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Moonrhymes for Three Violins, Viola, and Piano

May 6, 2018: Kerry McDermott, violin; Clara Neubauer, violin; Paul Neubauer, viola; Oliver Neubauer, violin; Anne-Marie McDermott, piano

Commissioned by Parlance Chamber Concerts for the Neubauer-McDermott Family
Premiere Performance, May 6, 2018
Born in Jerusalem, Israel, May 8, 1980

An active composer, performer, and theorist, Israeli musician Gilad Cohen focuses on a variety of musical genres that include concert music, rock, and music for theater. His works have been performed in North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East by renowned artists ranging from London’s Nash Ensemble and the Apollo Chamber Players to the Brentano Quartet and Tre Voci, as well as orchestras and choirs throughout Israel and his own rock band, Double Space.

Recipient of myriad honors and top composition prizes, Cohen was recently awarded the 2016 Barlow Prize, resulting in the commission of Late Shadow for violin and piano, which is being premiered by a consortium of performers in 2018. His other recent projects include Around the Cauldron, commissioned by Concert Artists Guild with support from Adele and John Gray Endowment Fund for the Lysander Trio and premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2017; Doaa and Masa (2016) which harpist Sivan Magen is performing around the world; and Firefly Elegy for clarinet, violin, viola, cello, and harp, written for the 10th anniversary of the Israeli Chamber Project and just premiered in March 2018. Further, his string quartet Three Goat Blues (2015) was recorded by the Apollo Chamber Players and just released in November as part of their album Ancestral Voices on the Navona label.

On the rock/pop front, Cohen’s “After the Tsimess” for Double Space and modern-klezmer ensemble Klezshop was awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Songwriting Award in the 11th Annual Great American Song Contest, and the song was a finalist at the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. As a theorist Cohen has researched structure in the music of Pink Floyd, resulting in articles in prestigious publications, lectures in the U.S. and Israel, a four-credit course at Ramapo College, and the first-ever academic conference devoted to Pink Floyd that he coproduced at Princeton University with composer Dave Molk. As a performing musician, Cohen has played piano, bass guitar, and six-string guitar at renowned venues worldwide, and he has served on occasion as a choral conductor and music director of musicals.

A faculty member at Ramapo College, Cohen holds a Ph.D. in composition from Princeton University, and he is a graduate of Mannes College of Music, the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, and the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. Among his principal teachers were Robert Cuckson, Steven Mackey, and Paul Lansky.

Cohen’s Moonrhymes for three violins, viola, and piano was commissioned by Parlance Chamber Concerts for this world-premiere performance. The composer writes: “Written with the theme of family in mind, Moonrhymes is based on nursery rhymes from several countries. The piece is comprised of three movements (in addition to an introduction and a finale, all played without a break), each of them focusing on a traditional song from a different origin: the English-Irish ‘Danny Boy,’ the Latin ‘A la nanita nana,’ and the Israeli-Yiddish ‘Numi numi.’ Though such tunes have been sung as lullabies for many years, their lyrics are often more bleak than what might seem appropriate for bedtime. My treatment of these melodies likewise takes them to mysterious, reflective, and dark places using folk elements from various cultures.

Moonrhymes plays with the question of what rhyming could mean in instrumental music. Literal rhymes feature similarities in sound between words: the endings of rhyming words usually sound identical, while the beginnings are different. Likewise, the themes of the piece are very similar to the original tunes, but each carries a significant musical difference in pitch, rhythm, etc. Additionally, many moments in the piece ‘rhyme’ with one another: accompaniment figurations recur while supporting different tunes (such as a repeated arpeggiated minor-seventh chord), sounds and textures repeat through the piece (such as ‘glassy’ chords in the violins using harmonics), and musical themes float again and again into the surface (such as the melody of ‘Rock-a-bye Baby,’ another popular lullaby that features disturbing lyrics and functions as an introduction to each of the movements).

“In the finale, all tunes—and cultures—join together: the Yiddish-based ‘Numi numi,’ with its Phyrygian mode, provides the foundation for ‘Danny Boy’ and its iconic English-American use of the pentatonic scale while also supporting figurations from both ‘Nanita’ (featuring a highly embellished minor-scale Spanish melody) and ‘Rock-a-bye Baby’ (whose sweet melody is disguised under darker harmonies).”

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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