In a distinguished career stretching nearly forty years (he made his Royal Festival Hall debut at the age of 12), Robert Cohen has established himself as “an individual, and an exceptionally gifted one” (Washington Post). He is a performer in whose individuality “it is easy to hear what the fuss is about. He plays like a God” (New York Stereo), but it is always at the service of an inquisitive and passionate spirit - as satisfying in a repertoire stretching from Bach to Brett Dean as it is compelling in grand concerto or intimate chamber music. A probing musician and born communicator Cohen “can hold an audience in the palm of his hand “ (The Guardian).
Music is in the blood. His father led the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, his mother was a fine pianist, and a chance encounter with Tchaikovsky’s ‘Rococo Variations’ sealed the young Robert Cohen’s fate. A pupil of the legendary William Pleeth, Cohen studied at London’s Purcell School and Guildhall School of Music, taking additional lessons with Jacqueline du Pré and also broadening his experience in masterclasses with André Navarra and Rostropovich.
Whilst still a teenager he recorded the Elgar Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Norman Del Mar - a record whose sales earned Cohen a coveted ‘Silver Disc’. Subsequently he has worked with conductors such as Claudio Abbado, Riccardo Muti, Sir Simon Rattle, Mariss Jansons and Tadaaki Otaka, performing the world over, Europe to Australia, Japan to the USA. He has also become increasingly active as a conductor himself, directing ensembles such as the Slovak Philharmonic, Sofia Philharmonic, Izmir Symphony Orchestra. Murcia Symphony Orchestra and LOrchestra Filarmonico di Torino.
Several composers have written concertos especially for him, most notably Sally Beamish whose ‘River’ was recorded for BIS and made the subject of a BBC TV film. Recently Robert Cohen has premiered works for cello and orchestra by Mañas and Campogrande - broadcast on Italian TV and Radio – and also “The Song Gatherer” a new concerto by Sally Beamish (co-commissioned by the Minnesota and Hallé Orchestras). ‘The Song Gatherer’ was premiered in Minnesota and will receive its UK premiere under Sir Mark Elder in December 2010. Finnish composer Kimmo Hakola is also to write a new concerto for Robert.
His enthusiasm for contemporary music has led to a fruitful collaboration with HK Gruber (their recording of Gruber’s Cello Concerto with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra was released to great critical acclaim in 2004); and the groundbreaking ‘12 Angry cellos’ programme devised around the music of Brett Dean for Sydney Festival, earned Cohen the Robert Helpmann Award for ‘Best Classical Concert Presentation’. The concert was later presented in the UK at the Salisbury Festival.
A ‘Who’s Who’ ‘High Flyer’ (2005), and past winner of the Unesco International Competition and Young Concert Artists International Competition New York, Robert Cohen has consolidated the early success of his Elgar with an impressive and eclectic discography encompassing all the major concertos for labels such as Decca, EMI and CBS. His chamber music recordings range from the complete solo suites of JS Bach and Benjamin Britten to a Deutsche Grammophon recording of the Schubert Quintet with the Amadeus Quartet, and a set of the complete Dvorak Piano Trios performed by The Cohen Trio.
Chamber music, indeed, remains central to his music-making. He has curated special series for Festivals such as City of London and Bath, and for twenty years has been Artistic Director of the Charleston Manor Festival, a summer haven attracting artists from all around the globe, dedicated to the creation of illuminating, imaginatively-conceived programmes in the peace of the Sussex countryside. Recent themes have included ‘Shostakovich and Akhmatova’, as well as a cycle of the complete Brahms Piano Quartets
A Professor at the Royal Academy of Music, and Professor of Advanced Cello at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiano in Lugano, Robert served as a jury member for the Washington International Competition, and in 2009 also presented a complete Beethoven sonata cycle with lectures and masterclasses at the Purcell School, London. Other recent engagements have taken Cohen from Tokyo (the Elgar concerto with Otaka and NHK Symphony), to Minneapolis (for the world premiere of the Beamish Concerto by the Minnesota Symphony under Osmo Vanska), and to Turin (where he, conducts L’Orchestra Filarmonico di Torino).
Future plans include the complete Bach Suites presented in a single evening at the Chipping Campden Festival, a duo recital with Patricia Rozario in Vienna, and a performance of the Brahms Double Concerto celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Russe Festival in Bulgaria.
Robert Cohen has also recently launched two new ventures: ‘Robert Cohen’s Cello Clinic’ (www.celloclinic.com), is a unique personal service giving musicians access to in-depth, specialist diagnosis and resolution of physical and performing issues; ‘Cohen Pod Talks’ (www.cohenpodtalks.com) offers a probing series of podcasts in which Cohen talks to leading figures in the arts, politics and business. The first series includes conversations with Sir John Tusa, Tariq Ali and Michael Berkeley. An enthusiast for on-line technology as a means of exploring music, Cohen was recently invited by eminent film producer Don Boyd to become ‘Curator’ of a classical music channel at HiBrow.TV, a new arts based internet global website to be launched in Spring 2010.
Whether as performer or educator, Robert Cohen remains an artist rooted in tradition, fuelled by curiosity and driven by passion. As HK Gruber remarked at the time of the recording of his cello Concerto: “ The ideal partner for a composer is an interpreter who not only plays what’s indicated, but also discovers what is meant ... such a musician one normally finds in a composer’s dream. Only a few of them one finds in reality, and providing one has the privilege to work with such a musician one experiences that composing makes sense. One of these big, rare and lucky chances of mine and my Cello Concerto’s life is Robert Cohen”.