World Premiere Performances of “Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland”

Historic map of Prospect ParkI’m thrilled to share *six* upcoming World Premiere performances of my new work for chamber septet, Breath of the Meadow, Heart of the Woodland, inspired by the landscapes of New York City’s Prospect Park and Central Park.

My piece will be performed by three outstanding presenters of new chamber music—Juventas New Music Ensemble, American Wild Ensemble, and Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts—as part of Lungs of the City: Olmsted’s Parks in Music, a concert series and all-World Premiere program of works by eight composers celebrating public parks and commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

I’m honored to have co-curated and co-commissioned this program as Director of Landscape Music: an international network of composers and performers whose music engages with landscape, nature, and place.

Juventas New Music Ensemble gives the first performance on Saturday, March 26, 2022 in Cambridge, MA—which will also be presented as a free, live broadcast on YouTube!

Several more performances will follow, including exciting outdoor concerts in Prospect Park (Brooklyn, NY), Fort Tryon Park (New York, NY), and Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site (Brookline, MA)—three of the Olmsted-designed parks highlighted on the program.

Concerts

Juventas New Music Ensemble
Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 8:00 pm EDT
Multicultural Arts Center
41 Second Street, East Cambridge, MA
In-Person & Live YouTube Broadcast
Get Tickets or Watch Online

American Wild Ensemble
Friday, May 27, 2022 at 6:30pm EDT
Fort Tryon Park, Dongan Lawn, New York NY
Register for Free

American Wild Ensemble
Saturday, May 28, 2022 at 12:00pm EDT
Prospect Park Audubon Center, Brooklyn, NY
Register for Free

American Wild Ensemble
Saturday, May 28, 2022 at 7:00pm EDT
CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture, New York, NY
Invite only; more information here

Juventas New Music Ensemble
Saturday, June 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm EDT
Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, MA

Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts
Sunday, October 9, 2022 at 3:00 p.m. EDT
Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts
1400 Townsend Dr, Houghton, MI 49931
In-Person & Live Online Broadcast

Additional concert dates to be announced!

Nell sitting in front of computer with music keyboard

Explore the Music

Greet the Winter Solstice with choral music!

Listen to Boston Choral Ensemble’s NEW live recording of Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight, my choral setting of three poems for the winter season, from their holiday concert on December 11, 2021 (Klo Garoute, conductor).

Commissioned and premiered by Boston Choral Ensemble in 2019 through their 12th Annual Commission Competition, “Blue Shadows, Silver Sunlight” features settings of three poems on the theme of winter: “Winter Branches” by Margaret Widdemer, “A Winter Blue Jay” by Sara Teasdale, and “A Winter Ride” by Amy Lowell, all written in the early 20th century by American women. Each of these poets used vivid descriptions of winter phenomena to convey moments of profound connection to the natural world.

Any of the three movements may be programmed separately as standalone works for performance. Read the program note and view the perusal score here.

Commission from Laura Strickling for The 40@40 Project

I’m delighted to have been commissioned by extraordinary soprano Laura Strickling to write an art song for The 40@40 Project! Praised by The New York Times for her “flexible voice, crystalline diction, and warm presence,” Laura is personally commissioning 40+ art songs for her ambitious and visionary project.

For this song I’ve collaborated once again with my wonderful librettist and sister, Megan Cohen. Titled Woman Walking, our song is a portrait of a solitary woman and present-day flâneuse sauntering city streets. I can’t wait to share this work with you soon!

Skylark: New Voices for Education Commission

I am thrilled to have been commissioned by Skylark Vocal Ensemble to compose a new work for virtual high school and college choirs, to be featured alongside a work by composer Jonathan Woody! Skylark’s fundraising campaign, New Voices for Education, will fund our commissions and the ensemble’s production of free world class online study guides to support young singers performances of these new works in this era of remote learning.

I’m continually impressed by Skylark’s innovative projects through the pandemic and so proud to be participating in this fabulous initiative for choral education!

Learn more about Skylark: New Voices for Education and contribute to the campaign.

Free Music for a Fair Election – Fundraising Campaign through October 4

UPDATE:  This campaign is now complete!  Thanks to the generous donors who contributed $275 to Fair Fight, ACLU, and Rock the Vote Action Fund. As thanks, I will be donating free digital scores of Horizon for solo cello from October 5 through November 2, 2020.

"$200+ Goal Met!" with picture of cello over yellow starburst

Want to support our U.S. democracy while making scores of my chamber music accessible to more musicians? Please consider contributing to my fundraising campaign, Free Music for a Fair Election!

Donate through ActBlue here. Your contributions will support three organizations working for the integrity of the democratic process: Fair Fight, Rock the Vote Action Fund, and the ACLU.

To encourage donors to hit my fundraising goals before Sunday, October 4, 2020 (30 days before the General Election), I will be making scores for solo instruments, selected from my composition catalogue, available for free digital downloads:

If we raise $200, I will release the score of “Horizon” for solo cello for free download.

If we raise $500, I will add the score of “Walks at Brush Creek” for solo piano.

Finally, if we raise my goal of $1,000, I will also include the score of “Triptych” for solo classical guitar.

After this campaign is complete, musicians will be able to download the free digital scores from my website (nellshawcohen.com) from October 5 through November 2, 2020.

Thank you so much for helping me to support the incredibly important work these organizations are doing!

(Disclaimer: Only contributions received via my ActBlue fundraiser through October 4 will be counted. But you are very much encouraged to continue donating to these organizations after the campaign!)

About the Charitable Organizations

Fair Fight is an organization founded by Stacey Abrams to promote free and fair elections by fighting voter suppression efforts, particularly against people of color. They defend people’s right to vote through litigation, legislation, and grassroots activism and organizing.

