by Mike Telin and Daniel Hathaway
Having expanded its June season from five concerts in 2012 to eight in 2013, Franklin and Diana Cohen’s ChamberFest Cleveland grew again in 2014 to encompass ten events. Ten seems now to be the magic number for this enterprising festival, which offers everything you can imagine in the category of chamber music, played by an all-star cast of musicians who come to Cleveland from far and wide.
We caught up with Franklin and Diana Cohen to gather their thoughts about the season, first asking how they arrived at the theme, “Crossing Borders.”
“Someone had suggested the idea a few years ago,” Diana said. “I think they called it ‘Foreign Exchange.’ We toyed around with the idea and it just sort of evolved.”
As the Cohen father-daughter team writes on the Festival’s website, “From river cruises to ocean crossings and beyond, our chosen musical offerings reveal the myriad of influences that have shaped the hearts and minds of great composers both past and present in their search for expression. ‘Crossing Borders’ celebrates this phenomenon by starting its musical journey with a trip down the Danube River and ends with a salute to America and the influence our country has had on others.”
Wednesday, June 17 at 8:00 pm – Down the Danube at Spaces. W. A. Mozart’s Quintet in E-flat Major for Horn and Strings, K. 407, György Ligeti’s Ballad and Dance for Two Violins, Béla Bartók’s Duos for Two Violins (selections), Antonín Dvořák’s Maličkosti (Bagatelles) for Two Violins, Cello, and Harmonium, Op. 47 & Georges Enescu’s Octet in C Major for Strings, Op. 7.
“The Enescu Octet was the seed for this concert,” Diana said. “We wanted to do it and we had to figure out how to get there, so: ‘Down the Danube.’”
“We don’t visit every country,” Frank said. “I was surprised that the Danube touches Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.”
The Dvořák requires a harmonium, which proved to be a challenge. “I called many places and crisscrossed the city I don’t know how many times trying to find an instrument,” Frank said. “There was a podiatrist who had an instrument that made my jaw drop — but there was only one problem: it was not quite a half-step off. A wild goose chase took me to Bill Kapp Piano. They gave me the name of a fellow who recycles all their junk instruments. Everything in his house is made out of magnificent old piano wood that he turns into beautiful furniture. In the corner was this tiny harmonium he bought and fixed up. And lo and behold, it played at A440.”
Thursday, June 18 at 8:00 pm – Becoming Light at Mixon Hall, CIM. Thomas Adès’s Darknesse Visible for Solo Piano, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet, Op. 57 & Ludwig van Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20.
“This concert came about because we really wanted to have the Shostakovich and the Beethoven on the same program,” Diana said. “Then somebody brought this Adès piece to our attention.”
“It makes sense because the Adès is a very dark piece,” Frank added. “The Shostakovich begins darkly and ends with some upbeat music, and the Beethoven is completely upbeat.”
Friday, June 19 at 8:00 pm – FRANK! at Kulas Hall, CIM. Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint for Amplified Clarinet and Tape, Johannes Brahms’s Quintet in B Minor for Clarinet and Strings, Op. 115 & W. A. Mozart’s Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A Major, K. 622.
“I look at this program on paper and my adrenaline starts going,” Frank said of the concert dedicated to himself. “There are two pieces I’ve been playing since I was a kid, and since I grew up in New York, I thought a New York piece like the Reich would be a nice starter — either as an appetizer or a palate cleanser! I’m determined to make something happen with the Reich, so if I just walk out and play it, throw something at me!” Frank said, laughing.
Sunday, June 21 at 3:00 pm – Who’s Romantic? at Harkness Chapel, CWRU. W. A. Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-Flat Major, K. 493 & Franz Schubert’s Quintet in C Major for Strings, Op. 163, D. 956.
“We thought it was about time for the Schubert Cello Quintet,” Diana said. “I guess the border here is crossing into Romanticism. The Mozart E-flat hints in that direction.”
“We’ve always had great cellists,” Frank said, “but to be able to have the elder statesmen — Peter Wiley from the Guarneri Quartet, and Clive Greensmith from the Tokyo Quartet — is a blessing.”
Tuesday, June 23 at 8:00 pm – Grab Bag—Surprises Galore! at The Wine Spot. Friedrich Hermann’s Capriccio No. 1 for Three Violins, Op. 2, Giovanni Bottesini’s Gran Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass, and String Quartet, Albert Schnittke’s Quartet #3, Steve Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas & Chick Corea’s Spain for String Quartet.
“This concert includes all kinds of multi-cultural music, sort of an anything goes on the lighter side of things,” Diana said.
“It’ll be interesting to hear the Schnittke surrounded by lighter pieces,” Frank noted.
“The Bottesini is an arrangement that Nathan Farrington has made for bass and string quartet,” Diana added. “It’s a piece everybody goes crazy over. He’s such an amazing bass player. He can make anything sound exciting.”
Asked about Friedrich Hermann, Diana confessed to finding his Capriccio on Facebook. “The Violin Channel is strictly for violin nerds, but they posted a really beautiful video of this piece — one of three pieces he wrote for three violins. It’s really serious, beautiful music.”
