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"Virtuoso who heals musician's pain"
Jessica Duchen interview in run-up to Beamish premiere

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A Celebration and a New Concerto:
Robert Cohen in conversation with Gavin Dixon of Music Web

An in depth interview in which Robert Cohen discusses how the new Sally Beamish concerto 'The Song Gatherer' takes inspiration from hiss life and roots and connects with his beliefs and plans for the future.

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"If You've Got It, Use It"
Interview with Jessica Duchen on Cohen Pod Talks

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Cohen discusses how the notion of ‘freedom’ is central to his work as a cellist, teacher and curator
Interview by Christian Lloyd
Gig Magazine October 2009

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"Cohen to illuminate festival"
Illuminating Salisbury Festival's main theme
by Tony Pinkham for Gig magazine

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"Long live live music!"
Cambridge Agenda

An amusing yet insightful interview with Robert Cohen, in advance of his concert in Cambridge.

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As to the future of music..."
Robert Cohen's interview for the newspaper of Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana.

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Robert Cohen and composer HK Gruber
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Tim Janof Exlusive interview of Robert Cohen for the Internet Cello Society

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The Power of Love
Robert Cohen and other prominent cellists help Barry Green find an answers to :
'The Mastery of Music'
Broadway/Doubleday Publication
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...‘freedom’ is central to his work as a cellist, teacher and curator

‘I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a gypsy cellist,’says Robert Cohen,describing the genesis of Sally Beamish’s new cello concerto. Sub-titled ‘The Song Gatherer’, the piece draws on folk tunes from several continents,as well as more eclectic inspirations such as birdsong. ‘There’s a kind of raw quality in each composer’s voice,’ he explains. ‘The uneducated, unrefined root of it seems to be something raw and powerful, and taking that music for this sort of composition appealed to me.’

In developing the structure of the concerto, commissioned to mark Cohen’s 50th birthday, Beamish drew on the itinerant nature of his life as a musician, as well as his family roots. Born in Poland, his grandfather spent much of his life in South Africa before coming to England; Cohen recalled fragments and snatches of folksongs during the creative process. ‘As I was expressing myself about the things that counted in my life, it gave her a flavour of my energy,’ he continues. ‘And Sally has written this kind of “vocal” music that relies on spontaneity. Sections of the piece will come out really differently each time.

‘I’ve always had a very strong belief that playing music is like speaking and like singing,’ he explains,‘and the cello just happens to be a vehicle to express that. It has a fantastic range for that, so the use of song directly appeals to me. With cellists,there has been a kind of obsession with the “cello sound”, and I’ve felt quite different from many others in that respect.’

In Cohen’s view, the very physicality of playing the cello sets it apart in some way. ‘With a violin, you almost have to stop yourself working too hard or you could crush it, as it were,’ he says. ‘With the cello,you have to work quite hard just to get the sound started. You have to find a real balance between having to work with enormous strength, but without in any sense suppressing the cello’s ability.’ As a teacher, Cohen often finds that cellists need to discover ‘freedom’: ‘Composers lay down very,very strict rules in minute detail, but a lot of people need to find how that structure, the detail, shows them where the freedom really lies in the music. You have to find a sound that is flexible, that leaves you space to express yourself.’

In part,it’s the concept of ‘freedom’ that has drawn Cohen to his latest venture: Hibrow.tv, an independent online platform for the arts, is due to launch later this year, with Cohen as ‘curator’ of its classical programming. ‘It will allow us to be expressive and creative in television terms, but using much greater flexibility, being on the internet,’ he claims. ‘It’s all new material – we started by filming my Charleston Manor Festival in June – and you can choose how you want to see it. We’re showing the development from rehearsals to the concerts; background information; interviews; and you can choose different viewpoints, or find out how the music sounds from the position of one of the musicians on stage. There are lots of ways to get involved in what happens.’

From his point of view, this is the key to classical music’s popularity: ‘Everyone really needs to be close up to understand the resonance, and how powerful it really is. In concert halls, we have a tendency to be miles away all the time, but you have to literally feel the physical force of the music, and the energy required to play it, to get involved in it. When people feel really close to it, they won’t start thinking it’s elitist, or whether they have to know about the music beforehand. I don’t think any of that’s relevant, when you’re involved with the impact.’

