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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Quintet of the Americas Performs “Watercolors” at Parrish Art Museum 11/11

Posted in art and music, performances on October 24th, 2017 by Nell

Quintet of the Americas

Saturday, November 11, 2017, 5:00pm
Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY 11976
Tickets start at $200 / $150 Members
Tickets and venue information

My work for wind quintet, Watercolors (2011), returns to the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons on November 11. This performance by the internationally acclaimed Quintet of the Americas will kick off the museum’s anniversary benefit party—five years after Watercolors was performed at their grand opening in November 2012!

Watercolors for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon was inspired by the watercolor paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967)—including one in the Parrish’s permanent collection, which will be on display in the galleries in conjunction with this concert. (Learn more about the connection between Burchfield’s art and my music here.)

Long recognized as leading interpreters of folk and contemporary wind quintet music of North and South America, Quintet of the Americas has spent over three decades commissioning over 70 works, performing over three hundred concerts throughout the United States, and in Canada, the Caribbean, South America and Eastern Europe, and recording eight CDs. It will be an amazing honor to have my music performed by this group!

Inspired by the natural setting and artistic life of Long Island’s East End, the Parrish Art Museum illuminates the creative process and how art and artists transform our experiences and understanding of the world and how we live in it. The Museum fosters connections among individuals, art, and artists through care and interpretation of the collection, presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, programs, and artists-in-residence. The Parrish is a center for cultural engagement, an inspiration and destination for the region, the nation, and the world.

How wonderful to think that this will be the fourth time my music has been performed at the Parrish Art Museum. (See blog posts from the first time in 2012, second in 2013, and third in 2016.)

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“The Betterment Society” at New York Theatre Workshop 10/30

Posted in music for theater, performances on October 24th, 2017 by Nell

THE BETTERMENT SOCIETY
Written by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen
Directed by Jessi Hill
Music composed by Nell Shaw Cohen
Performed by Jade Wu, Lynda Gravatt, Zoe Winters, and Matt Consul

Monday, October 30, 2017, 3:00pm
New York Theatre Workshop
79 E. 4th St, New York, NY 10003
Free admission
Venue information

Join me for this public reading of brilliant new play The Betterment Society by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. I composed a song for voice and guitar that is threaded throughout the structure of the play.

Of this play and workshop reading, Deen writes:

“Three women on a godforsaken mountain.” This abstracted piece is curious about how place affects values, and how this in turn affects the divide between rural and urban value systems in America. It ask questions about the ways in which “community” can liberate us and/or imprison us. (And it’s also about three really fucking strong women.)

There’s something I’m trying to understand about the audience’s response so if you can come, your presence will be TANGIBLY helpful to me. There will be a brief conversation afterwards. I hope you can join us.

I first collaborated with Deen in the New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio last winter. Deen then invited me to work on The Betterment Society, which was developed through workshops at New Dramatists and a weeklong PAGE 73 Yale Summer Residency this past August.

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“Mabel’s Call” at University of New Mexico in 2018

Posted in Mabel's Call, performances, Uncategorized on June 21st, 2017 by Nell

The University of New Mexico Logo

I’m very honored to announce that the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque will be presenting a full-length workshop of my opera Mabel’s Call—with the full score for six soloists, chorus, and seven-piece chamber ensemble—as UNM Opera Theatre’s Fall 2018 semester production! I can’t wait to work with stage director Leslie Umphrey, music director Kristin Ditlow, and their talented students, as UNM Opera Theatre Composer-in-Residence. Performance dates TBA.

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“Mabel’s Call” opera event on June 18 in Taos, NM

Posted in Mabel's Call, performances on June 1st, 2017 by Nell

Ad for Mabel's Call: Celebrating a Remarkable Taos Woman through Music
On June 18, 2016, the Mayor of Taos, New Mexico declared the first annual “Mabel Dodge Luhan Day,” to occur on the third weekend of June. He noted that “Mabel Dodge Luhan was one of, if not the most prominent and globally known resident of our community from 1918 to 1962, serving as our unofficial ambassador, mentor and host to the arts, to the outside world and to many of the most talented, influential, and well known figures of her lifetime.”

In celebration of the second annual Mabel Dodge Luhan Day weekend, the Harwood Museum of Art and The Mabel Dodge Luhan House are presenting a behind-the-scenes look at Mabel’s Call: my new chamber opera that dramatizes Luhan’s self-reinvention in Taos.

