AboutArrangementsPerformancesAudioVideoPhotosPressTestimonials

Commissioned by the Franciscan String Quartet

Aria and Scherzo, for violin and viola
(1994) | Duration 12′

Premiered by Wendy Sharp, violin, Robin Sharp, viola

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen.

Program Notes

I had written a string quartet in 1991 (String Quartet No. 2, OUP 2003) for the Franciscan String Quartet, a splendid ensemble in which Wendy Sharp was the first violinist, and so I was delighted when she and her sister Robin Sharp asked me to write a composition for violin and viola. The resulting piece, Aria and Scherzo, is in two movements: mostly lyrical and tender in the first movement, playful and jazzy in the second (a movement which gives both violin and viola the chance to play a walking bass).

I want to thank Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, two artist’s colonies at which I worked on this piece during residencies in 1994. Aria and Scherzo was given its premiere by Wendy and Robin Sharp at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in March 1995. —Gerald Cohen

AboutArrangementsPerformancesAudioVideoPhotosPressTestimonials

Music for choreography
Commissioned by the Battery Dance Company

AboutArrangementsPerformancesAudioVideoPhotosPressTestimonials

Commissioned by Genesis Agudas Achim Congregation, for the Brooklyn Philharmonic Brass Quintet

AboutArrangementsPerformancesAudioVideoPhotosPressTestimonials

Commissioned by Maria Lambros, viola, Michael Kannen, cello, Marija Stroke, piano

AboutArrangementsPerformancesScoreAudio

Preludes and Debka for trombone and string quartet was composed in 2001 for Haim Avitsur and the Degas String Quartet, and was given its premiere by them in Syracuse and New York City. Writing for this unusual combination was a pleasurable challenge—that of working out ways for the trombone and strings to make real chamber music together. A “debka” is a Middle Eastern dance, used in both Arab and Israeli communities—the dance and its music is, as in the last section of this piece, normally in the form of a theme and variations. I found this melody in an anthology of Sephardic music when I was beginning the composition of the piece, and it jumped out as being a wonderful theme for the trombone and strings to play with.

The piece grows from a quiet mysterious opening, highlighting an echoing, moody statement, and then a related idea in sharper, repeated notes; this leads to a scherzo-like section where the melody is traded between the trombone and strings; then a slow, tender duet between the trombone and first violin, which after a trombone cadenza, leads to the variations on the debka melody–mostly lively and playful, eventually becoming rather wild as it brings back the opening material in a new character, and then ending with a reprise of the debka theme.

I have made arrangements of this piece for

Trombone and Orchestra (2009)

Clarinet and String Quartet (2009)

See the links for these pages for score samples and information on purchasing scores and parts.

Trombone and Orchestra (2009)

Clarinet and String Quartet (2009)

See the links for these pages for score samples and information on purchasing scores and parts.

Selected Performances:

Premiere: February 2001: Haim Avitsur, trombone, and the Degas String Quartet, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
March 2001: Haim Avitsur, trombone, and the Degas String Quartet, Music Under Construction, New York, NY
May 2004: Lisa Albrecht, trombone, Florence String Quartet, American Society for Jewish Music, New York, NY
April 2019: David Binder, trombone, String Quartet, Detroit, MI

Preludes and Debka (Trombone & String Quartet) Score sample

thumbnail of Preludes and Debka (Trombone & String Quartet) Score sample

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com

PDF version of score and parts: $20
Printed version of score and parts: $35 + postage

AboutPerformancesScoreAudioPress

Commissioned by Chesapeake Chamber Music

The trio for clarinet, viola and piano, Yedid Nefesh (“Beloved of my soul”), takes its title from a poem (see translation below) by Eliezer Azikri, a mystical Jewish poet of the 16th century. The poem, traditionally used at the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, expresses the relation between the individual and the divine as one of longing and of delight, using the imagery of a lover as its prime metaphor. The poem has been set to many different melodies; this piece is based on a beautiful and delicate Sephardic melody, one that has remained in my mind for many years as a melody that I wanted to use in a composition.

The trio is essentially a set of variations/transformations on the Yedid Nefesh melody, exploring its different moods and harmonies. The 25-minute piece is in five movements (slow-fast-slow-fast-slow), and is played without pause. The first movement introduces and then presents several variations on the melody; the second and fourth movements, scherzo-like, are exuberant celebrations of that side of its character; and the third and the final, fifth movement are gentle, still, meditations. In addition to the principal melody, there is one other prominent melody, first introduced by the viola in the third movement–a “longing” theme, more chromatic than the Yedid Nefesh theme, to emphasize the yearning nature of much of the poem.

