Please visit this Google doc for shorter, up-to-date versions of Nell’s biography for use in concert programs, press releases, and other publications.

Nell Shaw Cohen (b. 1988) is an American composer, librettist, and multimedia artist. She evokes landscapes, visual art, and the lives of mavericks in her lyrical works for concert and stage.

A 75-minute album of Cohen’s choral and vocal works commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble, titled Sauntering Songs, was released by Skylark in 2023. Cohen’s choral work It’s a Long Way was previously featured as the title track of Skylark’s album nominated for a 2022 GRAMMY Award for Best Choral Performance.

Cohen’s notable collaborations have also included a commission from Houston Grand Opera to write Turn and Burn (2020), a feminist chamber opera about rodeo, with librettist Megan Cohen. This project, commissioned through HGOco’s Song of Houston initiative, garnered a 2020 OPERA America Commissioning Grant for Female Composers.

Cohen is an alumna of the Composers & the Voice fellowship with The American Opera Project, and Nautilus Music-Theater’s Composer-Librettist Studio at New Dramatists, and her work was first runner-up for the 2020 Zepick Modern Opera Competition. In 2018, her chamber opera Mabel’s Call was featured at Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers showcase and in a full workshop production by the University of New Mexico, with Cohen as Composer-in-Residence. Excerpts from her opera-in-development The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus have been given a workshop reading by Untitled Theater Company No. 61 (2022), and her monodrama The Coming of Spring was staged at New York University (2014). Her latest operatic work, a short one-act titled The Fire Tower, was given workshop staging by The University of Texas at San Antonio in Fall 2023.

Cohen has also received commissions from Boston Choral Ensemble, Juventas New Music Ensemble, soprano Laura Strickling, American Wild Ensemble, The Brass Project, Montage Music Society, New York University Symphony, Boston GuitarFest, and WordSong, among others. Her Artist Residencies have included Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico, NYU Symphony, and a Page 73 Yale Summer Residency. She has produced concerts of her chamber and vocal music with the Parrish Art Museum (Southampton, NY), Harwood Museum (Taos, NM), Peabody Essex Museum (Salem, MA), The Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA), and the U.S. Forest Service’s Visions of the Wild Festival (Vallejo, CA).

Nell Shaw Cohen, portrait in redwood grove Cohen earned degrees in composition from New York University (M.M. ’14), where she studied with Herschel Garfein, and New England Conservatory (B.M. ’12), where she studied with Michael Gandolfi and John Mallia, among many others. As a librettist and lyricist, Cohen has studied libretto-writing and dramaturgy with Herschel Garfein, Ben Krywosz, and Mark Campbell.

Her honors have included the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Award, Presser Scholar Award, NEC’s Chadwick Medal, and the Ellen Taaffe Zwilich Prize from the International Alliance for Women in Music
. Her works have been selected for performance through calls for scores by Toronto Messiaen Ensemble & Canadian Music Centre, Bold City Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, and The Astoria Choir.

As Founder & Director of LandscapeMusic.org, an international network of composers and performers active since 2015, Cohen advocates for music inspired by landscape, nature, and place. She directed Landscape Music: Rivers & Trails, a collaborative concert series in Fall 2018 that featured 15 composers, catalyzed the creation of 12 World Premiere works of chamber music, and engaged 35 musicians in five regions across the United States. Landscape Music’s 2022 initiative, Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music, took 8 World Premieres on a multi-city tour commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Cohen has also produced educational media as a multimedia artist and user experience designer. Her unique projects have been viewed by tens of thousands online. The Boston Globe described her web project Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art as “far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork…[with] loads of information connecting the music and art.” She has received several university grants for her educational media work and earned a post-graduate certificate from NYU in educational media design.

Raised between dual hometowns of San Francisco, CA and Sag Harbor, NY, Cohen was a resident of Brooklyn for nine years. She is now based in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York’s Hudson Valley, where she lives with her partner and fiancé John Resig.

