Joel Cohen (musician)

Joel Cohen (musician)

Joel Cohen, (b. 1942) is an American musician specializing in early music repertoires. Since 1968 he has been the director of the Boston Camerata, generally considered to be the pre-eminent American early music ensemble. Cohen founded the Camerata Mediterranea in 1990 and incorporated it as a nonprofit research institute in France in 2007 . He performs on lute and guitar and sings, but is best known as an organizer and creator of concert programs and sound recordings. In recent years Cohen's research and performance activities have centered on early American repertoires (including Shaker song), as well as southern European repertoires of the Middle Ages. Many of his projects in this latter category involve collaboration with Middle Eastern musicians (see below).

He has worked a great deal with French soprano Anne Azéma, now his wife, and also worked with numerous choirs, including the Schola Cantorum and student choruses at Brown, Brandeis, Harvard and other universities.

Cohen studied composition at Harvard University. He was awarded a Danforth Fellowship and spent two years in Paris as a student of Nadia Boulanger. In the 1970s he spent two seasons as a producer of musical radio programs for the French National Radio (France Musique), where he originated the concept of an all-day musical celebration on the days of the solstice, an idea later to be adapted as a national celebration each June 21 in France. This annual event is currently known as the "Fête de la Musique" also known as "World Music Day".

Work in early American music

Cohen's interest in American vernacular traditions dates from his childhood lessons on folk guitar, and his experience in later student years as a jazz bassist. He was introduced to southern shapenote hymnbooks by his mentor at Harvard University, the composer Randall Thompson, and by Alan Lomax's field recordings of Sacred Harp sings. Cohen later travelled to the South on several occasions to participate in Sacred Harp sings and conventions. His first program with the Boston Camerata involving extensive treatment of early American oral and written sources was "The Roots of American Music" (1976), released as an Advent cassette, and later re-recorded (1986) as "New Britain". The commercial success of this last recording, released after a lapse of several years by the French label Erato, leads Cohen and the Erato label to record a series of early American programs with the Boston Camerata, including "The American Vocalist", "Trav'ling Home", and "Liberty Tree". For the 1992 celebration of the Columbus year, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival invite Cohen and the Camerata to prepare a program of early Hispanic repertoire from the New World. This project becomes "Nueva España", recorded by Erato and subsequently one of the Boston Camerata's most requested touring programs.

Cohen, the Boston Camerata, and the Shakers

Informed by Shaker music scholar, Roger Hall, of the Shaker library at Sabbathday Lake, Maine, and its extensive musical holdings, Cohen travels to that still-functioning religious community to do research on Shaker manuscript sources. He and his wife, soprano Anne Azéma, also begin an enduring personal relationship with the members of the community, who agree to record and perform their music in the company of the Boston Camerata and collaborating choirs. Two CDs of Shaker song (Simple Gifts and The Golden Harvest) commemorate these collaborations, which continued for several seasons from 1992 forward.

In 2004 Cohen and the Finnish choreographer Tero Saarinen create a dance piece, "Borrowed Light", using live Shaker music. This production has toured extensively in France, Germany, England, Sweden, Finland, Italy, and the United States, most recently at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in November, 2007.

Intercultural musical activities

Cohen's interest in cross-cultural and intercultural musical encounters have led to projects exploring early African and Amerindian contributions to New World music ("Nueva España", cited above), and to several endeavors with Middle Eastern/Near Eastern artists.

As early as 1982, Joel and the Boston Camerata had developed a program called "The Sacred Bridge," exploring Jewish and Christian interactions during the Middle Ages. In 1988 Erato Disques decided to make a recording of this program. Still in demand after more than two decades, the recording has recently been reissued on Warner Classics.

The "Sacred Bridge" program continues to tour internationally, most recently (April 2007) in Worcester, Massachusetts and Paris, France. Since its inception it has undergone considerable development, and now includes an important Arabic/Muslim component. Recent performances have been undertaken with the U.S.- based Sharq Arabic Music Ensemble

In 1997 Joel Cohen met the eminent Moroccan musician Mohammed Briouel for the first time. Their encounter gave birth to a major production, a selection of the thirteenth century Cantigas of King Alfonso el Sabio with European and Moroccan musicians collaborating together. The recording, made in Fez, Morocco, was signed "Camerata Mediterranea," and included the participation of the Abdelkrim Rais orchestra of Fez, directed by Mr. Briouel.

The "Cantigas" recording won the coveted Edison Prize in 2000, and has toured extensively in the United States, Morocco, Germany, the Netherlands, and France.

"A Mediterranean Christmas", with the Boston Camerata and the Sharq Ensemble, is Cohen's most recent production exploring shared roots and musical practices. Recorded in 2005 for Warner Classics, and enthusiastically greeted by the musical press, the production has also toured live in the United States and France.

In recent seasons Joel Cohen has also untertaken collaborations with Dünya, a Turkish music ensemble, and its leader, Mehmet Sanlikol. With Camerata Mediterranea and the Atrium of Chaville, he is planning a colloquium in early 2009 around the subject of cross-cultural Mediterranean musical interactions.

Partial Discography

with the Boston Camerata

* "The American Vocalist"
* "Trav'ling Home: American Spirituals, 1770-1870"
* "The Liberty Tree: American Music 1776-1861"
* "Carmina Burana"
* "Musique Judeo-Baroque"
* "Nueva España"
* "The Sacred Bridge: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe"
* "Simple Gifts: Shaker Chants and Spirituals"
* "The Golden Harvest: More Shaker Chants and Spirituals"
* "New Britain: The Roots of American Folksong"
* "What Then Is Love?"
* "Gilles' Requiem"
* "A Medieval Christmas"
* "Noel, Noel: French Christmas Music 1200-1600"
* "A Baroque Christmas"
* "A Renaissance Christmas"
* "A Mediterranean Christmas"
* "An American Christmas: carols, hymns and spirituals, 1770-1870"
* "Sing We Noel: Christmas Music from England and Early America"

with the Camerata Mediterranea

* Bernart de Ventadorn: "Le Fou sur le Pont"
* "Lo Gai Saber"
* "Cantigas of Alfonso el Sabio" with the Abdelkrim Rais Ensemble of Fez, Morocco (Edison Prize, 2000)

External links

* [ Joel Cohen's home page]
* [ more complete discography]
* Camerata Mediterranea Institute Wikipedia Page
* [ Camerata Mediterranea Institute Website]
* [ Music of the Shakers]

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