I look forward to joining leading Luhan scholar Lois Rudnick in this public conversation and opera video screening, titled Mabel’s Call: Celebrating a Remarkable Taos Woman through Music. We will screen and discuss video clips excerpted from a concert workshop performance of the opera-in-progress, which was filmed live at the Harwood Museum in 2016. I’ll be shedding light on the process of interpreting Luhan’s life and historical context through music. Audience Q&A will follow.

The event will take place Sunday, June 18, 2017, 2:00pm in the Harwood Museum of Art’s Arthur Bell Auditorium in scenic Taos. Admission is free and open to the public. Seating is limited. For venue information, visit the Harwood Museum of Art.

ABOUT THE OPERA

Inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mabel’s Call is a lyrical opera in one act scored for six soloists, chorus, and chamber ensemble, with music and libretto by Nell Shaw Cohen. A universal tale told on an intimate scale, this work probes themes of identity, love, home, spirituality, and the search for a meaningful life. The opera’s story will resonate with audiences everywhere—even while it is deeply rooted in the culture, history, and physical landscape of Taos, New Mexico in the 1910s and ‘20s. The Harwood Museum of Art and American Opera Projects have presented workshops of Mabel’s Call in Taos and New York City, respectively. To hear clips from the opera and learn more about the project, visit mabelscall.com.

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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.

* * *

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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Reflection on New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio

Posted in performances on February 4th, 2017 by Nell

New Dramatists in NYC

This past winter, I had the pleasure of participating in the Composer-Librettist Studio: a two-week laboratory facilitated by Nautilus Music-Theater. This program has been filling the halls of playwright organization New Dramatists with new musical theater and opera for 33 years. (My very first composition teacher, Kim D. Sherman, was a participant in the inaugural Composer-Librettist Studio!)

On February 3, 2017, I was delighted to share the fruits of a gratifying (and exhausting) couple of weeks spent immersed in working with playwrights, performers, and composers in this deep-dive, rapid-production, hackathon-style workshop for music-theater collaborations. Collectively, we generated 25 new works in two weeks—all of which were performed in one epic afternoon.

My five collaborative music-theater works for voices and piano told the stories of a young woman captivated by a storm (Chase the Rain, written with Erin Courtney); an entomologist and a moth (Fly ’till the light’s gone, written with Sam Chanse); Edmund and The White Witch (Turkish Delight, written with Monet Hurst-Mendoza); two men ready to give up on online dating (Not Sure it’s in Me, written with Jennifer Haley); and a wanderer looking for home in the constellations (Fallen Star, written with Mashuq Mushtaq Deen).

These works were developed and performed with outstanding singer-actors Sean Cooper, Mallory Hawks, Joshua Hinck, Tim Jerome, and Lucia Rodrique, led by the brilliant and indefatigable team of facilitator-dramaturg Ben Krywosz, music director Roger Ames, and coordinator Dina Vovsi. My composer colleagues Ed Cionek, Emily Gardner Hall, Kailey Marshall, and Jonathan Russ were also inspiring to learn from and share with.

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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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“Mabel’s Call” in New York City

Posted in Mabel's Call, performances on September 26th, 2016 by Nell

Six Scenes collage image

COMPOSERS & THE VOICE: SIX SCENES

Friday, September 30 | 8:00pm
South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
Tickets $10

Sunday, October 2 | 2:30 PM
National Opera Center – Rehearsal Hall
330 7th Ave, 7th floor
New York, NY 10001
Tickets $20

More Information & Tickets

An excerpt from my opera-in-progress inspired by the life of Mabel Dodge Luhan will be featured this weekend on Six Scenes: an exciting showcase presented by American Opera Projects.

This concert previews the future of opera with an evening of scenes from six operas developed during AOP’s latest season of Composers & the Voice, the Brooklyn-based fellowship training program that I’ve been privileged to participate in since Fall 2015.

Two scenes from Mabel’s Call will be performed by Tookah Sapper, soprano, as Mabel Dodge Luhan; Blake Friedman, tenor, as Maurice Sterne; and Kyle Guglielmo, baritone, as Tony Lujan, with music director Mila Henry.

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Video of “Mabel’s Call” in Taos

Posted in Mabel's Call, new recordings on September 26th, 2016 by Nell

Enjoy this video compilation of a few special moments from last month’s workshop presentation of Mabel’s Call at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, featuring an ensemble of New Mexico-based performers.

Presented in conjunction with the museum’s exhibition Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns in the West, it was a wonderful evening with a great audience!

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