World Premiere of “The Sphinx and the Milky Way” for orchestra at University of Wisconsin

Painting "The Sphinx and the Milky Way" by Charles E. Burchfield
“The Sphinx and the Milky Way” (1946) by Charles E. Burchfield.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Symphony Orchestra presents the World Premiere of The Sphinx and the Milky Way—my tone poem for orchestra inspired by the visionary artworks of Charles E. Burchfield. (Pictured: Burchfield’s eponymous painting of a sphinx moth!)

This work was written in 2011 during my studies at New England Conservatory, where it was given a wonderful reading and recording session. Listen to NEC’s reading.

SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 2019 @ 2:00PM
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Symphony Orchestra
La Crosse, WI
Event Website
(Special shout out to The Institute for Composer Diversity, whose database led this orchestra’s director to find my work!)

Quintet of the Americas Performs “Watercolors” at Parrish Art Museum 11/11

Quintet of the Americas

Saturday, November 11, 2017, 5:00pm
Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY 11976
Tickets start at $200 / $150 Members
Tickets and venue information

My work for wind quintet, Watercolors (2011), returns to the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons on November 11. This performance by the internationally acclaimed Quintet of the Americas will kick off the museum’s anniversary benefit party—five years after Watercolors was performed at their grand opening in November 2012!

Watercolors for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon was inspired by the watercolor paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967)—including one in the Parrish’s permanent collection, which will be on display in the galleries in conjunction with this concert. (Learn more about the connection between Burchfield’s art and my music here.)

Long recognized as leading interpreters of folk and contemporary wind quintet music of North and South America, Quintet of the Americas has spent over three decades commissioning over 70 works, performing over three hundred concerts throughout the United States, and in Canada, the Caribbean, South America and Eastern Europe, and recording eight CDs. It will be an amazing honor to have my music performed by this group!

Inspired by the natural setting and artistic life of Long Island’s East End, the Parrish Art Museum illuminates the creative process and how art and artists transform our experiences and understanding of the world and how we live in it. The Museum fosters connections among individuals, art, and artists through care and interpretation of the collection, presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, programs, and artists-in-residence. The Parrish is a center for cultural engagement, an inspiration and destination for the region, the nation, and the world.

How wonderful to think that this will be the fourth time my music has been performed at the Parrish Art Museum. (See blog posts from the first time in 2012, second in 2013, and third in 2016.)

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

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.

New videos “California Zephyr,” “Horizon,” and upcoming premiere in Boston

California Zephyr – Video and Music Online

This video and music piece inspired by a cross-country train trip, created for the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble, was given an excellent premiere performance with video projection on April 28 in the Frederick Loewe Theatre at NYU. Now you can watch the video online with live musical recording. I hope you enjoy it!

Horizon: New York #1 & #2 – Dance & Music Films Online

The audience at my April 29th recital saw the world premiere screening of version #1 of Horizon: New York, a short film I created featuring wonderful dancer-choreographer Callie Lyons and cellist Fjóla Evans. There are actually two versions of the video, shot in two different locations in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Bridge Park and Prospect Park), both of which are now available for viewing online.

Premiere of Commissioned Work at Boston GuitarFest

When guitarist Devin Ulibarri – who I previously collaborated with in 2011 on Triptych – asked me to write a piece for him and flutist Alicia Mielke relating to Boston GuitarFest’s theme of “American Odyssey,” I gravitated towards the woodblock prints and ink and watercolor paintings of the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975).

Devin and Alicia will premiere my Obata-inspired composition Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) at the Emerging Artists concert on the 9th annual Boston GuitarFest on Saturday, June 28 at 3:00pm in New England Conservatory’s Jordan HallVisit the Boston GuitarFest website to learn more about the concert.

The Coming of Spring: Success

Thank you to everyone who came out to see my recital and the staged workshop production of one-act monodrama The Coming of Spring on April 29. This was an extremely special evening for me and the audience response was very rewarding!

The performance was well documented and I’ll be sharing video and audio excerpts with you in the near future.

Premieres in NYC, April 28 & 29

Save the dates: new music and multimedia works of mine will be presented on two different concerts in New York City on April 28 and 29 (see below for details). I hope you will join me!

The Coming of Spring and Multimedia Works

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 at 8:30pm
Provincetown Playhouse
133 MacDougal Street, New York, NY
Free and open to the public (no tickets needed)
Charles E. Burchfield, Wind Blown Asters, 1951

My Master of Music graduating recital at NYU will feature a full-length, staged workshop performance of The Coming of Spring and screenings of multimedia works.The Coming of Spring is my one-act monodrama for tenor, accompanied by flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon, and piano, based on the artworks and writings of visionary American painter Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), who was also the inspiration for my wind quintet Watercolors. This is my largest compositional undertaking to date (ca. 36 minutes) and the overarching focus of my time at NYU.