Cohen publishes her music under Faraway Nearby (ASCAP). Scores are available for perusal and purchase upon request.

Cohen is also a painter, and information about her visual art may be found here.

Nell’s resume and Curriculum Vitae, with a complete list of works and performances, may be viewed here.

Artist Statement

Nell Shaw Cohen, walking in birch tree grove

Much of my work centers on peoples’ search for meaning through experiences of place. I’ve explored this theme by interpreting the creations of landscape painters and nature writers, as well as composing direct responses to places I myself have known: from urban wilderness in San Francisco to the moors of England. This body of work encompasses chamber and orchestral music, opera and choral music, and music combined with original video and photography.

My projects also often engage with the lives and legacies of mavericks and creative visionaries. I’m attracted to telling stories about people who grapple with tensions between individualism and a yearning for community; celebrate creativity as secular spirituality; and capture an expansive sense of beauty in nature and art as a form of personal and social healing.

I strive to make music that provides emotionally impactful points of entry into complex subject matter. Driven by lyricism, contrapuntal textures, syncopated rhythms, and an expressive simplicity in harmony and orchestration, my compositional aesthetic reflects my origins as a progressive rock musician, my love of Early Music, and my classical conservatory training.

Text and narrative—whether explicitly in vocal music, or implicitly in instrumental music—is frequently at the forefront of my work.

Press Clippings


The most mysterious and probably most affecting of the three works was Mabel’s Call, an opera whose trio of excerpts were so subtle and arresting they exemplified a sort of waking-dream feeling Nell Shaw Cohen’s characters each seemed to be lost in…The three moments Cohen selected were mostly downbeat, her characters rattled with uncertainty. Her music magisterially elevated these noncommittal, commonplace feelings – the composer most called to mind was Ives, who had an innate talent for matching disjointed, natural conversation and the disjointed, natural emotions such conversation usually falls short of capturing.” —Ryan Maffei, THE COLUMN

“A highlight of the concert was commissioned piece by Nell Shaw Cohen [Transform the World with Beauty]…the singers reflected the opulent beauty of each spring creation. As the work progressed, the listener was presented with a full bouquet solidified in this work of tremendous thought and contemplation.” —Patrick D. McCoy, Music Journalist

Nell’s extraordinary interdisciplinary vision…was an ideal program to introduce the public to the Museum’s collection through music and images. Two “standing room only” performances [of Watercolors] were met with high praise from attendees. The Director of the Museum cited this event as one of the best of the opening weekend.” —Andrea Grover, Curator of Special Programs, Parrish Art Museum

[Workshop of opera Mabel’s Call] was a triumph of beauty, power, and art. To live to see this was a gift from the muse of music. We wept…Nell Shaw Cohen will take this opera all the way to the top!” —Lois Rudnick, Biographer of Mabel Dodge Luhan

Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of [painter] Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature.” —Nancy Weekly, Head of Collections and Curator, Burchfield Penney Art Center

Far more extensive than the usual site devoted to an event or artwork, [Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art] contains…loads of information connecting the music and art.” —David Weininger, The Boston Globe

[Point Reyes from Chimney Rock] sounded like an impressionist fantasy – a tone poem – and was most appealing sonically.” —Mark Greenfest, SoundWordSight

“[It’s a Long Way is] a Modern-Early Modern sequence that happy spans the great divide between our ever evolving present and the living brilliance of pasts both yesterday and far, far away in time.” —Grego Applegate Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

[Movements from Nine Muses for solo flute] were alternately distant but lyrical, lively and playful, and contemplative and precise. [The movements for solo harp] had the most complex musical textures: lush and polyphonic, busy and punctuated, and lively and joyous.” —Basil Considine, The Boston Music Intelligencer

I am so glad someone has at last given voice to what one imagines Burchfield might have been hearing in so many of his watercolors. Congratulations on bringing Burchfield alive in a way that I think he would have much appreciated.” —Richard Kahn, art collector