Robert Cohen performs the world premiere of Sally Beamish’s Cello Concerto ‘The Song Gatherer’ with the Minnesota Orchestra at Orchestra Hall,Minneapolis,on 12 November

"Cohen to illuminate festival"

12 Angry Cellos

Robert Cohen is illuminating the Salisbury Festival’s main theme in typically imaginative fashion

‘It’s the old joke,isn’t it?’says Robert Cohen, fresh from an award-winning, sell-out performance of 12 Angry Cellosat this year’s Sydney Festival. ‘What’s worse than one cello…? Admittedly, the idea of suddenly having 12 cellos could be overwhelmingly awful! But as it turns out, it is something rather wonderful. ‘The resonance and emotive qualities of our instruments combined creates a buzz which I have to say is truly thrilling,’he adds. ‘Our Australian performance was one of the most exciting events of my career.’

Now Cohen is bringing his quirky production from Oz to the UK’s Salisbury International Arts Festival (Siaf) – run,as it happens,by Australian Jo Metcalf.

‘12 Angry Cellos takes its name from the festival’s central work Twelve Angry Menby one of Australia’s most exciting composers, Brett Dean,’Cohen explains.

‘The work is based upon Sidney Lumet’s acclaimed film starring Henry Fonda. It’s a provocative work that examines the deep- seated personal prejudices, perceptual biases,weaknesses,personalities and cultur- al differences of its 12 characters – each of whom must come to a unanimous decision on whether to convict a teenage Puerto Rican accused of murdering his father.’

Such moods and emotions are reflected in the voices of the 12 Angry Cellos. Each instrument is representative of an individual juror/character (with lead cellist Cohen as the dissenting voice of Fonda).

‘The cello has such a connection to the human voice,making it perfectly suited to a work of this nature,’Cohen explains. ‘As far as I know,no other piece of music has such a close connection with a story and in this case a film story. Naturally we have sound- tracks and musical scores that accompany a film yet when you come across a piece of music that tells an entire story literally character for character… It’s exceptional from that perspective.’

Serendipitously, the ensemble’s appearance in Salisbury coincides with the film’s 50th anniversary. Concertgoers will also be offered a programme featuring music from Estonia, Brazil, Australia and Europe, including the world premiere of Symphonia by Argentine cellist-composer Jorge Bosso. As Gig went to press the piece remained unfinished however.

‘There’s nothing to worry about, I can assure you,’ Cohen teases.‘ I’m sure we’ll have it soon enough. The important thing is that Jorge has very strong beliefs on how to communicate music – as do I. That’s why I approached him with a commission.

‘Music doesn’t have to be explained verbally before you hear it, I feel,’ Cohen adds.‘ His end product will no doubt be something that is highly communicative and easily understood by the ensemble and our audience.’

Cohen’s passionate and articulate views on the art of learning, performing and communicating music have been honed over a professional lifetime. The son of former Royal Philharmonic Orchestra leader Raymond Cohen, he grew up in an environment where musical discourse was second nature and made his Royal Festival Hall debut at the age of 12. The creative give-and-take of the concert hall remains Cohen junior’s first love but he has earned a worldwide reputation also as an artistic director (he founded the Charleston Manor Festival in East Sussex) and teacher. Since 1999 he has also been a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London as well as professor of advanced cello at the Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano.

‘I like to show people that the message of music is the main point in terms of a performance,’he explains.

‘Musicians can often feel trapped by musical technicalities and whether they are perfecting an accepted or official interpretation of their repertoire.

‘They forget that the thing that really communicates music best is the way in which they show an audience how much they genuinely love what they’re doing,’ Cohen points out. ‘That’s my philosophy anyway – and one that I trust will be conveyed in our upcoming concert.’

