Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland (2021)

Flute, clarinet, horn, percussion, violin, viola, and cello. 5 ½ minutes.

Commissioned by American Wild Ensemble, Juventas New Music Ensemble, Landscape Music, and Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts to commemorate the 2022 bicentennial of the birth of Frederick Law Olmsted.

Score

This score will become available for purchase on January 1, 2023. If you’d like to be notified at that time, please inquire with Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Program Note

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted described urban parks as “the lungs of the city.” My music responds to Olmsted & Calvert Vaux’s expression of this metaphor through the iconic meadows and woodlands of New York City’s Prospect Park (1867) and Central Park (1858).

A lyrical theme, accompanied by sustained chords held against the flow of undulating triplets, opens and closes the piece. This music evokes the parks’ meadows, where the human body and the body of the landscape are connected through shared “breath.” Stepping off a busy sidewalk into these wide open spaces, the sensation of my lungs filling with fresh air feels like the echo of a gentle breeze blowing through treetops and grasses.

A middle section of syncopated rhythms and sinuous counterpoint recalls the parks’ winding woodland interiors, which reflect the “heart” of both visitor and landscape. These woodlands are spaces for contemplation and intimate conversation, where dense forest gives cover to an enigmatic network of footpaths.

Even as I cherish these two parks, I find their present-day terrain obfuscates a complex history. Seneca Village (1825-1857) was a vibrant Black community, which New York City’s government forcibly vacated in order to build Central Park. Both parks continue to occupy Lenapehoking: the unceded homeland of the Lenape.

The concept of parks as “lungs” may have come from Olmsted’s work in public health during the Civil War. Yet this idea feels strikingly poignant in our own time of pandemic and climate crisis, and has given inspiration and impetus to my music.

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Performance History
  • Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI, 10/09/22.
  • American Wild Ensemble (Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Joel Ockerman, horn, Lauren Cauley, violin, Molly Goldman, viola, Daniel Ketter, cello, Colleen Bernstein, percussion), Highland Park, Rochester, NY, 8/07/22.
  • Juventas New Music Ensemble (Wei Zhao, flute, Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet, Anne Howarth, horn, Jesse MacDonald, violin, Lu Yu, viola, Minjin Chung, cello, Tom Schmidt, percussion), Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA, 6/04/22.
  • American Wild Ensemble (Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Joel Ockerman, horn, Lauren Cauley, violin, Molly Goldman, viola, Daniel Ketter, cello, Colleen Bernstein, percussion), CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, New York, NY, 5/28/22.
  • American Wild Ensemble (Emlyn Johnson, flute, Ellen Breakfield-Glick, clarinet, Joel Ockerman, horn, Lauren Cauley, violin, Molly Goldman, viola, Daniel Ketter, cello, Colleen Bernstein, percussion), Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY, 5/28/22.
  • Juventas New Music Ensemble (Wei Zhao, flute, Wolcott Humphrey, clarinet, Anne Howarth, horn, Ryan Shannon, violin, Lu Yu, viola, Minjin Chung, cello, Tom Schmidt, percussion), Multicultural Arts Center. East Cambridge, MA, 3/26/22.

It’s a Long Way (2020)

SATB choir. 2 1/2 mins.

Commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble.

Hear Skylark Vocal Ensemble’s brand new studio recording of It’s a Long Way, featured as the title track of their newest album! Available for purchase directly from Skylark and streaming on SpotifyApple Music, and Amazon Music.

Watch a concert film of It’s a Long Way performed by Skylark Vocal Ensemble.

Listen to the World Premiere virtual quartet recording, made for educational use by Skylark Vocal Ensemble:

Watch a performance by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Southeastern District (SEMMEA) Senior Festival Choir of 2021:

Perusal Score

View the perusal score.

Performance score is available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Continue reading “It’s a Long Way (2020)”

Fallen Star (2017/arr. 2020)

Baritone and piano. 6 1/2 mins.

Lyrics by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen.

Perusal Score

View perusal score.

Performance score available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Also available as part of NewMusicShelf Anthology of New Music: Trans & Nonbinary Voices, Vol. 1.

Program Note

Fallen Star was written in 2017 within the New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio, an intensive laboratory for 36-hour music-theater collaborations, co-directed by Ben Krywosz and Roger Ames of Nautilus Music-Theater. Mashuq Mushtaq Deen and I created Fallen Star in response to a prompt from baritone Joshua Hinck to write a song with themes from Classical mythology and supporting roles for soprano and mezzo. In doing so, Deen also incorporated our shared love of the American West, and the transcendent night skies of Northern New Mexico, into his brilliant lyric. This was our first of several collaborations as composer and lyricist. I recently created this new arrangement of Fallen Star, adapting the characters of Venus and Callisto into a work for a solo performer, and hope it may reach new audiences in this form.

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Performance History

Nashua Pride Festival, Melina Jaharis, mezzo-soprano. Nashua Community Music School, Nashua, NH, 6/25/22.

New Dramatists, arrangement for three voices presented as part of music-theater workshop. Blake Friedman, Nicole Mitchell, and Camille Harris, vocalists, with Charity Wicks, piano. New York NY, 4/19/18.

New Dramatists, arrangement for three voices presented as part of public working session at culmination of the New Dramatists Composer-Librettist Studio. Joshua Hinck, Mallory Hawks, and Lucia Rodrique, vocalists, with Roger Ames, piano. New York NY, 02/03/17.

Woman Walking (2020)

Soprano and piano. 5 mins.

Commissioned by Laura Strickling for The 40@40 Project.

Lyrics by Megan Cohen.

Perusal Score

View perusal score.

Performance score available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at nell@nellshawcohen.com.

Program Note

A portrait of a solitary woman and present-day flâneuse as she saunters on city streets, taking it all in and going nowhere in particular. Inspired in part by Rebecca Solnit’s cultural history of walking, Wanderlust.

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Performance History
  • Laura Strickling, soprano and Daniel Schlosberg, piano; University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN, 3/2/22.
  • Laura Strickling, soprano and Daniel Schlosberg, piano; Thirsty Ears Festival, Chicago, IL, 8/14/22.
  • Laura Strickling, soprano and Daniel Schlosberg, piano; Baltimore Lieder Weekend, Baltimore, MD, 10/21/22.

Turn and Burn (2020)

Opera in one act for 2 sopranos, mezzo-soprano, baritone, and bass-baritone, with electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drum set, 2 violins, viola, cello, and double bass. 71 mins.

Libretto by Megan Cohen. Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera for HGOco’s “Song of Houston” initiative. Recipient of OPERA America Commissioning Grant for Female Composers.

Barrel racer in black and white

In Turn and Burn, small-town barrel racing champion Shayla Taylor and ambitious executive Jamie Hernandez aim for a big win at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. When an accident threatens Shayla’s career-defining race, the women discover each other’s strength in adversity. Set in a colorful world of bucking broncs and carnival rides, composer Nell Shaw Cohen and librettist Megan Cohen’s original story informed by interviews with rodeo athletes offers a feminist perspective on contemporary rodeo culture.

Performance History

Workshop at Houston Grand Opera, Houston, TX, Geoffrey Loff, Conductor; 12/09/19.

World Premiere production originally scheduled for February 2021, postponed (due to COVID-19) to 2023 .