This trio was written for my friend, violist Maria Lambros, and the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival (since renamed Chesapeake Chamber Music). We decided on the ensemble of clarinet, viola and piano—a combination that we both love, and that seemed fitting for the nature of the composition. The piece received its premiere at the Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival on June 8, 2007, played by Lawrie Bloom, Dov Scheindlin, and Diane Walsh. The piece has been subsequently performed in Portland, Chicago, Baltimore and New York City, and has been recorded on the album Sea of Reeds, performed by Vasko Dukovski, Maria Lambros, and Alexandra Joan.

–Gerald Cohen

Yedid Nefesh
Eliezer Azikri, trans. by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Beloved of my soul, compassion’s gentle source,
Take my inner nature and shape it to your will.
Like a darting deer I will flee to you.
Before your glorious presence humbly do I bow.
Let your sweet love delight me with its thrill,
Because no other dainty will my hunger still.

How splendid is your light which worlds do reflect!
My soul is worn from craving for your love’s delight.
Please, good God, do heal her and show to her Your face,
So my soul can see you and bathe in your grace.
There she will find strength and healing in this sight.
Her joy will be complete then, eternal her delight.

What pity stirs in you since days of old, my God!
Be kind to me, your own child, begotten by your love.
For long and longing hours I yearned for your embrace.
To see my light in your light, basking in your grace.
My heart’s desire is to harmonize with yours.
Do not conceal your pity, hide not that light of yours.

Appear, my lover, spread your canopy of peace,
Enfold all human beings, give all pain surcease.
Enlighten all the earth with your radiant presence
And we shall respond with song and with dance.
Rush, my love, be quick, the time for love is now,
Let your gentle favor grace us as of old.

Selected performances:
Premiere: June 2007:  Lawrie Bloom, Dov Scheindlin, and Diane Walsh, Eastern Shore Chamber Music Festival.
August 2009: Todd Palmer, Maria Lambros, and Dena Levine, Portland Chamber Music Festival
October 2009: J. Lawrie Bloom, Maria Lambros, and Diane Walsh, Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago, IL
January 2012: Vasko Dukovski, Maria Lambros, and Alexandra Joan, WMP Concert Hall, New York, NY
January 2014: Rob Patterson,  Maria Lambros,  and Audrey Andrist, Strathmore, North Bethesda, MD
April 2016:Vasko Dukovski, Sarah Adams, and Alexandra Joan, Shaarei Tikvah, Scarsdale, NY

Yedid Nefesh score sample

thumbnail of Yedid Nefesh score sample

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com

PDF version of score and parts: $25
Printed version of score and parts: $40 + postage

This track is from the album SEA OF REEDS; information on purchasing the track or the entire album is on the SEA OF REEDS page.

The final piece on the album, “Yedid Nefesh,” is based on a simple, sweet Sephardic setting of a mystical Jewish poem. Cohen wrote the piece for his friend, violist Maria Lambros, who performs on the recording along with clarinetist Vasko Dukovski and pianist Alexandra Joan of the Grneta Ensemble. Together, the three bring to life the piece’s rich tone and vibrant colors, highlighting both the vivacious and the meditative aspects of the delicate melody.

Though each piece on “Sea of Reeds” has its own distinct character and style, Cohen’s gorgeous lyricism flows sweetly through each of them, tying together his exploration of the clarinet’s many diverse colors and dynamics.

Maggie Molloy, Second Inversion

Yedid Nefesh—a suite in five continuous movements based upon a Sephardic song—is an intriguingly varied soundscape that artfully employs clarinet (Dukovski), viola (Maria Lambros) and piano (Joan) to telling effect…

Length-of-note execution—especially in “Scherzando”—is the best match of the disc. Lambros soars to the upper reaches with passion and an intense lyricism that deftly contrasts the busier moments. Dukovski demonstrates his mastery of control, notably in the “heavenly” reaches where embouchure, reed and breath-support combine for incredibly delicate speech. Always aware of the overall goals and flow, Joan thrusts and parries as required: unforgettable are her contributions to the thoughtfully retrospective “With quiet motion, flowing” right from the opening rocking scale.

Cohen’s imagination, sense of balance and contrast are expertly employed, making this work a truly cohesive whole and the highlight of the recording.

James Wegg, James Wegg Review

AboutPerformancesScoreAudioVideoPress

Commissioned by the Verdehr Trio

I composed Variously Blue for the Verdehr Trio, who gave the premiere performances of the piece in 2010 in New York City and Washington, D.C. Another wonderful trio— Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, and Alexandra Joan—have recorded the piece on the 2014 album of my chamber music, Sea of Reeds (Navona Records).

