Category Archives: Performances


Bridges is a work I wrote in 2011 after Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont. I chose the title of this work for string ensemble not just for its literal meaning of spans across bodies of water, many of which had been destroyed by Irene and were rebuilt, but also as a symbol of people working together for the common good. This performance from August 11, 2012 is by Burlington Ensemble.

We Must Always Have a Song

We Must Always Have a Song was written in the fall of 2001 as a response to the September 11 attacks. The title is taken from a wonderful David Budbill poem, What Issa Heard:

What Issa Heard

Two hundred years ago Issa heard the morning birds

singing sutras to this suffering world.

I heard them too, this morning, which must mean,

since we will always have a suffering world,

we must also always have a song.

David Budbill, ” What Issa Heard” from Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse. Copyright © 1999 by David Budbill. Used with the permission of Copper Canyon Press, P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, USA. All rights reserved worldwide.

My own interpretation of the poem and my inspiration for the music was that during our darkest times art is of the utmost importance. It gives us comfort, insight, and ways to move toward the light.

The performance is by the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble, Steven Klimowski, artistic director. Here is a link:

The Falling of Trees

The Falling of Trees was written in 2007. It was a collaboration between my younger brother Lars and me, created in honor of our older brother Karl, who died from brain cancer in 1998. (Tragically, the same awful disease claimed Lars 20 years later.) Lars wrote the four poems and I wrote the music, including the prelude that preceded the four songs. Here are the texts:


by Lars Nielsen

I. Mines

Stare at me, brother,

Give me your poor refugee thoughts,

Repeat them, and yet forget.

Repeat them, and yet forget.

Your mind frightens,

But your thoughts are not weapons.

We will not bury them.

We will not ban them.

Stare at me, brother.

Others will not travel your jagged crags and sudden drops.

I am not afraid.

Stare at me, brother.

Others avoid you, but I embrace the twists and turns of your trail.

I rejoice in the eddies of your waters,

as we sink into the deep pools of your mind.

Stare at me, brother.

Wander with me through shared memory,

Insist on the peace beyond.

I am not afraid.

II. Hockey

Wheelchair-bound, only your lips grin; only your mind moves.

But once you roamed free.

Long ago, you were the ice’s happy warrior, relentlessly graceful.

Your stick and skates pointed the way toward the joys of the cold.

I remember the ice.

Stretched tight over the swamp,

a fevered glow above the ground’s sunken cheeks.

The clack-clack of our curved sticks echoed over the sun-glared corridor.

Divorced from the ground,

our skates paid alimony with their single spare blades.

Like stir-fry boys on our frozen skillet,

Our smoke-still breath rose to the sky.

III. The Appointment

My car slithered up your ice-covered hill.

Half-dressed, half-remembering, you meet me at the door.

Brother, we’re already late.

You tell the doctor that drawing blood hurts.

The pain burns like a beacon in your brain-fog:

Something lives there,

something hard,

something that grows.

A black-flagged pirate ship’s boarded and captured you,

hijacking memory even of needle-induced pain.

I drive you away,

chattering to keep you warm, but my heart glazes over.

I have made you a stranger, a remnant, now a husk

IV. The Elder’s Loud Smile

I wasn’t ready to outlive my elder.

Not changing your diapers, as you lay,

Not hoisting you, tugging and turning you in your bed.

Not whispering in your ear: “You can let go now.”

I wasn’t ready to outlive my elder.

At the end, you remembered long-ago levees breaking,

but not the falling of nearby trees.

But you know where you are going now.

Ages ago, we fell to earth, and you helped me from the ground.

Someday in the sky, the divine roar of your pleasure will shock generations,

As you take my hand and tug me, your joyous apprentice, to race among the stars.

This performance comes from the May 26, 2019 event that commemorated Lars as a writer, the same event that featured A Psalm for a New Year. The performers are baritone Thomas Beard and the Northern Third Quartet. Here is a link:

A Psalm for a New Year

A Psalm for a New Year was written in the summer of 2018. The words were by my late brother, Lars, who had just died in June, 2018 from brain cancer. This was the last piece of writing he did before he became too ill to work. The performance is from a commemorative event held to honor Lars’s writing on May 26, 2019. The performance is by Les Voix de Mai (a hand-picked chamber choir), conducted by Jessica Pierpont, with Elizabeth Reid, viola. Here is the text:

A Psalm For a New Year

Thus saith the Lord, and all of us are prophets who speak to the Lord,

In the noise of our selfish shouting and in the deepest secrets of our shy hearts.

The Lord speaks through us and to us and takes the hand of our heart leading us forth to the light of his countenance.

Every day, we go to far shores and the tallest mountains, yet we stand rooted, like the trees of the field and bushes of the vineyard and the stones of the slope.

Master of Life, I have seen the glow in the hills, and I run from it.

Master of Life, I have seen the stars in the sky, and I cower to wait for dawn.

Master of Life, I look at my means, and I stretch my hand out to my ambitions, and I fear I cannot bridge the gap between the two.

Master of Life, may I sing a new song to you every day, as you will not restrain yourself, I, too, will cry out, my travail a transient moan, giving birth to the new.

We ARE islands, and we ARE wilderness, and we need God to be mighty and to raise us up.

Do not, I beg of you, waste the mountains and the herbs; do not remove the water from the islands, nor the eddies that make your pools streams, your streams rivers, your rivers the roaring oceans.

In return, I know I must listen, my senses must be righteous, and while I fear your fury, my faith spreads the bare bread of my courage.

And when I walk, I will fear none of my steps.

And when I walk, I will fear no destinations.

And when I walk, I will fear not the darkness, nor the unknown glow, nor the far towers, nor the watchmen on them, for You will be with me.

And You will unstop my ears so I will hear You and You will take the scales from my eyes so I will see You–

And You will make me plain that I may find the best in me; You will make the croooked within me straight, and You will make smooth my rough places.

–Lars Nielsen, 2017

And here is a link to the performance:

Black Venus

This is a “pandemic performance” of my 2020 work for solo flute, Black Venus. The work is inspired by the musical world of Paris in the 1920s and is dedicated to the memory of Josephine Baker, singer, dancer, member of the French Resistance, civil rights advocate and humanitarian. It is performed by flutist Hilary Goldblatt, for whom it was written.