featured composer & music Curator: Nell Shaw Cohen

Brooklyn-based composer, librettist, and multimedia artist Nell Shaw Cohen is the Editor-in-Chief of the online publication Landscape Music and the Founder & Director of the Landscape Music Composers Network, a group of living composers from across the United States working to increase appreciation and awareness of the natural world through music. She composes, curates, and promotes contemporary concert music engaging with landscape, on the Internet and in performances. Most recently, Cohen produced a concert at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY featuring Cadillac Moon Ensemble in a presentation of contemporary chamber music celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service. A native of San Francisco, CA and Sag Harbor, NY, Cohen received her B.M. from New England Conservatory and her M.M. from New York University.

Nell Shaw Cohen at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico                                                                       Photo: Burt Cohen 

Nell Shaw Cohen at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico                                                                       Photo: Burt Cohen 


Nell Shaw Cohen: Music & Writings

Nell Shaw Cohen, Point Reyes from Chimney Rock (2014) for orchestra.
A tone poem inspired by the coastal landscape of Point Reyes National Seashore and the print of the same name by contemporary artist Tom Killion. Commissioned by the New York University Symphony.

Nell Shaw Cohen, California Zephyr (2014) for video with piccolo, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, viola, cello, and bass.
California Zephyr summarizes my three-day journey on Amtrak’s historic train line through integrated music and video. With a camera pointed at the window along the way, I attempted to capture the scenery’s transitions from farmland to mountains to desert. Commissioned by the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble.

For more of Cohen’s music, visit http://nellshawcohen.com 

Selected Writings:

“How Landscape Music Evokes the Natural World” on NewMusicBox
“What is the role of nature in culture? Why use the term “landscape” in reference to music? How can music symbolize the natural world? Finally, what are some of the specific approaches composers have taken to creating landscapes in their music?”

 “Why Landscape Music is More Important Than Ever” on NewMusicBox
“The intrinsic power of music to facilitate reflection and reinterpretation of life experiences makes creating Landscape Music a compelling approach to improving and deepening our connection to nature—a goal which is more important now than ever.”

“Evoking Place Through Music: Three Modes of Expression” on Landscape Music
“The most effective musical evocations of place are those that are authentic to the composer’s own perceptions and experiences, regardless of listeners’ expectations—a fact that is exemplified by the impactful and original works of Ives, Messiaen, and Adams.”

Composers and Works

(*Member of the Landscape Music Composers Network)

Phillip Bimstein, Refuge (1999) for string quartet with recordings of Terry Tempest Williams reading selections from her environmental memoir of the same name. 
For more of Bimstein’s music, visit http://www.bimstein.com

*Alex Shapiro, Bioplasm (2004) for flute quartet.
Shapiro writes: “I named this piece Bioplasm because "Oozing Up From the Primordial Sludge" seemed a bit long for a title. Bioplasm is the stuff of life, the germinal matter that's essential for living beings to generate. This is a squishy piece: rather than exploit the individual voice of each flute, I wanted to create an organism that oozes across the sonic floor as one tethered entity, sometimes slowly, sometimes at a quick pace, but always as one, like a Slinky toy. The blend of homogenous sound with four flutes is a throbbing pulse of life; add to this four human voices, and it's a choir of plasma, looking for life to begin.” For more of Shapiro’s music, visit http://www.alexshapiro.org

*Michael Futreal, La Madre (2015) for electric dulcimer and video.
Futreal writes: “I recorded La Madre one evening during my residency at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, reflecting on a long day hike along the ridge leading up to Turtlehead Peak, with its humbling views of the La Madre Mountain Wilderness out over the gulf of Brownstone Canyon.” For more of Futreal’s music, visit http://michael.futreal.com

Erik DeLuca, A Loop, A Field (2014) for flute, harp, cello, double bass, and 2 tape players.
For more of DeLuca’s music, visit http://www.erikdeluca.com 

*Ryan Suleiman, Under Moonlight (2012) for piano.
Suleiman writes: “Inspired by some of my walks along the American River in Sacramento, Under Moonlight can be taken as a collection of different “night scenes” which tries to evoke not only the beautiful and tranquil, but also the curious and mysterious wonder of night.” For more of Suleiman’s music, visit http://ryansuleiman.com

*Jenni Brandon, The Sequoia Trio (2009) for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon.
Inspired by the Big Trees in Sequoia National Park and the words of John Muir. From Jenni’s 2010 album Songs of California: Music for Winds and Piano. For more of Brandon’s music, visit http://jennibrandon.com

*Oliver Caplan, My Elephant Cloud (2011) for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano. 
Caplan writes: “The melodies for this piece were sketched amidst the heat of August in New England. Summer affords many vantage points from which to pursue the wondrous sport of cloud watching: the tranquil waters of Walden Pond, alpine meadows of the White Mountains, and soft sands of Crane Beach. Here is some music from those lazy days.” For more of Caplan’s music, visit http://www.olivercaplan.com 

Mia Hsieh, In The Deep Blue (2016) for voices with pre-recorded whale song, from collaborative album POD TUNE.
For more of POD TUNE, visit http://podtune.com 

To discover more composers and works inspired by landscape, visit the Landscape Music Composers Network.

Point Reyes National Seashore, California                                              Photo: Nell Shaw Cohen

Point Reyes National Seashore, California                                              Photo: Nell Shaw Cohen