This workshop performance is being created by a group of outstanding professional artists, including conductor David Rosenmeyer, an advocate for opera and new music with companies and orchestras in the U.S. and abroad (notably as Associate Conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York); stage director Herschel Garfein, who is also a composer and GRAMMY® award winning librettist; tenor Tyler Lee, who will portray Burchfield; and The Chelsea Quintet, which gave wonderful performances of Watercolors at the Parrish Art Museum, joined by pianist Alice Hargrove.

Also on this program:

Horizon: New York

Horizon: New York is a short film collaboration with two extraordinary colleagues of mine at NYU: dancer-choreographer Callie Lyons and cellist Fjóla Evans.

I originally composed the music for solo cello for performances at the Parrish Art Museum in November 2013. I was delighted to see this work reinterpreted by cellist Fjóla Evans and reinvented through Callie Lyons’ choreography and solo dance performance (conceived specifically for this film). With my father Burt Cohen, I filmed Fjóla and Callie in three locations around New York City to create this short film.

* * *

NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble Premieres
California Zephyr

Monday, April 28, 2014 at 7:30pm
Frederick Loewe Theatre
35 West 4th Street, New York, NY
Free and open to the public (no tickets needed)
View this event on the NYU website

In June 2013, I traveled from New York City to San Francisco by train. I departed from NYC on Amtrak’s Lakeshore Limited line and transferred to the California Zephyr in Chicago.

The California Zephyr, which journeyed westward via the Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, is a classic train famed for its scenic views. With a camera pointed at the window along the way, I attempted to capture the scenery’s transitions from farmland to mountains to desert.

California Zephyr, created for the New York University Contemporary Music Ensemble, summarizes my three-day journey on the Zephyr in eight minutes of music and video. Neither a film score nor a music video, California Zephyr features equally prominent music and video that I produced simultaneously, in dialogue with each other.

Preview of “The Coming of Spring” TOMORROW!

Sunday, November 24, 2014 at 8:00pm
UrbanAnimals NYU
Provincetown Playhouse
133 MacDougal Street, New York, NY.
Free admission. Full program information on Facebook.

Charles Burchfield, "The Coming of Spring" (1917-43)
Charles Burchfield, “The Coming of Spring” (1917-43)

On the first concert of this series dedicated to presenting new works by current NYU graduate students, tenor Tyler Lee and pianist Alice Hargrove will be previewing an excerpt from my one-act monodrama The Coming of Spring inspired by the writings and paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967). The performance will include a video projection.

Tyler and Alice will be joined by The Chelsea Quintet to present a staged workshop production of the full score this spring. Stay tuned for details!


Success at the Parrish Art Museum; “Watercolors” on YouTube

“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 ProgramsParrish Art Museum

The Chelsea Quintet and I at the Parrish Art MuseumI 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

“Your music illuminated Burchfield’s paintings for me.” Audience member

* * *

I’m happy to report that The Chelsea Quintet’s performances of Watercolors at the Parrish Art Museum in the Hamptons were an all-around success. We received a great audience response and turnout, with about 400 people hearing Watercolors and viewing selected videos from Beyond the Notes in the Museum’s new Lichtenstein Theater.

Watercolors received several preview articles and photographs in regional and local papers, including Newsday (the country’s highest-circulation weekday newspaper in a suburban area); The Sag Harbor Express; and The East Hampton Star, which printed a large feature article about my music (read it here). The Parrish Museum’s grand opening as a whole received notable publicity in The New York Times, New York Magazine, et al.

Now you can re-live the Parrish Art Museum concert or experience it for the first time! I’ve posted an HD video of one of The Chelsea Quintet’s November 10th performances on YouTube:

Watch Watercolors online

“Watercolors” at the Parrish: Crowdfunding Success!

Thanks to the generosity of some awesome and fantastic funders, my fundraising campaign to support The Chelsea Quintet‘s performance of Watercolors this Saturday at the Parrish Art Museum was a great success: contributions have brought the campaign to 126% of my fundraising goal! Combined with the funding provided by the Museum, this makes it possible to compensate the five musicians and cover transportation and production expenses.

