Posted tagged ‘jeffrey cohan’

The Royal Treatment: Jeffrey Cohan and the Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival, July 19, 2013

July 21, 2013

Louis XIV knew how to live. The Sun King, a devotee of music, did not have access to an iPod to play his favorite tunes, so he had the royal music librarian, Andre Danican Philidor, compile from the works of court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully several suites that mix movements from operas and more abstract works just as we would assemble playlists. Then, of course, Louis had an orchestra of royal musicians who essayed these suites every night — these were not considered grand events but rather “les petits Concerts.” It’s good to be the king.

All of that (except the first and last sentences) I learned on Friday at the second and final concert of this year’s Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival, once again masterminded by flutist and tireless repertoire-diver Jeffrey Cohan. It was Cohan who found the manuscript of Philidor’s work in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, as he engagingly described in pre-concert remarks. For Friday’s concert he brought together veterans of the DMV period-instrument scene to make us all feel like kings for an evening: violinist Risa Browder, violist Leslie Nero, and John Moran on the viola da gamba.

Jeffrey Cohan, from his website.

Jeffrey Cohan, from his website.

I declare it to have been cool simply on a historic level to hear six of the sixty-seven suites Philidor prepared for Louis le Grand: if you closed your eyes, perhaps you were no longer in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill but chillin’ at Versailles after a long day of worrrying about the War of Spanish Succession. However, as the preceding sentence may have implied, from a musical perspective these specific Lully selections had a certain serenity that may have soothed the royal nerves one suite at a time but that was less compelling over the span of a two-hour concert.

Still, Lully wrote a lot of characterful music, and the king could hardly have avoided picking some of it: an aggressive repetition of close notes to suggest a hunting party bearing down on its prey, strutting fanfares for “La Descente de Mars,” a ringing “Chaconne de Cadmus” to close out the evening. And the more sedate music had its own eloquence; I found myself getting more and more into Lully as the evening went on and I became accustomed to his style, seeing the endless variations within patterns that must have delighted the king.

The assembled musicians had some trouble entering and exiting at the appropriate spots, perhaps inevitable given the completely unfamiliar program; “Les Zephirs” had to be restarted after a quiet word from Browder on where exactly everyone was supposed to come in.

But when the musicians alinged, they showed an easy and winning familiarity with French Baroque style that no doubt comes with playing it for about a million hours. (They also managed to keep their instruments in tune throughout, astonishing considering the tropical heatwave conditions outside.) The single most dramatic moment of the concert featured Cohan duetting with Moran, Cohan springing and swaying about as he sustained a poignant melodic line, Moran closely watching him to make sure they landed in the same place. It came off beautifully.

Even with its flaws, this was the best kind of period performance: the one that allows you to imagine yourself in the period, to forget about the nonsense outside and explore a different world. Once again, Cohan’s festival provided an oasis in the midst of summer.

Other People’s Perspectives: Grace Jean.


I Found My Thrill on Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival at St. Mark’s, July 10, 2011

July 11, 2011

“The idea is to pretend we’re in Elizabethan England,” said Renaissance flautist Jeffrey Cohan on Sunday night, but of course we were all actually in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for this year’s first Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival concert. Cohan and his transverse flutes formed one-third of a “broken consort” (i.e., one composed of different instruments) that also featured local period standout Tina Chancey on Renaissance violin and viola da gamba and accomplished harpsichordist Joseph Gascho. Together, they traversed various periods and nationalities of music, giving the flavor of each in repertoire that would be unknown even to most hard-core classical music fans. (I certainly didn’t know any of these works before entering St. Mark’s, and I only knew a few of the composers.)

Jeffrey Cohan, ready to flauticize

Once these musicians got past the introductory bars of each piece — more than a few times, someone entered late or not at all, and the trio had to restart — Cohan, Yancey, and Gascho breathed fresh life into the music they played. If one was of a scholarly bent (i.e., me), they made it easy to hear the differences between the various sections of the program. If not, there was simply a lot of fun music to enjoy.

The relentless ornamentation of the cantus firmus melodic line in early Renaissance music came across most strongly a welcome novelty, a stiflingly busy take on the tune “Taunder naken” written by obscure composer Henry VIII. The flute Cohan used for this and the other earlier music played incredibly softly, making the distance between then and now even more audible than normal; Gascho, taking a turn on the viol for this section, and Yancey audibly restrained their volume, and Cohan’s playing grabbed plenty of attention.

One could hardly wish for a more vivid contrast than early Baroque composer Bartolomeo De Selma e Salaverde’s “Canzon Prima à Due. Soprano e Basso,” in which, in Yancey’s words, she and Cohan “traded fours,” each daring the other to new levels of solo virtuosity over Gascho’s minimal (yet smartly phrased) harpsichord accompaniment. The openness of the texture, the move towards the major mode and more structured harmonies, the cleanness of the melodic lines — it was a world away.

Joseph Gascho, harpsichordist

Italy, France, and England each got a chance to shine as well, and the melodic fluency of the Italian selections, particularly Cohan’s spirited melodic corcuscations in Girolamo Dalla Casa’s “Petite fleur coincte et jolye,” contrasted strongly with the more rhythmic French works; two trios by Pierre Clereau elicited particularly emphatic and rousing playing. Italy, however, also brought Chancey improvising over “La Bergamasca,” which showed off her rhythmic boldness and a facility for bubbly ornamentation.

Tina Chancey, doin' it to death

Cohan described the final, English-music section of the program, after the Baroque excursion, as returning “to the present time,” which Yancey amended to “the present time then.” If a national character was not as discernible here, the performances still sparkled, particularly the eccentric “Coockow as I me walked” by John Baldwyn and the vigorous dance of “Hugh Ashton’s Maske,” written, appropriately enough, by Hugh Ashton.

Between Cohan’s efforts on Capitol Hill, the biannual Washington Early Music Festival, and concerts by groups like Armonia Nova, the Bach Sinfonia, and others, the DMV has a surplus of intimate concerts by local musicians where the musicians select interesting, little-known music, discuss it conversationally with the audience (including details about instrumentation and musical forms), and play it with enough enthusiasm and skill to make you like it as much as they do. I almost always enjoy these concerts, and Sunday’s was one of the better ones. The Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival now goes silent for a few months, but it deserves your attention when it returns.

Other People’s Perpsectives: Joe Banno.


After the first time the ensemble had a false start, I wanted to signal after every subsequent one, just like if I was watching the Redskins offensive line. It was strange to me that such fun performances could start so haltingly.