ChamberFest Cleveland presents warmth in recital of Bach, Enescu

Dave munch / daily file photo
Members of ChamberFest Cleveland perform July 4, 2022, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. ChamberFest Cleveland will return to Chautauqua with a performance at 4 p.m. today in Lenna.

ChamberFest Cleveland is all about deep connections and the intimacy of music-making through chamber music; the ability to converse through the subtlest of facial expressions alone is something violinist Diana Cohen appreciates.

“In an orchestra you’re reliant on the conductor to be together, but with chamber music — four people — you can show with your eyes what character you’re intending for the music to be,” said Cohen, one of ChamberFest Cleveland’s co-founders. “That’s so easily conveyed; every person in the group is an active part of the conversation. Chamber music is a deep and intimate conversation; it’s smiles and winks from colleague to colleague. I’ve always wanted to share that with the community I was raised in.”

Cohen and her father, Franklin, founded ChamberFest Cleveland with a dream to bring world-class chamber music to the Cleveland community. The ensemble will perform at 4 p.m. today in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist Series.

Cohen is grateful to have the opportunity to play with family — both with her father in ChamberFest and with her timpanist brother Alexander, who plays in the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, where Cohen is concertmaster. Cohen even met her husband through performing music. One of the benefits of working with family, Cohen said, is honest feedback because “you can trust there’s not much of a filter.”

“I feel extremely lucky that I’ve been able to play for my parents and my brother; they’ve been amazing supporters through the years, but also fantastic teachers,” Cohen said. “(My husband) Roman is a pianist, so he’s aware of things that I may not be in different ways. It’s amazing.” 

Her father, Franklin Cohen, was longtime principal clarinet of the Cleveland Orchestra, one of the “great orchestras of the world,” she said. Growing up in that environment, Cohen fell deeply in love with music, especially when her parents would bring her with them when they traveled for music festivals around the world. Witnessing the community and music being created together appealed to her.

“I was very privileged to grow up in a family of musicians and to hear them laughing and enjoying their working life,” Cohen said. “I got to hear my parents and friends laughing around music, and I just thought, ‘Wow, how lucky are they to be able to make a career doing what they love.’ There’s that feeling of joy I witnessed in one’s working life that seemed amazing and attainable.”

Cohen has been playing since the age of 4, when her father purchased her a toy violin on a trip. But, she wanted a real violin, so when one of her parents’ colleagues traveled to Japan, she brought a Suzuki violin back with her as a gift for the child.

Now, Cohen is a chamber musician, concertmaster and curator; she’s also a mother to a 4-year-old.

“(Balance is) something I feel like I never quite achieve, but I feel that each of my roles is useful in terms of making me better in my other roles. As a mom, all these organizational skills overlap,” Cohen said. “Having variety in my life makes me the musician that I am and I can’t imagine just being involved in one (role). One aspect of musical life that’s enriching is to feel like I’m being tested in different ways every day. Those tests helped me grow.”

Every year, ChamberFest Cleveland organizes the Rising Stars showcase as part of its summer festival, allowing talented young artists to rehearse side-by-side with professional musicians and perform publicly for an audience.

“There’s also something in the incredible enthusiasm and energy that these young people come with — they just offer a fresh perspective,” Cohen said.

Rising Stars allows artists to build relationships when they’re young, and hopefully cultivate them over many years.

”Those relationships are what is at the core of what we do,” Cohen said. “Beautiful chamber music is basically beautiful communication. That’s what a wonderful family or community does well, is communicate effectively.”

“That feeling of warmth and family is something that we’ve really tried to expand into the audience circles over the years. They’re here for the community of people who love music and the audience also loves getting to know musicians on a deeper level,” Cohen said. “We’ve done that through speaking with them after concerts, but many of our musicians are hosted in the community and we’ve seen some beautiful friendships blossom.”

When she curates a program, Cohen values a range of perspectives and diversity. This afternoon, the pieces ChamberFest Cleveland will be playing include Bach’s Concerto in D minor and George Enescu’s String Octet in C major, Op. 7, and are aimed to tell a narrative.

“We’re bringing to Chautauqua a really beautiful juxtaposition of the law and order that Bach provides, while the Enescu Octet is quite over the top — wild and chaotic at times and lush beyond belief,” Cohen said. “You have these two pieces that I think really speak well to each other on the concert program.”

The pieces are “about as different as they can be and yet both so touching,” Cohen said, and she’s excited to perform this program for Chautauquans today.

“We are so lucky that the musicians who come here are really some of the most exciting musicians on the globe,” Cohen said. “When you have this caliber of musicians playing this caliber of music, magic can happen. Chautauqua is in for a super-big treat.”

Tags : chamber musicChamberFestChamberfest ClevelandChautauqua Chamber Music Guest Artist SeriesFranklin Cohenmusic

The author Gabriel Weber