Taking “Walks at Brush Creek” from Wyoming to Michigan

Posted in Landscape Music, performances on October 25th, 2017 by Nell

Composing at Brush Creek, September 2017.

My artist residency at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts for two weeks in September was simply a phenomenal privilege and gift.

It inspired me to compose my first piece for solo piano (way, way past due!). It was my first opportunity to spend countless hours and miles walking by myself through an expansive landscape of astonishing beauty. (I took, literally, a thousand photographs.) I challenged myself to compose on the trail, and at the piano, away from my beloved (and sometimes constraining) Finale. This solitude was complemented by stimulating conversations at group meals, campfires, and sunset-watching sessions with fascinating fellow artists and new friends. I also got to learn more about horses, rodeo, and ranching from an expert and to watch horse wranglers at work (research for my upcoming “feminist rodeo opera” for HGOco).

Falcon's Peak at Brush Creek Ranch, September 2017.

(See more photos from Brush Creek Ranch.)

These experiences will live on through my latest work, Walks at Brush Creek (2017) for solo piano. Here’s my program note for this piece:

Walks at Brush Creek was inspired by my daily walks through rural Western scenery as an Artist-in-Residence at Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, located on a ranch in southeastern Wyoming abutting Medicine Bow National Forest. In the spirit of John Muir, I slowly “sauntered” for many miles on foot trails and dirt roads snaking through forests, valleys, and hills, and tried various approaches to combining this active mindfulness—a walking meditation, of sorts—with my creative process. The best days were when I generated melodies and motives on-the-move in the morning and fleshed them out at the piano in the afternoon. Walks at Brush Creek is the fruit of these experiments. With this score, I offer a musical illustration of my emotional responses to the landscape of Brush Creek Ranch—from the ever-shifting cloud shadows playing over the grasses and sagebrush to the sweeping lines of wooden fences that frame them.

I’m delighted to say that World Premiere of Walks at Brush Creek will be given at Michigan Technological University by faculty pianist Jon Ensminger on upcoming concert Music of the Landscape: Compositions Inspired by Our National Parks and Other Special Places. This event was coordinated by composer Libby Meyer in affiliation with my group, the Landscape Music Composers Network.

Sunday, December 10, 2017, 3:00pm
Michigan Technological University, McArdle Theatre
Walker 207, 1400 Townsend Drive, Houghton, MI 49931
Tickets: $5
Tickets and venue information

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“Dai-Shizen (Great Nature)” at Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson

Posted in Landscape Music, performances on March 26th, 2017 by Nell


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

Sunday, April 2, 2017, 10:30-11:30am
Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson
80 Main St
Hudson, MA, 01749
Free and open to the public
Venue Website

A performance of Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) (2014) will be given by Gabriela Ruiz, flute, and Devin Ulibarri, guitar, at the Unitarian Church of Marlborough and Hudson during a Sunday worship service on April 2, focusing on nature and environmental themes. Distribuição de flores by Heitor Villa-Lobos will also be performed.

Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) for flute and guitar looks at nature through the eyes of a visual artist: Chiura Obata (1885-1975). It is my musical response to Obata’s journey through landscapes, as seen through his artworks, in three movements: California, Topaz, and Sunset.

Obata’s woodblock prints and watercolors from the 1920s and ‘30s show some of the most extraordinary visual representations of Yosemite National Park ever created, from El Capitan to Mono Lake. The natural landscapes of California were this Japanese-American immigrant’s greatest inspiration.

Obata and his family were then imprisoned for over a year in internment camps during World War II, primarily in Topaz, Utah. Despite 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.

In composing this piece, 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.

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To preview this work, watch a video of the World Premiere performance at Boston GuitarFest in 2014. To view some of the artworks by Chiura Obata that inspired my music, check out this online gallery from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

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New Videos: “Refuge” Premiere and Landscape Music Interview

Posted in Landscape Music, new recordings on November 7th, 2016 by Nell

The concert I curated for the Parrish Art Museum last September featured NYC-based chamber quartet Cadillac Moon Ensemble in a program of music written by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network celebrating the National Park Service centennial. It was tremendously gratifying to see a year’s planning come to fruition and to receive such a great audience turnout and response.