Thursday, June 25 at 8:00 pm – Music for a Summer Evening at Mixon Hall, CIM. Franz Josef Haydn’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 76, No. 4, “Sunrise,” Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy Quartet, Op. 2, for Oboe, and String Quartet, Johann Strauss Jr.’s “Wine, Women, and Song,” op. 333, arranged by Alban Berg for Harmonium, Piano, and Strings & George Crumb’s Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) for Amplified Pianos and Percussion.
“We’ve been wanting to do the Crumb for a while,” Diana said. “You feel like you’re walking into a store with crystals and tie-dyed T-shirts. It’s really out there.”
“It’s an unusual piece and is going to require concentration from the audience,” Frank said. “You really have to stay with it.”
“Bartók wrote Mikrokosmos and Crumb wrote Makrokosmos in response,” Diana added. “In the Bartók, pieces go from easy to difficult, and it’s the same with the Crumb, except in the last book he adds the second piano and the percussionists.”
Britten’s Phantasy Quartet was suggested by Nathan Hughes, principal oboe at the Metropolitan Opera, who thought it would work well. “It’s like a summer day,” Frank said, “a very light excursion almost to nowhere and back.”
Friday, June 26 at 8:00 pm – здоровье (To Your Health) at Harkness Chapel, CWRU. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No. 1 in G Minor for Piano Trio, Op. Posth., Alfred Schnittke’s Prelude in Memoriam Dmitri Shostakovich for Two Violins & Musica Nostalgica for Cello and Piano, Sergei Prokofiev’s Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, and Double Bass, Op. 39 & Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, “Razumovsky,” No. 1.
“The title actually means ‘Cheers!’” Diana said. “Originally the thought was about a composer who was influenced by another culture, and incorporated that into his work. The Beethoven “Razumovsky” Quartet is a perfect example. The Rachmaninoff is almost like a mini-Tchaikovsky trio. The Prokofiev quintet will be fun because we have the right instrumentation. The two little Schnittke are like palate cleansers.”
Saturday, June 27 at 8:00 pm – Something Borrowed, Something Blue, at Mixon Hall, CIM. Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Edgar Meyer’s Amalgamations for Solo Bass, Béla Bartók’s Mikrokosmos No. 151, Sz. 107 & Contrasts for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano, Sz. 111, Dave Brubeck’s “A La Turk,” Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” George Gershwin’s An American in Paris for two pianos & Dana Wilson’s A Thousand Whirling Dreams for Clarinet, Violin, Piano, & Percussion.
“This is our jazz program,” Diana said, “and we’re bringing in saxophonist Howie Smith to create a mixed group of ChamberFesters and jazzers.”
“Dana Wilson teaches composition at Ithaca College,” Frank said. “His piece is light-hearted and virtuosic. It’s serious music, but a fun mix of jazzy and Latin rhythms and tunes, not like Elliott Carter.”
Sunday, June 28 at 3:00 pm – Crossing Hands, at Dunham Tavern Barn. Claude Debussy’s Marche écoaisse sur un théme populaire, Robert Schumann’s Bildung aus Osten, Op. 66, Maurice Ravel’s Rapsodie espagnole & selections from Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances, Op. 72.
“This is a program for piano, four-hands with Orion Weiss and Anna Polonsky,” Diana said. “Orion was excited by the idea of playing with Anna in Cleveland. All of the pieces are border crossings in a way. There’s Asian influence in the Schumann, Spanish in the Ravel, Slavonic in the Dvořák’.”
“It’s revelatory to hear music transcribed for orchestra played in its original version,” Frank said. “It’s like hearing Rite of Spring in the version for two pianos. There’s much more freedom than with an orchestra and a conductor.”
Wednesday, July 1 at 7:00 pm – Stars and Stripes, at the Blackstone Organ House. Terry Riley’s Tread on the Trail (Echo Saxophone Quartet), Ned Rorem’s Winter Pages for Clarinet, Bassoon, Violin, Cello, and Piano & Antonín Dvořák’s String Quintet #3, Op. 97.
“The Echo Sax Quartet was a prizewinner at the Fischoff,” Diana said. “I had heard their recording of the Riley and looked up the leader of the group on Facebook, and the next thing I knew they were coming to ChamberFest from their base in Lansing, Michigan.”
“There are a few groups of instruments that blend in a very special way,” Frank said. “Trombones, horns, saxophones — not clarinets!” Frank said, laughing. “Fernando Traba suggested that I listen to the Rorem. I realized that in fact, I played either the first or the second performance of the piece,” Frank said. “I had forgotten how prominent the bassoon part is.”
Because the final concert is in a spectacular private home that houses a large pipe organ, the Cohens plan to include an organ piece on the program. How did the Cohens link up with Dr. Blackstone and his mansion? “My new friend, the architect Richard Fleischman, lives next door,” Frank said, “and he was interested in having a concert in his house. Because there were sightline issues, he introduced me to his neighbor next door, Dr. Blackstone, whose house Fleischman designed.”
Devising a rehearsal schedule for this ten-concert behemoth is something akin to planning the Invasion of Normandy. “The first three years, the schedule took me hours to work out,” Diana said. “Then a friend developed software for scheduling rehearsals. We’ll try that this year and see if it works!”
Published on ClevelandClassical.com June 9, 2015.
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