“Sometimes, truth is stranger than opera. In this touching work by composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort (seen Jan. 25), Jaap, an unhappily married fellow, falls for Ina, an engaged woman just before they are both swept away by the Nazis along as part of a group of 400 Amsterdam Jews… Baritone Gideon Dabi (Jaap) and soprano Inna Dukach (Ina) delivered Cohen’s accessible writing with admirable control and ideal enunciation… Company music director Ari Pelto… guided a solid, sympathetic accompaniment through the score’s many mood shifts and changes in meter. “
World Premiere of Voyagers, for String Quartet and Clarinet at Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, November 28, 2017:
One of the most important tasks for the current classical music world is bringing the wonderful range of today’s classical compositions and the spectacular talents of its performers to contemporary audiences in new and engaging ways. The Cassatt String Quartet, with clarinetist Vasko Dukovski, certainly endeavored to do that with their performance of Gerald Cohen’s Voyagers, for String Quartet and Clarinet…
“Yedid Nefesh” is based on a simple, sweet Sephardic setting of a mystical Jewish poem. Together, the three [performers] 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.
First meeting with Cohen’s music and a rewarding experience overall…The initial “Variously Blue” and the poignant “Slow, Still, Tranquil” (the latter from the Yedid Nefesh cycle) are this writer’s preferred episodes, a number of unheralded turns and a range of adroitly organized contrapuntal climates interpreted by impeccable performers utterly involved with the material. When “harmonious virtuosity” rhymes with “moderation”, that’s OK with me.
Three cheers to Navona Records for capturing these performances and sending them out into the world…[In “Yedid Nefesh”], Cohen’s imagination, sense of balance and contrast are expertly employed, making this work a truly cohesive whole and the highlight of the recording. “Grneta Variations” continues to demonstrate just how good Cohen is at taking a germ of an idea and expanding it into a varied, logical journey into fine art and personal meaning.
This impeccably recorded album features music that is smart, reflective, pensive, and ultimately very melodic. Cohen is obviously a man who loves making music and his passion shines through clearly on each and every track. This one will most certainly stand the test of time.
Cohen’s music is filled with vibrant melody, rhythmic clarity, drive and compositional construction that show a mastery of and a real sympathy towards the clarinet…This is a sheer delight to hear, a chocolate-fudge sundae of excellently intertwining musical syntax. Three cheers for this one.
The playing, by the Grneta Ensemble (clarinetists Vasko Dukovski and Ismail Lumanovski and pianist Alexandra Joan) with violinist Jennifer Choi and violist Maria Lambros, is outstanding–one of the virtues of Cohen’s music is how well the instruments sound and how flattering it is to the players. Navona’s recorded sound is lucid and warm. Most listeners will find something to like here, and more than a few clarinetists will find something they will want to play.
By Joel Mandelbaum
Steal a Pencil for Me, an opera by Gerald Cohen to a libretto by Deborah Brevoort, was presented on April 30th, 2013 at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in a semi-staged version, accompanied by an ensemble of four instruments. It tells the fascinating story, true to life down to very particular details, of how two remarkable Holocaust survivors met, fell in love and gradually divested themselves of previous binding relationships—their stories unfolding over a background of increasingly harsh repression by the Nazi occupiers of their native Holland…
Based on the book of the same title by Jaap Polak and Ina Soep Polak, STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME is a new opera with music by Gerald Cohen and libretto by Deborah Brevoort. A private presentation of excerpts from Steal a Pencil for Me took place at the National Opera Center (at the home of […]