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Gerald Cohen

Yonkers, NY         

Composer Gerald Cohen has been praised for his “linguistic fluidity and melodic gift,” creating music that “reveals a very personal modernism that…offers great emotional rewards.” (Gramophone Magazine). His deeply affecting compositions have been recognized with numerous awards and critical accolades. According to Gapplegate Music Review, the music on his newly released CD, Sea of Reeds (Navona), “is filled with vibrant melody, rhythmic clarity, drive and compositional construction that show a mastery of and a real sympathy towards the clarinet.” 

His opera, Steal a Pencil for Me, based on a true concentration camp love story, had its world premiere production by Opera Colorado in January 2018; excerpts were featured at Forth Worth Opera’s Frontiers Festival in 2016. Lucid Culture’s review of the opera noted the effectiveness of Cohen’s “…mesmerizingly hypnotic, intricately contrapuntal” music, with moments of “…Bernard Herrmann-esque, shivery terror…”. Cohen’s operas Sarah and Hagar, based on the story from the book of Genesis, and Seed, a one-act opera about love and choices for a post-apocalyptic couple, have been performed in concert form. Cohen is a noted synagogue cantor and baritone; his experience as a singer informs his dramatic, lyrical compositions. Cohen’s best-known work, his “shimmering setting” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) of Psalm 23, has received thousands of performances from synagogues and churches to Carnegie Hall and the Vatican.  Recent instrumental compositions include Voyagers, a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Voyager spacecraft, which had its premiere at New York’s Hayden Planetarium; and Playing for our lives, a tribute to the music and musicians of the WWII Terezin concentration camp near Prague.

Recognition of Cohen’s body of work includes the Copland House Borromeo String Quartet Award, Aaron Copland Award, Westchester Prize for New Work, American Composers Forum Faith Partners residency, and Cantors Assembly’s Max Wohlberg Award for distinguished achievement in the field of Jewish composition. Cohen received the Yale University’s Sudler Prize for outstanding achievement in the creative arts, and has been awarded commissioning grants from Meet the Composer, National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, and Westchester Arts Council. Throughout his career, he has been selected for residencies including those at The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and American Lyric Theater. 

Cohen’s music has been commissioned by chamber ensembles including the Cassatt String Quartet, Verdehr Trio, Franciscan String Quartet, Chesapeake Chamber Music, Grneta Ensemble, Wave Hill Trio, Bronx Arts Ensemble, and Brooklyn Philharmonic Brass Quintet; by choruses including the New York Virtuoso Singers, Canticum Novum Singers, Syracuse Children’s Chorus, St. Bartholomew’s Church in New York City, Zamir Chorale of Boston, and Usdan Center Chorus; and by the Cantors Assembly of America and Westchester Youth Symphony.  Cohen’s music has been performed by the Borromeo String Quartet, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony, Westchester Philharmonic, Riverside Symphony, Plymouth Music Series Orchestra, New York Concert Singers, Princeton Pro Musica, and many other ensembles and soloists. 

Cohen’s compositions are published by Oxford University Press, G. Schirmer/AMP and Transcontinental Music Publications. Gerald Cohen received a BA in music from Yale University and a DMA in composition from Columbia University. He is cantor at Shaarei Tikvah, Scarsdale, NY, and is on the faculties of The Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College.   


Variously Blue, for clarinet, violin and piano

“Variously Blue” was commissioned by the Verdehr Trio; this recording is from the recent album of my chamber music, SEA OF REEDS, and is performed by Vasko Dukovski, Jennifer Choi, and Alexandra Joan. The piece is a set of variations, on a theme that is based on the 12-bar blues pattern. While some of the sections sound specifically “bluesy”, in general the piece uses the theme and its underlying harmonic pattern as a taking-off point for a varied range of moods and textures: playful, lyrical, mysterious, boisterous.

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L’dor Vador, for SATB choir and piano

“L’dor Vador” is a setting of a well-known text from the Jewish liturgy; this setting was commissioned by HaZamir: The International Jewish High School Choir. This amazing chorus, made up of teens from all over the United States and Israel, gave this premiere performance of the piece at Avery Fisher Hall, New York in March 2015. Kelly Shepard, conductor; Gerald Cohen, piano.

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Playing for our lives, for String Quartet; 1st movement: Beryozkele

“Playing for our lives,” commissioned by the Cassatt String Quartet, was premiered in 2012. It is a tribute to the musicians of the Terezin concentration camp near Prague, who, in spite of imprisonment, had rich musical lives there. The composition reflects several of the pieces that were important at the camp. This movement focuses on “Beryozkele,” a Yiddish melody that is heard in both cheerful and mournful guises, and on “Dies Irae” from Verdi’s Requiem, in the fierce chords that open the piece, and come back later in the movement.

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NewMusicBox Articles

NewMusicBox July 11 2018 | By Gerald Cohen
Knowing the Characters in Your Opera, Literally

There are such a variety of types of stories that could conceivably be transformed by composers and librettists when creating an opera; many recent operas have been based on well-known...