Violin, cello, and piano. 12 ½ mins.
A piano trio commissioned by Santa Fe’s Montage Music Society, inspired by Andy Goldsworthy‘s four land art installations in the Presidio of San Francisco, CA.
Performance score and parts available for purchase. Please direct inquiries to Nell Shaw Cohen at email@example.com.
Transforming Forest was commissioned by Montage Music Society for World Premiere at SITE Santa Fe in March 2019. In this work for violin, cello, and piano, each short movement is inspired by one of four site-specific installations created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco: a park and former U.S. Army military fort in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. These remarkable installations were created by Goldsworthy between 2008 and 2014 using organic, on-site materials such as tree branches and soil.
Sites of urban wilderness in the Bay Area have frequently served as points of reference in my creative process. The Presidio’s landscape of eucalyptus and cypress was formative: my childhood home was steps from the sites where these installations were later created. Having made countless pilgrimages to these works by Goldsworthy, I felt impelled to formulate a musical response to these powerful places.
Goldsworthy’s four Presidio installations are transformed through the growth of surrounding vegetation, the elements, the passage of time, and visitor interactions. In my response, I sought to evoke different kinds of transformation connected to each of the four installations.
Wood Line is a long, curving line of eucalyptus branches (1,200 feet) placed along the forest floor. Many times, I’ve traced this path with my own feet—walking alongside it, or balancing on top of the branches themselves, the surfaces of which have become smooth from the wear of footsteps over the years. In my response, “Tracing,” a musical motif is continually “traced” through heterophony: picked up by each of the instruments in different tempi and registers.
Tree Fall is a tree trunk suspended from the roof of a small, disused military building. The trunk and roof were covered in wet clay, which developed intricate, cracking patterns on its surface while drying. In “Cracking,” a dark, chorale-like music, conveying the womb-like interior of the building, “cracks” open into a rhythmically dynamic middle section.
Goldsworthy created Earth Wall by burying and then excavating a sculpture made of eucalyptus branches from within a rammed earth wall at the Presidio Oﬃcers’ Club. A lively third movement, “Excavating,” evokes the spherical tangle of branches at the core of the wall through a building contrapuntal texture.
In the final movement, “Obscuring,” climbing gestures in the piano are juxtaposed with sustained notes in the strings to capture the spatial quality of Spire: a 100-foot structure made from Monterey cypress trunks thrusting dramatically into the open sky. Contrasting material in triple meter—tender at first, becoming increasingly robust—gradually takes over. This music reflects the stand of young trees surrounding Spire, which will eventually obscure it in years to come as these cypresses grow and mature.
- Blog Post with studio video, live video, and program note.
- Transforming Forest – Dedicated page with a detailed description of the project and artist biographies.
- Montage Music Society
- Montage Music Society at SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe NM, 3/01/19.
- Montage Music Society, Altazano Salon Series, Santa Fe NM, 3/16/19.
- Montage Music Society, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango, Durango, CO, 10/1/21.
- Montage Music Society, Quail Run Clubhouse, Santa Fe, NM, 1/14/23.
- Santa Fe New Mexican, “Beyond the frame: Music inspired by art” on World Premiere of Transforming Forest by Montage Music Society. (3/01/2019)