Rock the Vote Action Fund is dedicated to building the political power of young progressives and leveraging that power for action on issues that affect their lives. They are the sister organization of Rock the Vote, which for 30 years has revolutionized the way we use pop culture, music, art, and technology to engage young people in politics and build our collective power.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is fighting back against attempts to curtail an essential right in our democracy, the right to vote, and working to advocate for policies that make it easier for Americans to vote.

About the Scores

Click the titles for recordings and more information about these works.

Horizon (2013) for solo cello is a sparse, atmospheric work written to celebrate and reflect the aesthetic quality of the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY, and the surrounding landscape of the East End of Long Island (my former home). It has been given wonderful performances by cellists including Louise King, Karlos Rodriguez, Richard Vaudrey, and Fjóla Evans, and became part of a collaboration with dancer and choreographer Callie Lyons. Listen to Horizon.

Walks at Brush Creek (2017) for solo piano 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. With this score, I offer a musical illustration of my emotional responses to this landscape, from the ever-shifting cloud shadows playing over the grasses and sagebrush to the sweeping lines of wooden fences that frame them. Listen to Walks at Brush Creek.

Triptych (2011) for solo classical guitar was composed for guitarist Devin Ulibarri. Triptych (pronounced “trip-tik”) is a term from visual art describing an artwork divided into three sections that are displayed as a group. European Medieval and Renaissance triptychs were usually painted or carved wood or ivory panels connected by hinges for standing or folding, and would have two narrow panels flanking a larger, contrasting middle panel. My three-movement piece for solo guitar reflects this structural model. Listen to Triptych.

“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.

Reflections on an Inspiration: The Hilliard Ensemble

The Hilliard Ensemble
The Hilliard Ensemble

As I write, The Hilliard Ensemble – the English male vocal quartet that has produced countless wonderful recordings of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and contemporary Music – is onstage at Wigmore Hall, where they are celebrating a 40-year career and singing their final concert.

Much has been said about the Hilliard’s music and enormous legacy, but the ending of this group has caused me to reflect on what their influence has personally meant to me as a composer.

It was my encounter with the Hilliards’ recordings of new music around eight years ago that was perhaps the single biggest epiphany leading me to pursue classical training in composition and to channel my artistic efforts into concert music.

At around age 18, I found myself at a crossroads. Having independently released my one-woman-band progressive rock opus Tempus, my next steps were unclear for reasons both practical and creative. I felt that my current approach was no longer fulfilling my artistic inclinations and professional ambitions.

Although I first began listening to The Hilliard Ensemble because of my long-standing love of Early Music, it was their recordings of contemporary music that showed to me that the kinds of artistic expression I’d been seeking through other genres and methods of music making could be realized through “classical” performance practices, aesthetics, and venues. The album A Hilliard Songbook, in particular, opened up a world of possibilities to me.

The new music The Hilliard Ensemble recorded was unlike anything I’d heard. And, unlike the broad gloss of choral music, or the 19th century-derived aesthetic of modern operatic singing (both of which I have come to appreciate in their own right), there was an intense, jewel-like delicacy in the Hilliards’ singing. In one of my old favorites among their interpretations of newly-composed music, Stephen Hartke’s Cathedral in the Thrashing Rain, every note, rhythm, and gesture emerges in sharp relief; every opportunity for expression is captured and realized, born out of a tremendous sensitivity to text, line, and harmony.

Their performances were immaculate yet intimate; technical, yet seemingly effortless; overwhelmingly beautiful but, above all, utterly human. They blended their voices in a way that was both balanced yet individualistic, taking full advantage of the inherent transparency of the small ensemble sound. Whenever I have listened to this group, I hear not only “The Hilliard Ensemble” but the perfectly allied voices of David James, Rogers Covey-Crump, Steven Harrold (or John Potter), and Gordon Jones, plus the ineffable ambience that the combination of those voices produces.

Although I had certainly experienced classical music before hearing The Hilliard Ensemble, through their recordings I began to realize that contemporary concert music might be “my” music.

It was with all of this ringing in my ears that in 2007 I wrote a 12-minute setting of Saint Augustine for solo soprano, countertenor, tenor, and bass, titled Memory (listen to an excerpt). This was my first completed composition that was 1) fully notated, 2) envisioned for classically trained performers, and which 3) didn’t involve drum set and/or guitar! I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to record this work with top-notch singers in NYC (members of Lionheart, et al).

This recording went into my artistic portfolio and helped me to secure spots and scholarships in several composition programs (including New England Conservatory, where I went on to pursue my Bachelor of Music). Now, seven years later, I’ve completed a Master of Music at New York University and produced compositions and performances for chamber ensembles, orchestra, multimedia, and voice, including a staged one-act monodrama for tenor, The Coming of Spring, .

As The Hilliard Ensemble ends its long career this evening, I’m faced with the knowledge that I’ll never have the opportunity of fulfilling my “bucket list” dream of composing a work to be performed by this group. However, while contemplating the pivotal influence that the Hilliards had on my path, I renew my hope that I might someday have an opportunity to revisit writing for small vocal ensemble and continue following the inspiration of this group in future, unforeseen ways.

Recording of “Symphony No. 1”

I was honored to be selected for the New York University Orchestra composer reading and recording session on November 19. The student orchestra had a brief rehearsal and run-through of the second movement of my Symphony No. 1, led by David Rosenmeyer, conductor.

You can listen to the recording on my website, alongside the reading of the first movement of the symphony from last spring by the New England Conservatory Philharmonia.

Listen to Symphony No. 1, first and second movements

Two more movements of this four-movement symphony have not yet been recorded.