Cohen Plays a Masterful Brahms Piano Concerto in D Minor with the San Diego Symphony

by Ken Herman

As San Diego’s Upright and Grand Piano Festival pulls into the home stretch, it was fitting to feature a mighty Romantic piano concerto on the San Diego Symphony’s concert at the Jacobs Music Center Friday (January 29). Music Director Jahja Ling has always favored the popular piano concertos by Russian composers—Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev—but this time he selected Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15.

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

Arnaldo Cohen [photo courtesy of the San Diego Symphony]

It proved an inspired choice, with Ling and the orchestra boldly complementing guest soloist Arnaldo Cohen’s intuitive, commanding take on this towering concerto of the Romantic canon. According to my records, Cohen last performed in San Diego in December of 2011, a highly successful solo piano recital for the La Jolla Music Society. The Brazilian pianist’s refined, masterful technique realized Brahms’ flamboyant displays with confident assurance, but, more importantly, he portrayed the poetry in the concerto’s reflective forays with soulful insight.

Although the D Minor is Brahms’ youthful piano concerto, we benefited from the maturity of Cohen’s interpretation. After the first movement’s extended, symphonic introduction, which Ling conducted with unrelenting drive and dark determination, the piano’s subdued entry theme can sound underwhelming, but Cohen’s deep touch and resonant sonority gave it the gravitas of the composer’s late Intermezzos. I appreciated that Cohen crafted clear intention into every phrase, and his linear clarity served Brahms’ classically oriented Romantic style well.

Ling underscored the serenity of the Adagio, finding with Cohen a mystical quality the composer’s sober character too rarely portrayed, and they unleashed finale’s assertive rondo with a disciplined vigor that brought the audience instantly to its feet at the final cadence.

Cohen offered Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz as his encore.

Ling chose Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, the “Pastorale,” to open his program, apparently not wanting to steal any of the Brahms Concerto’s thunder. Especially in the Symphony’s first two movements, the orchestra’s string sections produced that warm, polished sound we associate with the great Central European orchestras, a trait Ling has averred on numerous occasions to be an important goal he hoped to accomplish during his tenure at the San Diego Symphony. This velvet sound, combined with Ling’s joyous, unhurried tempos, allowed these movements to unfold gracefully, replete with noble solos from Principal Flute Rose Lombardo and Principal Bassoon Valentin Martchev. The solid horn section energized the Scherzo, and the first violins and violas reveled in their solo moments in the final movements.

Unlike the other Beethoven symphonies, which end with climactic, dramatic flourishes, the “Pastorale” ends quietly, simply folding up its tent and walking into the sunset. Ling continues to champion this anomaly in the Beethoven symphonic canon, and I can only salute his commitment.

Arnaldo Cohen Bio

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Arnaldo Cohen shines in SD Symphony debut

Piano virtuoso fills in for Horacio Gutiérrez Friday and delivers dramatic performance


©The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Franz Liszt Mini-Fest a hit

ALS performers 620-21Karen Shaw, chair of the Department of Piano and president of the American Liszt Society IU chapter, recently presented “Franz Liszt, Master of the Piano Transcription” in two concerts featuring IU alumni pianists, on June 20 and 21 in Auer Hall. Fifteen guest pianists appeared in solo and duo-piano repertoire, with a finale of a two-piano, eight-hand arrangement of “The Grand Galop Chromatic.”

The festive event drew capacity audiences, and both concerts were received with standing ovations!

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Alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan named chief executive of Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Krishna-Thiagarajan-600x321Jacobs alumnus Krishna Thiagarajan has been named chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).

Thiagarajan earned both his B.M. in Piano Performance and his M.M. in Piano Performance from the Jacobs School of Music, studying with Leonard Hokanson. In addition, he taught as an associate instructor of piano at the school.

Read the RSNO release.

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Emile Naoumoff attends the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir

Emile Naoumoff travelled to England last week to attend the UK premiere of his Sacred Concerto for Piano and Choir, presented at the Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral by the  Colchester Chamber Choir. The performance was conducted by Roderick Earle who was the initiator of the concert. Naoumoff’s former student Yau Cheng undertook the challenging piano solo part.

Watch a video of the moving performance below!