12 Angry Cellos is performed on 27 May as part of Siaf in Wiltshire, UK. The multi-arts celebration runs from 25 May to 10 June

Interview: Tony Pinkham

Cambridge Agenda

Answer Time

Robert Cohen is regarded as one of the most inspiring musicians in the world, and will be playing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange's International Concert Series, which starts in September. Nick Jordan asks what inspires Robert and get's the reply: 'Long live live music!'

Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a professional musician?
A: Aged three, I was desperate to play the cello. After two and half years of nagging my parents for a cello, they conceded, realising it was not a whim after all! By eight, I knew I wanted to be a cellist, which on the surface sounds ridiculous, but not only could I see what a life in music could be – my parents were professional musicians – but most importantly I found playing the cello easy, exciting, stimulating and fulfilling. May I say how extraordinarily fortunate I consider myself to have been, having my life path mapped from such an early age.

Q: Why the cello?
A: The sound! I was drawn by the warm, enveloping bass and the range to soar high in the melodic treble. A voice that could say so much.

Q: You play an 'Ex Roser' cello. What does that mean?
A: Some of history’s great string instruments have bee named after their illustrious owners. My cello – made by David Tecchler in Rome, 1723 – was once owned by a Mr Roser.

Q: Professional classical musicians have a reputation for being a bit feisty and independent. Is that fair, or just a stereotype?
A: I think anyone who spends most of their lives touring the world alone with a passion to convince every audience that they have some profound thoughts and feelings to communicate is likely to be considered feisty and independent. You wouldn’t put yourself under this intense spotlight if you didn’t have demanding standards and the pressure is bound to bring out some interesting traits!

Q: You've worked with some of the best conductors in the world. In your opinion and experience as a player, what makes a great conductor?
A: A true musician. One who puts his great talent to the service of the music and who knows how to inspire his fellow musicians to play out-of-their-skins.

Q: What's your favourite classical music recording, and why?
A: When I was a teenager, I wore out an LP of the Debussy String Quartet played by the Guarneri Quartet. It was a musical language I was entranced by; passionate, serene and powerful. The Guarneri’s performance was stunning, riveting and sublime. Since then, I’ve found all recordings of transitory interest, always wanting to hear how the performance would continue developing. Long live live music!

Q: What discs are on your CD player right now?
A: Mendelssohn ‘Italian’ Symphony. Having finished preparing for my own performances conducting it this week, I was interested to hear the interpretation of the wonderful Bernard Haitink. However after that, I put back on an old favourite: a CD of Egberto Gismonti, the fabulous Brazilian jazz pianist – no offence Bernard!

Q: What music makes you happiest?
A: I think that’s an impossible one for me to pin down. So much music brings me an enormous range of emotions and I suppose that range swings with my mood.

Q: When are you at your best?
A: Usually after I‘ve finished practising the cello; good, positive and happy.

Q: Radio 3 or Classic FM?
A: Classic FM when there’s ancient choral music on Radio 3. Radio 3 when Classic FM is playing single movements of the classical pops.

Courtesy of Cambridgeshire Agenda, www.thecambridgeagenda.co.uk

The Cambridge Corn Exchange's International Concert Series begins in September 2006, and continues into May 2007.

Interview with Robert Cohen for the newspaper of Conservatorio della Svizzera Italiana

We know that you have been student of the great cellist and pedagogue William Pleeth, died in the April of the ' 99. Do you want to describe to us that type of cellistic school?

Here is part of an article I wrote for the Strad Magazine about William Pleeth:

"What made him so unique was that he made you very aware of how precious the music was and how you need to share it with the listener: music is all about communication. Anyone who ever met him felt that they had been touched by an extraordinary personality. He was a very giving, loving person; you felt he was literally hugging you with his warmth."

William Pleeth gave each student individually crafted disciplines to help fulfil their personal potential. He worked intensively with me to find the deepest musical meaning in every piece. Alongside this constant musical search was a highly sophisticated approach to technical development. Pleeth believed there were no boundaries as to the kind of sounds that should come from the cello.

How you would define your current cello school?

I have developed many principles in the way I teach:

The first is that all interpretation of music and study of instrumental skills, even from the early stages, should be related to and focussed on a final concert performance. In a very precise way, I teach my students to practice the art of performing, not to take their practice onto the stage.

