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

CHIURA OBATA (1885-1975), EVENING GLOW OF YOSEMITE FALL, 1930

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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Premieres in NYC, April 28 & 29

Posted in art and music, performances, The Coming of Spring on March 31st, 2014 by Nell
Save the dates: new music and multimedia works of mine will be presented on two different concerts in New York City on April 28 and 29 (see below for details). I hope you will join me!

The Coming of Spring and Multimedia Works

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 8:30pm
Provincetown Playhouse
133 MacDougal Street, New York, NY
Free and open to the public (no tickets needed)
Charles E. Burchfield, Wind Blown Asters, 1951

My Master of Music graduating recital at NYU will feature a full-length, staged workshop performance of The Coming of Spring and screenings of multimedia works.The Coming of Spring is my one-act monodrama for tenor, accompanied by flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano, based on the artworks and writings of visionary American painter Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), who was also the inspiration for my wind quintet Watercolors. This is my largest compositional undertaking to date (ca. 36 minutes) and the overarching focus of my time at NYU.

This workshop performance is being created by a group of outstanding professional artists, including conductor David Rosenmeyer, an advocate for opera and new music with companies and orchestras in the U.S. and abroad (notably as Associate Conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York); stage director Herschel Garfein, who is also a composer and GRAMMY® award winning librettist; tenor Tyler Lee, who will portray Burchfield; and The Chelsea Quintet, which gave wonderful performances of Watercolors at the Parrish Art Museum, joined by pianist Alice Hargrove.

Also on this program:

Horizon: New York

Horizon: New York is a short film collaboration with two extraordinary colleagues of mine at NYU: dancer-choreographer Callie Lyons and cellist Fjóla Evans.

I originally composed the music for solo cello for performances at the Parrish Art Museum in November 2013. I was delighted to see this work reinterpreted by cellist Fjóla Evans and reinvented through Callie Lyons’ choreography and solo dance performance (conceived specifically for this film). With my father Burt Cohen, I filmed Fjóla and Callie in three locations around New York City to create this short film.

* * *

NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble Premieres
California Zephyr

Monday, April 28, 2014 at 7:30pm
Frederick Loewe Theatre
35 West 4th Street, New York, NY
Free and open to the public (no tickets needed)
View this event on the NYU website

In June 2013, I traveled from New York City to San Francisco by train. I departed from NYC on Amtrak’s Lakeshore Limited line and transferred to the California Zephyr in Chicago.

The California Zephyr, which journeyed westward via the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, is a classic train famed for its scenic views. With a camera pointed at the window along the way, I attempted to capture the scenery’s transitions from farmland to mountains to desert.

California Zephyr, created for the New York University Contemporary Music Ensemble, summarizes my three-day journey on the Zephyr in eight minutes of music and video. Neither a film score nor a music video, California Zephyr features equally prominent music and video that I produced simultaneously, in dialogue with each other.

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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!

 

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