“Cohen is a gifted storyteller and an equally formidable composer. The Cassatt Quartet once again prove to be stalwart advocates for contemporary music. Voyagers is one of my favorite releases of 2023.”
Christian Carey, Sequenza 21/
“What matters in the end is the authentic and dedicated performativity of it all, the highly crafted and careful building of a particular work from the ground up with great care, skill, and eloquently inventive qualities. Anyone who wants a good example of what is happening in the chamber realms of New Music would do well to check this one out.”
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For over a decade, the Cassatt String Quartet has collaborated with the composer Gerald Cohen. On July 21, 2023, innova Recordings released “Voyagers” (innova 090); music by Gerald Cohen performed by the Cassatt String Quartet and guest artists.
Cassatt String Quartet
(Muneko Otani & Jennifer Leshnower, violins;
Ah Ling Neu, viola; Elizabeth Anderson, cello)
Narek Arutyunian, clarinet & bass clarinet
Colin Williams, trombone
“Telling stories through music is central to all I do as a composer and performer – most explicitly in my operas and vocal works, but also in purely instrumental works such as those on this album,” said Gerald Cohen. “This album is the culmination of the voyage I have taken with the Cassatt String Quartet during the past decade. I will always be grateful for the collaboration with these wonderful colleagues.”
The title work is inspired by the Voyager spacecraft that carried the Golden Record, an audio time capsule intended to give extra-terrestrial beings an impression of human culture on Planet Earth. The performance also features Narek Arutyunian on clarinet and bass clarinet.
Playing for Our Lives is a contemporary memorial and tribute to the musical life of the Nazi concentration camp Terezín (Theresienstadt), near Prague. The work uses elements from from the Yiddish folk song Beryozkele, Hans Krasa’s opera Brundibar, and Verdi’s Requiem. Both Voyagers and Playing for Our Lives were written for the Cassatt String Quartet. The album concludes with Preludes and Debka, featuring trombonist Colin Williams.
Read the full liner notes here.
Playing for our Lives recorded March 21, 2021, and Voyagers and Preludes and Debka recorded February 27-28, 2022, at the Auditorium of the JewishTheological Seminary, New York, NY.
Produced and engineered by Judith Sherman
Engineering & editing assistant Jeanne Velonis
Mastered byJeanne Velonis & Judith Sherman
Composer Gerald Cohen has been praised for his “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift,” (Gramophone Magazine); his music “is filled with vibrant melody, rhythmic clarity, drive and compositional mastery” (Gapplegate Review). His past discography includes Generations (New World Records, 2001) and Sea of Reeds (Navona, 2014). In addition to Voyagers (innova, 2023), a studio recording of the opera Steal a Pencil for Me is being released in 2024.
Cohen is a noted synagogue cantor and baritone; his experience as a singer informs his dramatic, lyrical compositions. His opera Steal a Pencil for Me received its world premiere production by Opera Colorado in January 2018, and his chamber and choral works have been performed in important venues in the United States and internationally. Recognition of Cohen’s body of work includes commissioning grants from Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and American Composers Forum.
Hailed for its “mighty rapport and relentless commitment,” the Cassatt String Quartet has performed to critical acclaim across the world since its founding in 1985, with appearances at Alice Tully Hall, Weill Recital Hall, Tanglewood Music Center, the Kennedy Center, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Centro National de las Artes, Maeda Hall, and Beijing’s Central Conservatory. The group’s discography includes over forty recordings, including three discs that were named “10 Best Classical Recordings” in The New Yorker. The CSQ, comprised of Muneko Otani and Jennifer Leshnower, violins; Rosemary Nelis, viola; and Gwen Krosnick, cello, is named for the American Impressionist painter Mary Cassatt.
Violinists Muneko Otani and Jennifer Leshnower, violist Ah Ling Neu and cellist Elizabeth Anderson are the members of the CSQ performing on the “Voyagers” album.
“[Playing for our lives, about the Terezín concentration camp,] depicts in intensely poignant music the desolation of those who died, and the glimmer of hope shared as a necessary burden by the surviving witnesses of those who lived to tell.”
All About the Arts
“Cohen’s music is captivating and quite moving. The music moves beautifully with the borrowed tunes aiding in an expanded lyrical style. Harmonically, there are some hints toward modernist styles, but the music also may come back into more traditional sounds. The latter tend to be like flashes of memory. The Cassatt Quartet is a perfect match to this music with moving performances and attention to detail that brings out some of the jauntier syncopations rhythmically. Both Arutyunian and Williams are well attuned to the nuances of Cohen’s music as well and that serves to make [Voyagers and Preludes and Debka] engaging bookends on this excellent new release.”
“This is a new and appealing possibility to follow the interesting and eclectic compositional style of Mr. Cohen—a style which is difficult to define, rich in various citations, changing constantly and seemingly uniting the not-so-easy-to-unite….This album is of very high quality in all its parts, from the compositional work to the interpretative skills, the sound quality being of the highest standard, too—an easy recommendation.”
“American composer Gerald Cohen took two 20th-century musical phenomena and created two thoughtful works about them. The two phenomena represent the best and the worst in the human race…I think he’s been entirely successful in portraying both the close majesty of space and the confined misery of Theresienstadt.”
“The music [of Playing for our lives] is at once angry, contemplative, full of angst, uplifting and haunting, ultimately ending in sublime quietude…[Preludes and Debka brings] this intriguing and sometimes surprising disc to an end.”
“All three pieces on the disc are carefully structured and well-thought-out, and all contain memorable elements.”
“What matters in the end is the authentic and dedicated performativity of it all, the highly crafted and careful building of a particular work from the ground up with great care, skill, and eloquently inventive qualities.”
grego applegate edwards
“Cohen’s music embodies the twentieth century neoclassicism and folk influences of the composers at Terezin, all the while presenting an eloquent rejoinder to hate and anti-Semitism. Thus, it is a timely work. ”