I believe that music is a form of speech, that the cello is a vehicle to express the language of music in the most defined, eloquent and powerful way. This means I work with my students on highly detailed technical skills to fulfil the music's infinite requirements.

I teach the art of relaxation, focussed concentration and a natural, balanced physical unity with the instrument. I prove that all technical problems have simple and quick solutions; in my classes I explain the methods to analyse and rectify problems of all sorts in a concise, positive and optimistic way.

My reason for being a musician is my love and passion for music. I believe that music students should be constantly inspired by their lessons and constantly challenged to perform at their best.

Ultimately, I teach my students to teach themselves, to be their greatest critics and to find music constantly inspiring and life enhancing.

The critics have defined you as "one of the best young cellist of the our time", you have recorded for the more important record houses, played with the greatest orchestras... There is some project that still you want to realise with the cello?

Music to me is about experiencing an art that lifts us to higher levels of sensitivity, awareness and most importantly, emotion. I believe that because children today are so well targeted by promotion of new fashions, pop music, computers and toys, they are unaware that all the classical art forms (classical music, visual art, literature, poetry and dance), with their history stretching back centuries, can be intensely valuable to the quality of their lives. I have a passion to expose young children to the music I adore and to let them see and hear why so many people for hundreds of years have valued classical music so highly.

Do you have founded in England a festival of chamber music, the Charleston Manor Festival, and recently a multicultural plan for the city of London. Your is a wide interest for the culture or the activity of cellist soloist/pedagogue is restrictive for you?

I see teaching and performing music as the ideal way to bring people, different cultures and art forms together. This is why I enjoy incorporating the planning of special projects into my life.

What do you know of Lugano and Ticino?

I only know Lugano for it's beauty (as a tourist) and for it's orchestra's fine reputation. Of course more recently I discovered the unique Conservatorio and the exceptional and progressive attitude of its director and staff. This certainly puts Lugano on the musical map.

How is your relationship with contemporary music and, if possible, one forecast, an intuition on " music of the future ".

I am often involved in performing contemporary music, sometimes written especially for me. It is an essential part of my life. I feel that as long as composers have a genuine and individual voice or language, there will be a place for their music.

As to the future of music, I think we are entering an exciting time when live music will clearly take centre stage, rather than commercial recordings. For this, we need musicians with imagination and flair. I also think we are learning to appreciate that classical music is better suited to the intimacy of smaller concert halls and that the music industry must be actively involved in promoting music, not just looking to promote itself.

In order to end, considered that you begin just in these months your engagement like teacher to the CSI, can you delineate us the dowries and the characteristics of the ideal student, for put in guard all the candidates of your new and, certainly, prestigious class of cello?

I would like my students to come to my class with:
1. a hunger to learn.
2. an open mind, so that they can join me in the exploration of music and the many ways to communicate it.
3. the desire to work hard and to give and take from the special environment that we will create together in the class.
4. the hope that they will find their own musical voice and fulfil their potential.
5. A sense of excitement and fun in anticipation of our journey together.

Robert Cohen and composer HK Gruber

Taken from an interview with Viennese composer HK Gruber, after performances of his cello concerto in which he conducted the soloist Robert Cohen.

“The ideal partner for a composer is an interpreter who not only plays what’s indicated, but also discovers what is meant by the notation and then expresses the thoughts and intentions of the composer.The ideal composer’s partner is a co-inventor who, like the composer hopefully does, brings into balance feelings and intellect. Beside that, he must of course have virtuosic technique – the more the better – but not used as an end in itself. He must also have a passion for contemporary music and take the risk to learn such a difficult piece, though he knows that the market’s possibilities for it are rather limited, compared to a classical one.So he is also a hero who can not get enough thanks and praise for initiating and keeping alive the music; convincing audiences through outstanding personality, integrity and total lack of vanity.Such a musician one normally finds in a composer’s dreams. Only a few of them one finds in reality, and providing one has the privilege to work with such a magician, 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.”