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Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng release new album

Gouvy: Sonatas for Piano Four Hands

Emile Naoumoff & Yau Cheng


emile naoumoffFeaturing pianists Emile Naoumoff and Yau Chang, this Grand Piano release showcases three Sonatas for piano four hands by the prolific composer and eminent member of Frances musical establishment in the later 19th c., Louis Theodore Gouvy (1819-98).  These works, all written in the 1860s, reveal considerable technical command as well as flowing elegance, some of it reminiscent of Schubert and Schumann.  Gouvys considerable uvre, including a large body of four-hand piano music, has been undergoing critical reconsideration and something of a revival on record in recent years.






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Jacobs professor inducted into Hall of Fame

By Alison Graham & Audrey Perkins


Jacobs School of Music professor and pianist Andre Watts has been inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

Located in Cincinnati, the American Classical Music Hall of Fame was founded in 1996, according to its website. The organization “seeks to build and sustain enthusiasm for classical music in America by celebrating diverse facets of classical music excellence.”

Past inductees include Gustav Mahler, Antonin Dvorak, George Gershwin and Yo-Yo Ma.

Andre Watts

Andre Watts

Watts has played before royalty in Europe and heads of government in nations all around the world, according to the organization’s website. Watts received a 2011 National Medal of Arts, given by the President of the United States to “individuals who are deserving of special recognition for their outstanding contributions to the excellent growth, support and availability of the arts in the United States.”

Watts first entered the music world at 16, according to the organization’s website, when Leonard Bernstein chose him to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic in its Young People’s Concerts.

The concert was broadcast nationwide on CBS-TV. Two weeks later, Bernstein asked Watts to substitute for Glenn Gould at the last minute in performances of Liszt’s E-flat Concerto with the New York Philharmonic. This moment, according to the American classical Music Hall of Fame, was when Watt’s career launched in storybook fashion.

Watts joined the music school in 2004 as a faculty member, according to the school’s website.

Watts is an active musician and continues to give numerous performances around the world. He makes regular visits to major summer music festivals, including Ravinia, Tanglewood, Saratoga, the Mann Music Center, Mostly Mozart and the Hollywood Bowl.

The pianist joins fellow professor and pianist Menahem Pressler, who was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 9.

Watts received his honor during his concert Oct. 24 at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, according to the Jacobs School of Music.

“What a pleasure to accept something given to my trio, which I still dearly, dearly love,” Pressler said in a press release. “And knowing that André also received it makes the award even sweeter and more 
important to me.”

Watts was also awarded the MacDowell Medal at the Oct. 24 concert from the Cincinnati MacDowell 

The Cincinnati MacDowell Society is the oldest group honoring American composer Edward MacDowell, who composed during the Romantic Period and died in 1908.


© Indiana Daily Student 2014



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Menahem Pressler on the Adventure of Practicing

by Monique Mead


It was during a performance of the legendary pianist Menahem Pressler that I stopped wondering how it would feel to be in the presence of God.

menham presslerNo, it was not the pianist’s imposing stature or powerful performance that invoked images of divine grandeur — quite the opposite, in fact. I was witnessing the diminutive figure of a 90-year-old whose artistry transcended the parameters of music: notes, phrasing, and technique dissolved into a realm of subtle magnificence, connecting me with the very essence of music.

The baggage of my musical life fell away and I was reawakened to the powerful emotional imprint of my earliest musical experiences and my consuming passion for learning the violin. Once again I connected with why I had wanted to become a musician.

Having heard thousands of concerts in my lifetime, the significance of this experience was not lost on me, and I could not let him leave without finding out the source of his magic. Where was he coming from? What was he connecting with that I was not?

Fortunately, Mr. Pressler was gracious enough not only to speak to me privately, but also to share his “secrets” in a taped on-stage interview. I publish it here (linked below) with his blessing, in hopes that others will also be inspired by the extraordinary spirit of this great musician. After speaking with him, I came across a quote that encapsulates him perfectly: “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”  –Mahatma Gandhi.


On making a career in music (Listen to the quote: 2:10)

“You don’t have to be a concertizing artist…you can sit in a small town and teach and find not only satisfaction in teaching, but feeling that when you transmit music to someone else and reach their lives you have really done something in your life. Therefore, your life is important because you bring so much.”

