Ben Cosgrove is a traveling composer, pianist, and multi-instrumentalist from New England. He performs regularly all over the country, writes scores for films, plays, radio, and television, and has produced several well-received albums of original instrumental work that straddles a line between folk and classical music. His “electric and exhilarating” live performances are at once dazzling and intimate: music that has been described as “stunning” and as “compelling and powerful,” all presented with warmth, honesty, and “the easy familiarity of a troubadour.” From 2012 to 2014 Ben served as the Signet Artist-in-Residence Fellow at Harvard University, and he is a recipient of a St. Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award. He has also held residencies and fellowships at Acadia National Park, Isle Royale National Park, Middlebury College, the Vermont Studio Center, the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, and he spent a year as the artist in residence at White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Maine. In 2017-18 he will be creating new work in partnership with the New England Trail, a long-distance hiking trail connecting New Hampshire to Long Island Sound.
The strongest forces guiding Ben’s composition and performances are his deep interests in landscape, place, and ecology. For years, Ben has been fascinated and inspired by the different ways people interact with their built and natural environments, and through songs with names like “Prairie Fire,” “Champlain,” “Little Rain,” “Nashua,” “Sigurd F. Olson,” “Kennebec,” and others, he seeks to explore those relationships and reflect them in sound. “I don’t think of my pieces as rendering places in music,” he notes in an interview in Harvard Magazine, “but more just as responding to places musically. Writing music just turns out to be a great way for me to process the world.”
In 2014, Ben released Field Studies, his first full-length studio offering since 2011′s Yankee Division, which focused specifically on the environment of north-central New England. The music on Field Studies looked through a broader lens, considering the human experience of many dramatically varied physical landscapes across North America. Different sections of the album utilize field recordings, innovative arrangements, and elegantly interwoven melodies to evoke deserts, wilderness lakes, prairies, mountain ranges, coastlines, and sprawling suburbs all in turn. In one piece, swirling arpeggios capture the disorientation of a fast drive across the plains; in another, murmuring dissonances suggest the swell of the tide. Taken as a whole, the record and the performances Cosgrove has given in the wake of its release offer an intimate aural tour of the continent and a unique expression of place. At the end of 2014, Sound of Boston named Field Studies one of the best local albums released that year. The following year, he released Solo Piano, a collection of live performances recorded in an unusual array of performance spaces — clubs, forests, a theater, a ferry, a living room, a bar, a national park, and more — all around the country.
In his latest release, 2017′s Salt, he pulled back from the expansiveness of his previous work, exploring feelings of ambiguity and ungroundedness by writing quiet, shifting, and intense music for piano and guitar inspired by estuaries, fault lines, tidal rivers, and other landscapes in flux. Seven Days called the album a “majestic entry into the composer’s catalog… replete with near-imperceptible embellishments and forward-thinking concepts,” and Junction called it “a poetry of tones and turns and motion and play that transcends everyday language.”
In addition to his solo work, Ben has performed and recorded with a wide variety of other artists from across the spectrums of folk, classical, jazz, and rock music. In 2014 he produced, arranged, and engineered a new record, ellery, for the Maine-based singer-songwriter Max Garcia Conover, and he also constitutes one half of the Boston-area folk duo 90-Mile Portage. He regularly composes string and horn arrangements for others’ projects and has recorded original music for clients including Grand Teton National Park, WHRB, Bristlecone Media, Fabular Films, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 2016, his piece “Carrying Capacity,” a string work inspired by ecological data collected at Isle Royale National Park, was premiered by Wild Shore New Music at their annual festival in Homer, Alaska and then performed at Park Service sites in New York City and Washington, DC.
Ben also writes short nonfiction. His essays about sound, art, landscape, and place have been published by Orion, Appalachia, The Island Review, The Harvard Advocate, Northern Woodlands, Taproot, The Bad Version, and land that i live, where he is a regular contributor. He is the assistant editor of The Ecomusicology Review, a publication focused on the intersection of music and ecology, and an associate editor of the Ethnomusicology Review. As a Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism, Ben researched and wrote about the relationship between sense of place and the conservation of natural soundscapes in national parks. He has spoken about art, environment, ecology, and place at primary schools, colleges, and universities, at the annual meeting of the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, and at the 2016 Princeton Graduate Student Conference on Water and the Making of Place in North America.
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Within New England, fee support for Ben Cosgrove may be available to nonprofit organizations through the New England States Touring (NEST) program of the New England Foundation for the Arts.
“[Cosgrove's] melodies drift across haunting northern expanses amid polished arrangements, often gradually decomposing as chaos creeps in underneath. The music stirs intimate feelings of loneliness and homesickness, as well as taking on bigger places, distance, and a greater sense of history… these musical journeys evoke the melancholy and the frantic disorientation of departure, transit, and return.” – Harvard Magazine
“Even more impressive is his technical proficiency as a multi-instrumentalist — in his recorded music, his fingers glide across the piano keys, climbing arpeggio stairs; a guitar or trumpet will come in with a well-placed solo and just as effortlessly fade away.” – Sound of Boston
“[Field Studies] is a staggering work of resplendent beauty.” -ResidentMediaPundit.com
“[Cosgrove] seemingly has the ability to play, and play well, any instrument he touches.” – Duluth News-Tribune
“His profound interest in place, landscape and geography has resulted in an album of lush compositions that paint an impressionistic musical portrait… From the avant-garde “Little Rain” to the solo piano work on “Abilene,” [Field Studies] offers up musical colors that reflect both Cosgrove’s own emotions and the grandeur of the landscapes encountered on his journeys.” – Merrimack Valley Magazine
“Compelling and powerful” -The Harvard Crimson
“That Yankee Division sounds so flawless is certainly no surprise… The truth is, Cosgrove’s talents know no bounds.” -ResidentMediaPundit.com
“Cosgrove’s performance was captivating: we were amazed by how well his stunning original compositions and charming stage presence played to an audience accustomed to folk and bluegrass music.” -Tamworth Lyceum (NH)
“An accomplished artist who has found a unique niche in music… Cosgrove combines a love of nature and his talent on the piano to create albums and concerts that blend the two experiences.” – Huntington (WV) Herald-Dispatch
“Stupidly talented.” – Red Line Roots
“The production and instrumentation by Ben Cosgrove is electric, tautly spare, and multilayered… recall[s] the feeling of a wide open dome of sky, of driving in the American West.” – The Portland Phoenix
“The composer/performer displays an astonishing versatility in crafting his instrumental tracks: he builds them from piano, guitar, mandolin, banjo, trumpet, trombone, upright bass, and dynamic percussion, all of which Cosgrove plays, records, and mixes himself. Onstage, he usually performs solo, building up his layered sound with a digital looping pedal that allows him to record a part live on acoustic guitar or keyboard and then play and record other parts on top of that, multiplying himself into a sophisticated one-man band.” – Harvard Magazine
“Passionately joyful… delicately romantic… fantastically uplifting.” -MethuenLife