In terms of the piece’s origins: When I began sketching the piece, I happened to improvise a lively, angular theme based on a 12-bar blues progression, and thought it would be a fun and interesting challenge to write a set of variations based on that progression, thinking about the many colors available for these three instruments. I have always been interested in exploring the idea that the variation form, in essence, is often used in jazz and blues; and that I might be able to explore the connections between jazz and concert music through such  a set of variations. While some of the sections sound specifically “bluesy”, in general the piece uses the theme and its underlying harmonic pattern as a taking-off point for a varied range of moods and textures: playful, lyrical, mysterious, boisterous.

Selected Performances:
Premiere: February 2010: Verdehr Trio, Kosciuszko Foundation, New York, NY
March 2010: Verdehr Trio, Phillips Collection, Washington, DC
November 2014: Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, Alexandra Joan, Le Poisson Rouge, New York, NY (Album release concert for Sea of Reeds)
May 2015: Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, Alexandra Joan, Tribeca New Music, New York, NY
2015-present: Featured on PRI’s Performance Today many times

Variously Blue score sample (pdf)

thumbnail of Variously Blue Sample

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com

PDF version of score and parts: $20
Printed version of score and parts: $35 + postage

This track is from the album SEA OF REEDS; information on purchasing the track or the entire album is on the SEA OF REEDS page.

“Another set of variations which appears on the album is “Variously Blue,” which features a sprightly theme using the 12-bar blues progression. The piece, composed for the Verdehr Trio, combines elements of jazz with concert music while exploring the unique timbral possibilities of clarinet, violin, and piano. Cohen’s trademark lyricism shines through the expertly interwoven clarinet and violin melodies dancing above sparkling piano backdrops.”

Maggie Molloy, Second Inversion

Variously Blue more than lives up to its name. Beginning with jazzy, arid lines where only the clarinet (Vasko Dukovski) can’t quite manage the same degree of shortness as pianist Alexandra Joan and violinist Jennifer Choi. Still, the three combine with an energy that will keep all listeners on the edge of their seats.

From there the ear is rewarded with agitated conversations and bell tolls heralding an oily clarinet slinking about the soundscape as well as an infusion of repetitive notes and snippets adding significantly to the overall allure.

Some of the variations are decidedly blue and a few “blue” notes provide still more variety…This set is ideally balanced (both performers and engineer Ryan Streber). Witness the finely rendered busyness in the Rite of Spring-echoing sections soon followed by the tonic of solemn, menacing variants: in the first of these, the piano pushes while the violin and clarinet provide needed balm. After a decidedly wild ride, roles are reversed and it’s the piano that cools off the heat.

Choi singlehandedly infuses the atmosphere with nervous tremolo before a beautiful hymn of acceptance—pushed forward by dollops of syncopation—reassures all, paving the way for the violinist’s absolutely stunning changes of register, their apparent effortlessness belieing the skill required.

One last hurrah—peppered by a series of slides where Dukovski is at his slippery best—leads to the tension-filled closing measures. It’s only appropriate that the final statement is almost entirely in unison: just as is the mindset of composer Gerald Cohen with this intrepid ensemble.”

James Wegg, James Wegg Review

AboutPerformancesScoreAudio

This is an arrangement of the Preludes and Debka for Trombone and String Quartet, and was written for clarinetist Vasko Dukovski in 2009.  Note that besides the change in the “solo” instrument”, there are differences from that original version in all of the string parts.

A “debka” is a Middle Eastern dance, used in both Arab and Israeli communities—the dance and its music is, as in the last section of this piece, normally in the form of a theme and variations. I found this melody in an anthology of Sephardic music when I was beginning the composition of the piece, and it jumped out as being a wonderful theme for the trombone and strings to play with.

The piece grows from a quiet mysterious opening, highlighting an echoing, moody statement, and then a related idea in sharper, repeated notes; this leads to a scherzo-like section where the melody is traded between the clarinet and strings; then a slow, tender duet between the clarinet and first violin, which after a clarinet cadenza, leads to the variations on the debka melody–mostly lively and playful, eventually becoming rather wild as it brings back the opening material in a new character, and then ending with a reprise of the debka theme.

Other arrangements of this piece:

Trombone and Orchestra (2009)

Trombone and String Quartet,

See the links for these pages for score samples and information on purchasing scores and parts.

Performances

Premiere: Nov. 2009: Vasko Dukovski, clarinet; strings from the Juilliard School; Juilliard School of Music, New York, NY
January 2011: Bronx Arts Ensemble, Yonkers, NY
May 2019: Vasko Dukovski, clarinet, Cassatt String Quartet, Scarsdale, NY

Preludes and Debka (Clarinet & String Quartet) Score sample

thumbnail of Preludes and Debka (Clarinet & String Quartet) Score sample

To purchase score and parts, contact Gerald Cohen: gerald@nullgeraldcohenmusic.com

PDF version of score and parts: $20
Printed version of score and parts: $35 + postage

See audio for Preludes and Debka for Trombone and String Quartet (the audio is of that version with trombone).