Peabody Essex Museum concert: success!

Posted in art and music, Beyond the Notes, performances on August 1st, 2011 by Nell
Rehearsal at PEM with projections of Thomas Cole's paintings

Rehearsal at PEM with projections of Thomas Cole's paintings

“The Course of Empire” at the Peabody Essex Museum on Saturday, July 30, was a success! The four performers (members of string orchestra A Far Cry), Liza Zurlinden, Ethan Wood, Jason Fisher, and Alexei Gonzales did a beautiful job of interpreting my string quartet. The group performed in Morse Auditorium beneath a large projection of the five paintings (provided by PEM), which were switched in real-time to correspond with each movement.

The music was preceded by a brief introductory video compiled from clips of videos I produced for Beyond the Notes, which provided context for Cole’s paintings and my musical “transmutation” of them (as curator Linda Ferber at the New-York Historical Society put it).

I made video and audio recordings of the performance, and will post clips online in the near future.

Article in The Boston Globe

Article in The Boston Globe

We counted roughly 140 people in the audience between the morning and afternoon concerts. That’s a great turnout for an event of this nature, and was bolstered by some remarkable publicity: the concert received a preview in the Boston Globe (read a scan of the article or see it on the Globe’s website) by Classical Notes columnist David Weininger. The article took up a full-page spread on p. 5 of the Arts & Entertainment insert on Friday, July 29. Weininger had the following to say about my companion website, Beyond the Notes:

“Far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork, it contains not only reproductions of the Cole paintings and program notes, but a full performance of the piece and loads of information connecting the music and art.”

The concert took place in conjunction with the opening of Painting the American Vision, a special touring exhibit of 45 paintings by 19th century American landscape painters of the Hudson River School. This was the kind of event I’m really passionate about producing–an event that brings together art forms in what is both an artistic expression and an educational experience for audiences. I look forward to developing similar collaborations with art museums in the future.

L-R: Ethan Wood, Alexei Gonzales, Nell, Liza Zurlinden, Jason Fisher

Nell with the performers. (L-R: Ethan Wood, Alexei Gonzales, Nell, Liza Zurlinden, Jason Fisher)

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Members of A Far Cry to perform “The Course of Empire” at the Peabody Essex Museum on July 30!

Posted in art and music, Beyond the Notes, performances on July 9th, 2011 by Nell

I’m thrilled to announce that I will collaborating with members of A Far Cry, Boston’s leading string orchestra, to present my string quartet The Course of Empire, which was inspired by the suite of five paintings by great 19th c. artist Thomas Cole. For the first time ever, the quartet will be performed directly in front of the paintings themselves! The performance will coincide with the unveiling of the first Beyond the Notes multimedia companion website, which explores the Course of Empire paintings and music in depth.

Thomas Cole, Destruction (1836) from The Course of Empire

Thomas Cole, Destruction (1836) from The Course of Empire

The concert is being presented by the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA on Saturday, July 30, 2011, with two performances at 11:00am and 3:30pm in the special exhibit galleries (free with museum admission). The event is part of the Inspired by the Land festival, held in conjunction with the opening of national touring exhibit Painting the American Vision featuring 45 landscape paintings by Cole and his contemporaries.

A Far Cry

A Far Cry (Photo: Yoon S. Byun)

The Course of Empire will be brought to life by four musicians who perform regularly with A Far Cry: Liza Zurlinden and Ethan Wood, violin; Jason Fisher, viola; and Alexei Gonzales, cello. Founded in 2007, the groundbreaking self-conducted string orchestra has enjoyed a heady ascent toward the highest ranks of today’s new generation of classical ensembles. Hailed by the Boston Globe as “thrilling,” “intrepid” and “brilliant,” A Far Cry explores the traditional boundaries of classical music, experimenting with the ways it is prepared, performed, and experienced. A Far Cry was recently appointed Chamber Orchestra in Residence at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Visit for more.

The concert will coincide with the premiere of multimedia companion Beyond the Notes, which I’m producing with the support of an Entrepreneurial Grant from New England Conservatory (my first E-grant supported the production of The Faraway Nearby). The Beyond the Notes website and mobile app for The Course of Empire will be up and running in the very near future, and I will be posting on my blog, twitter, and sending out a newsletter announcing its release. Please keep an eye out for that!

Screen capture of The Course of Empire multimedia companion

Screen capture of the upcoming multimedia companion

The website/app will feature a comprehensive guide to the paintings and music, featuring audio of the string quartet and 23 short videos exploring the historical, artistic, and intellectual contexts for Thomas Cole’s five paintings, and illuminating how Empire fueled my creative process and musical decisions.

The videos include extensive excerpts from my interview with the awesomely knowledgeable and articulate Linda S. Ferber, Vice President and Senior Art Historian of the New-York Historical Society (sponsor of the touring exhibit and permanent home of the Empire paintings). My favorite quote from Ms. Ferber: “A string quartet composed to The Course of Empire is very natural, when you think about it. Thomas Cole was very musical…I think he would be immensely pleased to find his paintings transmuted into musical form.”

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Beyond the Notes: companion for arts events

Posted in art and music, Beyond the Notes on May 25th, 2011 by Nell

For the next few months, I will be focusing on the development of Beyond the Notes (, a new kind of multimedia companion for arts events. Each “digital program note” on Beyond the Notes will accompany an event, and may include video interviews, audio excerpts, slideshows, and other interactive features, which will be accessed by audience members on a website or in the concert hall (but not during the performance!) via a mobile application supporting iPhone, iPad, and Android.

By producing websites and mobile apps rich with interactivity and substantive content, I hope to inform and enhance audiences’ experiences of the performing arts and visual arts, and to facilitate communication between artists and their audiences.

Thomas Cole, The Savage State (1834)

Thomas Cole, The Savage State (1834)

From now through September, I will be producing a pilot Beyond the Notes website and mobile app to complement a performance of my string quartet The Course of Empire, based on paintings by Thomas Cole, at the Peabody Essex Museum on July 30 in coordination with national touring exhibit Painting the American Vision.

Beyond the Notes will also accompany my recital at New England Conservatory in October, which will feature The Course of Empire and other music inspired by visual artists including Charles Burchfield (Watercolors and The Sphinx and the Milky Way), Georgia O’Keeffe (The Faraway Nearby From the Faraway Nearby [orchestra piece], and To Create One’s Own World), Michelangelo (Revealed in Stone), and Hiroshige (Setsugekka – mp3s coming soon).

I will be closely blogging and tweeting the production process for the Beyond the Notes pilot. My first exciting step: a road trip this weekend to film an interview with Nancy Weekly, leading Charles Burchfield scholar and Head of Collections and Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, NY.

I’ll also be heading to Catskill, NY to do research at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site and to film landscape footage in the region that inspired Cole’s monumental paintings. In June, I’ll be interviewing Linda S. Ferber, Senior Art Historian at the New-York Historical Society, an expert in Thomas Cole and the Hudson River School artists; as well as Carol Steen, artist and founder of the American Synesthesia Association, for a segment on synesthesia in art and music.

The first Beyond the Notes website/app is being funded in part by an Entrepreneurial Grant from the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at New England Conservatory. (My first Entrepreneurial Grant, awarded in summer 2010, supported the creation of The Faraway Nearby, a multimedia video piece inspired by the New Mexico paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe.)

This pilot project is an experimental vehicle towards developing a new model of media enhancement for music and arts events. If successful, I plan to start a service creating websites and apps for small arts organizations ranging from galleries to theater companies.

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