“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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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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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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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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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):
California
Topaz
Sunset

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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New videos “California Zephyr,” “Horizon,” and upcoming premiere in Boston

Posted in art and music, new recordings, performances on May 27th, 2014 by Nell

California Zephyr – Video and Music Online

This video and music piece inspired by a cross-country train trip, created for the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble, was given an excellent premiere performance with video projection on April 28 in the Frederick Loewe Theatre at NYU. Now you can watch the video online with live musical recording. I hope you enjoy it!

Horizon: New York #1 & #2 – Dance & Music Films Online


The audience at my April 29th recital saw the world premiere screening of version #1 of Horizon: New York, a short film I created featuring wonderful dancer-choreographer Callie Lyons and cellist Fjóla Evans. There are actually two versions of the video, shot in two different locations in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Bridge Park and Prospect Park), both of which are now available for viewing online.

Premiere of Commissioned Work at Boston GuitarFest

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 the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975).

Devin and Alicia will premiere my Obata-inspired composition Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) at the Emerging Artists concert on the 9th annual Boston GuitarFest on Saturday, June 28 at 3:00pm in New England Conservatory’s Jordan HallVisit the Boston GuitarFest website to learn more about the concert.

The Coming of Spring: Success

Thank you to everyone who came out to see my recital and the staged workshop production of one-act monodrama The Coming of Spring on April 29. This was an extremely special evening for me and the audience response was very rewarding!

The performance was well documented and I’ll be sharing video and audio excerpts with you in the near future.

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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.

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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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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, below!

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.

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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.

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