Charles E. Burchfield and The Coming of Spring

The Coming of Spring is a one-act monodrama for tenor accompanied by flute (piccolo), oboe (English Horn), clarinet (bass clarinet), bassoon, horn, and piano, based on the life, paintings, and writings of visionary American watercolorist Charles Ephraim Burchfield (1893-1967).

The monodrama follows Burchfield’s artistic and personal journey from 1917 to 1943, tracing the development of the titular painting — which conveys the transition from winter to spring in a single image — from inception to completion.

The idea for this painting comes to Burchfield shortly after he graduates from art school. However, it takes decades for him to develop the understanding of nature, the painterly technique, and the personal clarity he needs to express his vision: from days spent collecting butterflies during his rural Midwestern childhood, to the years in which he supports his large family by producing popular images of industrial and suburban scenery in Buffalo, NY.

In 1943, Burchfield has an artistic revelation leading to the long-awaited completion of The Coming of Spring. In this moment, he fully realizes the aesthetic of nature and fantasy that will fuel his work to the end of his life.

You can learn more about Burchfield's life and paintings on Nell Shaw Cohen's multimedia educational guide, Beyond the Notes: Music Inspired by Art, and on the website of the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

Music Inspired by Art

The works of composer and librettist Nell Shaw Cohen frequently explore the intersections between music, nature, and visual art.

Her wind quintet Watercolors, also inspired by Burchfield’s paintings, was performed to standing room-only audiences at the grand opening of the new Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY. "Nell’s extraordinary interdisciplinary vision…was an ideal program to introduce the public to the museum’s collection with music and images," commented Andrea Grover, Curator of Special Programs at the Parrish.

Nancy Weekly, Burchfield scholar and Head of Collections and Curator at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, has written: "Nell Shaw Cohen deserves superlative praise for her compositions inspired by art, particularly her understanding of Charles E. Burchfield’s rapport with nature."

Learn more and listen to Nell's music at nellshawcohen.com. Contact her at nell@nellshawcohen.com

Charles E. Burchfield, The Coming of Spring, 1917-1943


The Coming of Spring (Excerpt), Collecting

A full scene excerpted from The Coming of Spring. Recorded on March 13, 2013 at New York University. Featuring Tyler Lee, tenor; Yeami Kim, flute; Carolyn Johnston, oboe; Emily Martin, clarinet; Kaitlyn Lipka, horn; Anna Morris, bassoon; and Alice Hargrove, piano. Conducted by Herschel Garfein. Engineered by Ethan Hein.

Featured Artists, 2014 Workshop Production

Nell Shaw Cohen, Composer and Librettist

Composer, librettist, and multimedia artist-producer Nell Shaw Cohen writes lyrically expressive, visually evocative music for chamber ensembles, orchestra, solo voice, choir, wind ensemble, and rock band. The JACK Quartet, WordSong, and members of The Chelsea Symphony and A Far Cry, among others, have performed her music in museums, concert halls, theaters, and salons. She was named 2013-14 Composer-in-Residence for the NYU Symphony, which commissioned and premiered her tone poem Point Reyes from Chimney Rock at the Skirball Center.

Cohen’s multimedia concerts combining visual art with video and music have been featured at the Parrish Art Museum, the Peabody Essex Museum, and New England Conservatory, where she premiered 19 works on the Tuesday Night New Music series during 2008-12.

Cohen has also filmed in locations from the New Mexico badlands to the Marin Headlands; interviewed scholars on subjects from synesthesia to Charles Ives; and received two Entrepreneurial Grants from NEC and a Challenge Grant from NYU Steinhardt for her multidisciplinary digital media projects.

As a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Graduate Arts Scholar, Cohen studied with Herschel Garfein at New York University, where she completed a Master of Music ('14). Cohen also studied with Michael Gandolfi and John Mallia at New England Conservatory, where she earned her Bachelor of Music with Honors ('12) and was awarded the Presser Scholar Award and Chadwick Medal. www.nellshawcohen.com

Herschel Garfein, Stage Director

Herschel Garfein is a GRAMMY® award winning composer, writer and stage director. He is the composer/librettist of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, a new opera based on the play by Tom Stoppard. He wrote and directed the theater piece My Coma Dreams, a collaboration with jazz composer-pianist Fred Hersch (“serious, profoundly moving, and sometimes disturbing, a work of dream art as elegant as Stravinsky’s ‘Petit Concert’ and as memorable as ‘Yesterday’” – The New Republic). My Coma Dreams has been seen in New York, Berlin and San Francisco.

