LOCAL FLAVOR: Cohen's music part of concertBy Sandra Okamoto
Fred Cohen is the new director of Columbus State University's Schwob School of Music. I've met him once. I was in the building, waiting to interview someone and I just popped in his office to introduce myself. We've e-mailed each other plenty of times.
The last time was Cohen reminding me that the Borromeo String Quartet was coming to do a concert. And he requested that I interview someone from the group.
Sure, I said.
Then a couple of e-mails later, he mentioned that the quartet will be playing one of his compositions, "Dances and Meditations," which was commissioned by the Albert Grokoest Foundation.
Now, if it were me, I'd be telling everyone who would listen that a world-class string quartet was going to play one of my pieces.
But since I can't read a lick of music, that would be impossible, so I won't ever know how Cohen feels.
Yeesun Kim Kitchen, the cellist for the quartet, said the collaboration with Cohen has been wonderful. She speaks glowingly about the piece and working with Cohen.
I spoke to Kitchen last week.
"It is very well written and virtuostic," she said.
The Borromeo String Quartet is in residence at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. She teaches cello and chamber music at the conservatory.
She and her husband, violinist Nicholas Kitchen, began the quartet in 1990 as a doctoral project. She graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and received her advanced degrees from the New England Conservatory.
Born in Korea, Kitchen said she and her siblings all played an instrument as children. They all started on the piano, though she switched to the cello when she was 10.
"I loved music but I never really connected with the piano," she said. "My two older sisters were already playing piano and they were really good."
And since there was only one piano in the house and four children trying to practice, Kitchen decided to switch instruments.
One of her older sisters had gone from the piano to the violin, and she tagged along to her classes.
When she changed instruments, she claimed it was an "eye-opener, an ear-opener and mind-opener. I just loved it from the very beginning."
Now, she plays a Peregrino Zanetto cello that was built around 1576.
And her siblings?
None of them play professionally. In fact, her entire family is in the medical field -- both parents and three siblings are doctors in Korea.
Kitchen came to America to study at Curtis in 1983. While she visits Korea as often as she can, Boston is now her home. She and her husband have a son, Christopher, who is almost 5.
Does he play an instrument?
Not really. He can hold a violin properly and knows how to draw the bow across the strings, but his mother says he doesn't like the weird sounds he makes. When he's older, they'll discuss a musical education for Christopher.
And not to get too political, I still wanted to know what Kitchen thought about the New York Philharmonic performing in North Korea last week.
"I think it's very wonderful," she said. "I think it's a very exciting thing to happen."
Kitchen said reaching out with music is the perfect way to go across political lines.
"Some day I would love to go to North Korea to perform," she said. "I have never had the opportunity to visit as a South Korean. I would love to take the quartet. I'd love to play or teach there."
The other members of the quartet are violinist Kristopher Tong and violist Mai Motobuchi.
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Fred Cohen Biography
Over the past twenty years, Fred Cohen has established himself as one of the leading American composers, conductors, music educators, and music administrators of his generation. He has written many commissioned works for outstanding performers and ensembles throughout America.
Fred Cohen's music has been commissioned by such organizations as the Richmond Symphony, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra, the Shanghai Quartet, the 21st Century Ensemble, the Paul Hill Chorale, as well as numerous chamber ensembles and individual musicians. His works have been performed throughout the Americas, and in Northern and Eastern Europe. Recent performances include his String Quartet No. 1 during the 2006 Chamber Music America National Conference in New York; Great Scott!,a concerto for French horn and wind ensemble with soloist Jeffrey Scott; and Smiling Dennis, a concerto for bass clarinet and orchestra premiered by Dennis Smylie, bass clarinet, and the Colonial Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Cohen is an active conductor, having led the MSU Orchestra in 2004 and the MSU Band in 2005. From 1986 to 2001 he directed the University of Richmond Orchestra. He founded the Cornell Contemporary Ensemble in 1982, and CURRENTS, a professional new-music ensemble in residence at the University of Richmond, in 1986.
Mr. Cohen has taught at the University of Richmond (1986-2002) and Montclair State University (2002-present); in both institutions he has served as Chair of the Department of Music (1996-2001, 2002-2005, respectively). Mr. Cohen also served as the founder and director of CURRENTS, a professional new-music ensemble in Richmond (1986-2002) and the Cornell Contemporary Ensemble (1982-1986).
He received his compositional training at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he studied with David Cope and Gordon Mumma, and at Cornell University, where he worked with Karel Husa and Steven Stucky, receiving his DMA in 1986.