World Premiere of “Transforming Forest” at SITE Santa Fe

Andy Goldsworthy's "Tree Fall"
“Tree Fall” by Andy Goldsworthy. Photo by Nell Shaw Cohen.

Announcing the World Premiere of Transforming Forest (2018) for piano, violin, and cello, commissioned by Montage Music Society—Santa Fe’s chamber ensemble dedicated to music inspired by visual art.

SITE Santa FeThe World Premiere is presented by SITE Santa Fe, a world-renowned space for contemporary art. The program will be repeated on Montage Music Society’s Altazano Salon Series.

I composed Transforming Forest in response to the four incredible installations created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco. These site-specific artworks resonate deeply with me and I hope to share some small piece of that through my music. Visit my website about the project for descriptions of my music and the artworks that inspired it.

FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2019 @ 6:00PM
SITE Sante Fe, Santa Fe, NM
Event Website

SATURDAY, MARCH 16, 2019 @ 3:00PM
Altazano Salon Series, Santa Fe, NM
Event Website

Artist Residency at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM

Casita studio at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM.
Adobe casita studio at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM.

I’m spending two months in Taos, NM as an Artist-in-Residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. I’m hard at work on the score of Turn and Burn, my upcoming chamber opera about rodeo for Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco.

As a three-time alumna of the Wurlitzer Foundation’s residency, I’ll also be giving an Artist Talk at The Harwood Museum of Art in conjunction with their special exhibit, The Legacy of Helene Wurlitzer: Works from the Harwood Collection. This event takes place on Friday, March 8, 2019 at 5:30pm. Details at harwoodmuseum.org.

Workshop Production of “Mabel’s Call” at University of New Mexico

Next month in New Mexico: My chamber opera Mabel’s Call will be given a staged workshop production, featuring the full 85-minute score with six principals, chorus, and chamber ensemble!

Mabel Dodge Luhan
Mabel Dodge Luhan

The accomplished faculty directors and student performers of the University of New Mexico Opera Theatre have spent the semester taking a deep dive into this opera and its historical inspiration: Mabel Dodge Luhan—the influential salon hostess, philanthropist, writer, and international icon of the avant-garde—and Taos, New Mexico in the 1910s and ’20s.

I’m incredibly honored by this collaboration and the invitation to work with the university as an artist in residence. After months of emails and video conferences, I arrive in Albuquerque next week to join rehearsals as the team prepares for their performances in UNM’s beautiful Keller Hall on November 2, 3, and 4.

Mabel’s Call has been developed over the past three years through workshops with American Opera Projects, Fort Worth Opera, and The Harwood Museum of Art, and two artist residencies at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico.

Synopsis and recordings at mabelscall.com.

UNM Center for the Arts in Keller Hall
Albuquerque, New Mexico
November 2 & 3 at 7:30 pm
November 4 at 2:00 pm

Tickets available at the door or at unmtickets.com ($12, $10, $8).

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

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.

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

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.

Residency at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, NM

View of Taos Mountain and the Rio Grande Gorge. Photo by Nell Shaw Cohen, 2016.
Taos Mountain and the Rio Grande Gorge. Nell Shaw Cohen, 2016.

Last year I spent ten weeks as Artist-in-Residence at The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, which supports artists and the creative process by providing housing and studio space in the heart of Taos, New Mexico. I’m delighted that the foundation has invited me back for a second residency.

I look forward to returning and continuing work on Mabel’s Callmy opera inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s journey of self-reinvention in Taos during the 1910’s and ’20s. The Wurlitzer Foundation is located minutes away from Luhan’s historic home and all of the locales that were important to her life in Taos—and, consequently, my opera! It’s the perfect place to immerse myself in completing this opera-in-progress, my largest work to date, which I began researching about a year and a half ago.

Video of “Mabel’s Call” in Taos

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!

Concert Presentation of “Mabel’s Call” in Taos

Bringing Mabel Dodge Luhan to Life through Opera. Friday August 12, 2016, at 5:30pm at the Harwood Museum of Art. 238 Ledoux Street, Taos, NM 87571. Admission $20/$16.

The Harwood Museum of Art is presenting an evening of scenes and arias from my opera-in-progress, Mabel’s Call, in conjunction with the Harwood Museum’s major traveling exhibit about Mabel Dodge Luhan and her circle. This workshop concert performance will be integrated into a lecture I’m giving about the process of writing the opera.

“Bringing Mabel Dodge Luhan to Life through Opera” is receiving great coverage from New Mexico Magazine, the Taos News, KRZA Radio, and the Mabel Dodge Luhan House blog.

Music from Mabel’s Call will be featured again in New York City on September 30 & October 2 as part of American Opera Project’s Six Scenes program.

Nell’s Taos Residency and Opera Performances

Nell filming at Ranchos de Taos in 2010I first visited Taos in June 2010 while filming my multimedia piece The Faraway Nearby: Georgia O’Keeffe and the New Mexico Landscape. On that trip, I spent a night at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House: a historic home turned into a B&B.

It was there that my interest in Luhan, a memoirist and influential patron of the arts, was first piqued. Who was this glamorous, eccentric character who attracted Georgia O’Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Willa Cather, and countless other Modernist luminaries to her salons?

And wouldn’t she be a fantastic subject for an opera?

Fast forward to 2016. I am honored to have been awarded a Residency Grant from The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico—an arts colony in Taos, where I will be for most of June through August. During this time, I’ll be working primarily on my opera based on the life and memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan.

I’m thrilled beyond words to have the privilege of spending ten weeks living and working in this artistic haven, situated in the scenic multicultural environment of Taos that inspired many of my favorite works of art and formed the heart of Luhan’s life and legacy.

Harwood Museum of Art. Photo: Drew Flack.

Following this residency, my opera-in-progress will receive two exciting showcases in two very different venues!

On August 12, I will present an evening of excerpts from my opera in piano score at the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. Visit the Museum’s website for more information.Cover of New Mexico Magazine May 2016 This event will be presented in connection with Mabel Dodge Luhan & Company: American Moderns and the West, a major traveling exhibition that explores Luhan’s impact on the art, writings, and activism of 20th century American Modernism.

The exhibit, and my opera, just received some great coverage in New Mexico Magazine.

Back in New York City, this same project will be featured on AOP’s Six Scenes on September 30 & October 2—the culminating performance of Composers & the Voice.

Six Scenes will feature excerpts from six operas by the emerging composer and librettist fellows in the Composers & the Voice program. After the outstanding performances on the First Glimpse concert earlier this month (recordings forthcoming), I can’t wait to hear what AOP’s resident ensemble of singers and music directors will do with my score.

Bringing Mabel Dodge Luhan to Life through Opera
August 12, 2016, 5:30pm
Harwood Museum of Art
238 Ledoux Street, Taos, NM 87571
More information

Composers & the Voice: Six Scenes
September 30 & October 2, 2016, 8:00pm
South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217
More information

Music Inspired by Art in the Whitney Museum’s Collection

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.