Nell in The East Hampton StarWe received coverage in several publications, including The East Hampton Star, which featured an article about my work on the front page of their Arts & Living section.

This event included the World Premiere of my wildlife conservation suite, Refuge, written for Cadillac Moon Ensemble. You can now watch the performance online!

I also had the opportunity to sit down with three fellow composers, who traveled from all around the country to participate in this event. We had a fascinating and wide-ranging conversation about the processes, goals, and challenges of writing music inspired by nature.

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Landscape Music Presents Cadillac Moon Ensemble

Posted in Landscape Music, performances on August 9th, 2016 by Nell

Cadillac Moon Ensemble. Photo: Karjaka Studios.

Friday, September 9, 2016, 6:00-7:30pm
Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY 11976
Tickets $20/$10 (Includes Museum Admission)
More Information

Celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service with this concert of new chamber music evoking landscape, ecology, wildlife, and adventure!

NYC’s Cadillac Moon Ensemble brings impeccable musicianship and an adventurous spirit to their first collaboration with my group, the Landscape Music Composers Network: a collective of composers from across the country, dedicated to increasing awareness of the natural world through music.

This concert will include the World Premiere of Refuge, my 16-minute narrative suite exploring three species’ conservation stories—the Mission blue butterfly of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle of Padre Island National Seashore, and the bison of Yellowstone National Park.

The program, which I created for the Parrish Art Museum, also features a World Premiere by Justin Ralls and works by Stephen Lias, Alex Shapiro, and Stephen Wood.

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Landscape Music Comes to Boston on April 15

Posted in Landscape Music, performances on April 7th, 2016 by Nell

Chiura Obata, "Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California" (1930)Chiura Obata, “Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California” (1930)

Landscape Music Composers Network is a project I started last year bringing together composers from across the country who create music inspired by landscape, nature, and place. We’re kicking off our inaugural concert season in 2016—the centennial year of the National Park Service—starting in Boston on April 15.

The epic landscapes of Zion, Grand Canyon, and Yosemite will be brought to life in New Music of Our National Parksconceived and presented by violinist/composer Rachel Panitch. The concert features several outstanding Boston-based musicians and ensembles in performances of new chamber music inspired by national parks, written by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network.

The program includes Dai-Shizen (Great Nature), inspired by the artwork of Chiura Obata, which I wrote for Alicia Mielke and Devin Ulibarri (below) in 2014.

Alicia Mielke   Devin Ulibarri

Check out the concert preview on Landscape Music, which explores each of the works on this program.

April 15, 2016, 8:00pm
Advent Library Concert Series
The Church of the Advent
30 Brimmer St (corner of Mount Vernon St)
Boston, MA
$10 suggested donation
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Writing for NewMusicBox

Posted in art and music, Landscape Music on March 15th, 2016 by Nell

I was honored to be invited by the wonderful NewMusicBox (a publication of New Music USA) to contribute six columns as a guest writer during November and December 2015. In case you missed it, here’s a round-up:

New Music for Learning – The connections between music and learning shouldn’t only be a topic of interest for scientists or educators, but something that composers, performers, and presenters acknowledge and actively apply to their work.

Music Inspired by Visual Art – Music envisioned expressly for the purpose of illuminating, commenting upon, and conversing with visual art.

Why Landscape Music is More Important Than Ever – The intrinsic power of music to facilitate reflection and reinterpretation of life experiences makes creating Landscape Music a compelling approach to improving and deepening our connection to nature—a goal which is more important now than ever.

How Landscape Music Evokes the Natural World – What is the role of nature in culture? Why use the term “landscape” in reference to music? How can music symbolize the natural world? What are some of the specific approaches composers have taken to creating landscapes in their music?

We Need More (On-Demand) Films of New Operas – Making more live films of new and recent operas, and making those films readily available to the public, might be much more important to the future of opera than is currently appreciated.

Creating Points of Entry into Opera Through Video – Opera videos provided the “way in” I needed to become a fan, which led me to pursue live opera performances and eventually to compose opera myself. Now I’m looking for ways to help more people find their way in, too.

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Landscape Music Composers Network Launch

Posted in Landscape Music 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 LandscapeMusic.org.

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

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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!

Interviews

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.

 

 

Essays

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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