Chamberfest Cleveland takes inspiration from Kundera novel for afternoon chamber recital

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Sarah Russo
Staff Writer

Politics, love and betrayal will pulse from the strings of an ensemble portraying the deep inquiries of an existential novel through chamber music. Known for its thematic programming, Chamberfest Cleveland will perform at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series. 

Based on Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being, today’s program includes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet in A major, K. 58 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Piano Sextet in D major, Op. 110. 

Diana Cohen, co-founder of CFC, called the works “joyful” and “divine,” reflecting the spirit of the “amazingly evocative” 1984 philosophical tale set during the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

“There’s a lot of richness in that book that we used as inspiration to program our festival,” Cohen said. “The whole festival has a bit of a lightness to it, and in particular this last concert that we’re playing (at Chautauqua).”

Cohen, concertmaster of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, and her father, Franklin Cohen, principal clarinet emeritus of the Cleveland Orchestra, founded CFC in 2012. What started as a five-concert series has since turned into a multi-disciplinary, three-week festival in northeast Ohio, which this year ran from June 14 to July 1. CFC has been called “the most important contribution to the region’s classical music scene” by the Cleveland press.

Kimberly Schuette, managing director of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and manager of artistic administration for performing and visual arts, said CFC holds a high standard when developing their concerts. 

“The individual musicians that the Cohens bring to ChamberFest Cleveland are some of the highest level musicians you’ll see in any U.S. chamber ensemble,” Schuette said.

Cohen said “curious thinkers” make up the ensemble.

“There are a lot of wonderful musicians in the world, but we love musicians who have a very specific, very personal voice,” Cohen said.

The ensemble for today’s concert is comprised of: Franklin Cohen on clarinet, Daniel Chong on violin, Diana Cohen on violin, Amy Schwartz Moretti on violin, Jessica Bodner on viola, Teng Li on viola, Julie Albers on cello, Jay Campell on cello, Nathan Farrington on bass, and Michael Stephen Brown on piano. Schuette said it is special to have a group like CFC at Chautauqua Institution.

“We’re so fortunate that ChamberFest Cleveland, a phenomenal series just two hours away from Chautauqua, annually wraps up their season on the first Saturday of July,” Schuette said. “That makes it easy for them to keep the festival going, by bringing a hand-picked roster of chamber musicians to perform one last program here at Chautauqua.”

Many members of CFC have performed at Chautauqua over the years. Cohen said it’s a great place to end their busy, hectic season. 

“It’s wonderful and it’s always kind of a beautiful way to cap off the end of festival season. And it’s a very different experience,” she said. “We hope that it feels to (our musicians) kind of like a mini-retreat at the end of what was a busy week in Cleveland. We have a lot of dear friends and Clevelanders who end up in Chautauqua, so it’s always nice to return to those same people.”


The author Sarah Russo

Sarah Russo is a senior at Syracuse University studying broadcast and digital journalism. At Syracuse, she reports and hosts for CitrusTV and writes for The Daily Orange and Baked Magazine. Sarah also interned at the National Comedy Center last summer. When she’s not reporting, she enjoys being outside biking, swimming or reading. As a Chautauqua County native, Sarah is excited to work in a place close to home and her heart this summer. She will be covering the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.