The Chelsea Quintet
The Chelsea Quintet

The generous supporters of this campaign, whose contributions ranged from $15 to $200, are:

  • Anonymous (2)
  • Daniel Gagne
  • Andrea Grover
  • Kevin Morgan
  • Dorothy Reilly
  • John Resig
  • Nancy Weekly 

If you haven’t had a chance to contribute yet, you can still make a difference: all of the funds raised in excess of my goal for the Parrish Art Museum performance will help cover the expenses of my next (TBA) project bringing Music Inspired by Art into a gallery or museum venue. This is an ongoing project that needs continual support to thrive.

If you contribute by Saturday, November 10, 11:59PM Pacific Time you can still receive some neat perks, which include a DVD with over an hour of video from performances of my “Music Inspired by Art;” a personalized CD of my music; a special-invitation high tea at my apartment; and even a commission of a short piece of music.

Watch the Trailer, Find Out More, and Donate

Watercolors at the Parrish is already attracting some great feedback and press: The Sag Harbor Express included an article on the event in their Thursday, October 25 print edition announcing that I would be “Christening the Parrish” with the performance (click here to read a scan of the article). Nancy Weekly, leading Charles E. Burchfield scholar and curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, comments on the Indiegogo campaign: “Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature.” 

Stay tuned for more updates!

“Watercolors” at Parrish Art Museum


Inspired by the paintings of Charles Burchfield
Performed by The Chelsea Quintet
The Parrish Art Museum
Water Mill, NY
Saturday, November 10, 2012
12:30pm & 2:30pm
Free admission

I’m thrilled to announce another exciting performance of my music inspired by art coming up this November. I’d also like to ask that you consider helping me make this special project a reality.

The Parrish Art Museumest. 1898, a prestigious museum in the Hamptons, will open the doors of a brand new facility this November. To celebrate the public opening on November 10, the Museum has chosen to feature two performances of my piece Watercolors for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon) inspired by the watercolor paintings of Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967).

Watercolors will be performed by a wonderful ensemble of accomplished musicians, The Chelsea Quintet. The group’s affiliated parent organization, The Chelsea Symphony, is the resident symphony orchestra of the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

Read more about this concert and how you can help on my Indiegogo campaign page, which includes a video trailer and more information about the venue, musicians, and the music!

Watch the Trailer, Find Out More, and Donate *

* The Indiegogo campaign lists a number of suggested donation levels that have special “perks” — gifts and special opportunities I am offering as thanks — but remember that you or your friends can donate any amount, whether it’s $5 or $55!

Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art

I’m very excited to announce my upcoming recital, Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art. The concert will be a multisensory, multimedia experience featuring live chamber music performed by wonderful NEC student musicians coordinated with video and slide projections of the art that inspired it.

Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art will be presented at the New England Conservatory of Music on November 2nd, 2011, 6:00-7:30pm in Pierce Hall (241 St. Botolph St, Boston MA). Reception to follow. The event is free and open to the public.

Beyond the Notes screen capture
Beyond the Notes website as seen on a mobile phone

The concert will be enhanced by an accompanying digital companion, which will be launched within the next couple of weeks. Visitors are invited to browse the website ahead of time, or before and after the concert in the hall or on their phones, and explore video clips, audio excerpts, photographs, and information about the artists and music.

The new website will highlight Watercolors, a wind quintet inspired by the paintings of Charles Burchfield, in addition to the portion of the website featuring the string quartet The Course of Empire, which was posted in July.

The section on Watercolors features video clips from a fascinating interview with Nancy Weekly, Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center; Carol Steen, painter and co-founder of the American Synesthesia Assocation; as well as a movement-by-movement analysis of the connection between my music and the paintings, which is interspersed with audio excerpts and relevant images from the paintings.

While The Course of Empire and Watercolors are being highlighted on the website/app, every piece on the program has its own dedicated page and content. Other pieces featured on the program and the accompanying website include:

  • Setsugekka for violin and piano, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints by Hiroshige. The website will include videos introducing the genre of Japanese woodblock printing, and the traditional theme of setsugekka (snow, moon and flowers). This section features text and narration by independent print scholar John Resig (
  • To Create One’s Own World for soprano, flute, bass clarinet, and marimba, and The Faraway Nearby video piece with chamber score, both inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe. The website will include audio clips, song text, and the online video of The Faraway Nearby.
  • Revealed in Stone, a song cycle for tenor and piano inspired by the sculpture and poetry of Michelangelo. The website will feature an analysis of the English translation of the poetry used in the cycle.
  • Triptych for solo guitar, inspired by the formal structure of triptychs (especially as seen in Medieval art). The website will include a comparison of different genres of triptychs.

Both the concert and website have received support from the Entrepreneurial Musicianship Department at NEC.