

Return to the On the Road to Capture John Muir’s Yosemite to view the other entries in this series.

Tags: ,