On teaching amateurs (Listen to the quote: 4:19)

“Amateurs – the word come from “amare,” from loving – that means they love music. I wish that all the professionals would love music….It is real, it can touch you, it can move you. It can inspire. Life is out there, there is a great deal missing….But the truth is, the real greatness in living is being able to feel, when you are able to feel you feel friendship, you feel love, you feel connection.”

On practicing (Listen to the quote: 6:33)

“Practicing I think is a wonderful thing. I must admit I belong to the very few who love to practice….really practicing is an adventure. Really practicing means to find out. Practicing is what to a scientist is research, to what a writer is research. Or to an architect is looking at other buildings and coming to his own conclusions. Practicing is not drudgery. It is difficult sometimes – especially if you’re married, if you teach. You find the time. Yes, you have to find the time. Yes, you have to somehow sacrifice in finding it. Practicing is very solitary, you are not a social person at that point. You are there, devoting yourself to be able to find the answers for yourself….”

Where does Menahem Pressler go for inspiration?

Pressler’s response was not what I was expecting! Listen to his quote at 6:00….

Follow the link to listen to the full interview!

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Two Pianists appear on Silvemine Artists Series

Matt & MeeyounMatthew Gianforte (MM ’02, DM ’09) and Meeyoun Park,(who holds her Master’s of Music degree, Performer’s Diploma, and Doctoral degree in piano performance under the guidance of Karen Shaw at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music)both graduates of the Jacobs School of Music, and students of Karen Shaw, appeared in a program on Oct 26th of both solo and duo-piano repertoire.

Both young artists serve on the piano department of Murray State U., in Kentucky.

The Silvermine Series is directed by Karen Shaw, and located in Norwalk, CT. Ms. Shaw often engages Jacobs School of Music alumni to perform there.

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The Jacobs School mourns the passing of alumnus Thomas Mastroianni

thomas-mastrioanni-450It is with sadness that the Jacobs School of Music shares the news of the death of pianist Thomas Mastroianni, September 19, 2014.

Thomas earned his BS and MS from Juilliard and after military service, he earned his Doctorate in Piano Performance (’70) from Indiana University where he worked with Bela Nagy and Sidney Foster.

He served as dean of the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music from 1972 to 1981 and as a faculty member in Piano from 1972 and as head of Piano Studies from 1981 until his retirement in 2000. From 2000, he continued teaching piano students on a part-time basis.  Mastroianni was an internationally respected pianist, having performed extensively throughout the United States (including many performances at Carnegie Hall), Europe, Mexico, South America, and Asia.  He was an authority and champion of the music and other writings of the 19th-c. composer Franz Liszt, whose works Mastroianni performed throughout his career.  He was the longstanding president of the American Liszt Society and planned several conferences on Liszt’s music as well as being frequently invited to give lectures on Liszt in the U.S. and Europe.  He was a 1992 recipient of the Medal of The
Hungarian Liszt Society and had recently returned to Hungary with various presentations on the composer.
research that could help musicians; he published numerous articles on wellness, anxiety, and memory related to musical performance.

A native of Pittsburgh, Mastroianni had served in the Army in the 1950s, with time spent teaching at the Army Band School.  He maintained active connections between the Armed Services musicians and CUA during his time as dean.  Mastroianni also helped forge important connections with the Organization of American States that made CUA one of the leading U.S. universities for the study of Latin American culture. He began performing many works by Latin American composers and eventually taught classes on Latin American music at CUA, a rare emphasis for a concert pianist of his generation.

His passionate work on behalf of CUA became widely known.   He spoke eloquently about the wealth of talent and great faculty he found in the School of Music and stated it was his job to educate the world about this “diamond” at CUA.

Throughout his career, Mastroianni was respected as an incredibly generous, kind man and he will be mourned not only by his University community but also by his large network of former students, many of whom are respected performers and teachers, colleagues and friends here and around the world.   He was also a passionate gourmet cook and shared many a wonderful dinner with students and colleagues.  On the Sunday before his death, Mastroianni gave an acclaimed performance at the Hartke Theatre of music by Liszt.  Before this event, Mastroianni had stated that what sustained him as he aged was the love of his family and his friends and students at The Catholic University of America.  He is survived by his wife, Mary Ann, three children, and several grandchildren.


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