Garfein was awarded the 2012 GRAMMY® award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his “wildly operatic libretto” (–BBC Magazine) for Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry (on Naxos). He is presently at work on an operatic adaptation of Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, to be premiered by Florentine Opera, Milwaukee in 2015.

In November 2009 TimeOut New York wrote of him: “Garfein has all the makings of a post-millennial Carlisle Floyd. His music and themes are deeply American and rooted in the mores of Gens X and Y.”

He teaches in The Program for Vocal Performance and in the Composition Department at The Steinhardt School, New York University.

David Rosenmeyer, Conductor

David Rosenmeyer is the Music Director of the Fairfield County Chorale and Associate Conductor of the Oratorio Society of New York. He has led the OSNY on tour in Budapest, Rome and São Paolo and in Carnegie Hall performances of Copland and Ives songs and the chamber orchestra in performances of Britten, Fauré, and Stravinsky. Rosenmeyer has also worked with the Bellas Opera Company of Mexico City. Recent engagements include concerts with the Orchestra of Saint Luke’s, the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the São Carlos Philharmonic of Brazil. He has conducted several orchestras in South America and is actively involved in education as coach and conductor with the International Vocal Arts Institute, and with Carnegie Hall’s WMI programs; last year he was the music coordinator of Osvaldo Golijov’s La Pasión.

Rosenmeyer was Music Director and pianist for the world premiere of The Sandman, an opera by Thomas Cabaniss with Target Margin Theater, an experimental theater company led by David Herskovits, as well as Music Director of the Salzburger Marionettentheater’s production of The Sound of Music. A champion of new music, Mr. Rosenmeyer has premiered numerous works, including works dedicated to him by Robert Cuckson and Thomas Cabaniss.

Tyler Lee, Tenor

Tyler Samuel Lee is a second year master's student in the NYU Steinhardt Vocal Performance program, studying classical voice in the studio of Michael Ricciardone. At age 6, Tyler wrote and voiced the 50th episode of Cartoon Network’s “Dexter’s Laboratory,” and guest starred on the Tonight Show. At age 8, he co-starred on Disney’s “Out of the Box.” At the Peabody Conservatory he played Rinnuccio in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, and Mr. Owen in Dominic Argento’s “Postcard from Morocco.” Tyler was the Tenor Soloist in Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Maestra Marin Alsop. Tyler played Mr. Erlanson in the Pittsburgh Opera Theater’s A Little Night Music.

The Chelsea Quintet

The Chelsea Quintet, comprised of Alison Crossley, flute, Marilyn Cole, oboe, Angela Shankar, clarinet, Melissa Kritzer, bassoon, and Emily Wong, horn, is a non-profit, self-governing group of gifted musicians dedicated to producing performances of the highest quality and collaborating with fellow members of their affiliated parent organization, The Chelsea Symphony. The quintet is thrilled to work with Nell Shaw Cohen again after collaborating with her in 2012.

Members of The Chelsea Quintet have performed with such ensembles as the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Syracuse Symphony, Mobile Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Symphony, Dayton Philharmonic, Missoula Symphony Orchestra, Glacier Symphony Orchestra, and the Binghamton Philharmonic. They attended prestigious music programs at Carnegie Mellon University, New York University, Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and the University of Montana.

Alice Hargrove, Piano

Originally from Wilmington, North Carolina, pianist Alice Hargrove is a master's student at NYU Steinhardt, where she is also an adjunct piano instructor. Alice concentrates primarily on the study of instrumental chamber works, and has performed chamber music at NYU's Blackbox Theater, Provincetown Playhouse, and at Bellevue Hospital as part of the "Music with a Vue" outreach program. She has given solo performances at the Blackbox Theater and has also participated in NYU's Interstudio Showcase at the Loewe Theater. She completed her Bachelors of Music in Piano Performance at NYU, where she studied with Eduardus Halim. Alice studies with both Eduardus Halim and Dr. Grant Wenaus.