Stephen’s Spring

March 23rd, 2011

My friend and former Pleasure Fair colleague Stephen Cohn is a one-man festival this spring.

Look at all these premieres and performances:

On January 25, A string quartet, Winter Soul, was premiered at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena by the Eclipse Quartet, who have been called “spellbinding” by the Los Angeles Times. Rodney Punt in the Huffington Post called Stephen’s piece “a precision-cut jewel.”

Coming right up on March 26 and April 6, Seven Dances will be presented as part of Doctoral Recitals by pianist Stephen Cook, who premiered the work last year at Shumei Hall in Pasadena, one of the most perfect venues for chamber music I’ve ever been in.  I had the privilege of being at the premiere.

On March 27Winter Soul will be performed again by the Eclipse Quartet at a unique, beautiful venue with a rich history in Half-Moon Bay: the Bach, Dancing and Dynamite Society.

April 10, Stephen will have another premiere, back at the Shumei.  This piece,  a work for Pierrot Ensemble (flute, Clarinet, Piano, Violin and Cello) will be presented by top players from the Colburn School. The Colburn School is considered one the best (probably the best) conservatory in the world at this point.  I’m going to be there, and so will Michele Cochrane from The Pleasure Faire, who finally answered her e-mail.

And on May 10 is a mystery performance since it hasn’t been formally announced yet.

I asked Stephen what was up — is this an unusual number of performances in such a short time, and how did it come about?  His answer:

Yes, it is an unsual clustering.  It has happened before but only when I was Composer in Residence at a festival in the south of France and there were multiple performances of my music in ten day period of, for instance, a string quartet, a wind trio and a piano piece.

All the upcoming events are the products of relationships that were formed over the last couple of years – either due to my persistence and interest in a particular ensemble as in the case of the Eclipse Quartet, or  an artist’s interest in my music, eventually resulting in a commission to write something for him or her.  I’ve also had a great relationship with Shumei which has turned into an (almost) yearly premiere of a new work. I have to add that in the last few years, I have taken a much more active role in connecting with artists and organizations with whom I feel a musical kinship.

What’s it feel like just before a piece is played for the first time?

It’s the expectant father syndrome combined with preparing to be nude in public. First performances are potentially thrilling and elevating and/or painful and dissapointing and many gradations inbetween. This is where imagination meets reality. Good performers can add depth, passion. intelligence, phrasing and much more to a work.  But even when the performance is excellent in these respects there are always some differences between the the way the composer hears it in his mind’s ear and the live realization.

Most firsts for me are like the pain of giving birth – I agonize over every detail that isn’t how I imagined it. Often, as with the premiere of my woodwind quintet, when I see that audience gets it in spite of some imperfections, I feel relieved and excited.  And then there’s something like the recent premiere with the Eclispe Quartet.  They breathed so much life and passion into the work that I lost track of the details. I knew the piece was working at a level beyond what I had imagined and so I was a bit nervous about keeping it at that level — but also very excited and happy with what I was hearing.

What might surprise people about your creative process?

Well, this won’t come as a surprise to you, but it might to some: inspiration is always welcome but composing at a perfessional level requires dogged perfectionsim that is much more akin to hard work than the kind of mystical inspiration that’s often portrayed. Or people might like to know that a piece of music can begin with a tiny fragment that stimulates the composer’s imagination or it can begin with a grand vision in which the details are then filled in. It can start small or it can start big, but finishing it is always just hard work.

11 Responses to “Stephen’s Spring”

  1. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    None of you seem to be shirkers when it comes to hard work, and, certainly, you all have the creative gene. I am sitting here trying to figure out how to get to the Bach in spite of numerous physical complaints (whine). Will Steven be there? I hope he gets a good turnout; there usually is for such events. Good luck to him, enjoy.

  2. EverettK Says:

    After having listened to “Rose’s Theme,” I’d dearly love to attend one of the performances. Alas, it’s a wee bit further away than I can justify. Sigh.

    I’ve been very impressed, Stephen, by the little of your work that I’ve actually heard, and also by the things you’ve had to say over the past few years in the Comments to Tim’s mad ravings. It’s enough to make me envious of Tim for having you as a friend. 🙂 Congratulations!

  3. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Lil – I will be at the performance in Half-Moon Bay. If you come, please say hi – it would be good to meet you.

    Everett – Thanks for your very kind words! It’s alway lends a spark of inspiration when someone lets me know they connect with my music.

  4. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    I don’t know if I’ll be there, but I just listened to “Rose” and smiled the whole time. I also downloaded “Serena’s Garden” from itunes. It’s all I could find there. It’s lovely, and good for me right now. Tim, you have some talented friends!

  5. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Just as a point of interest both Rose and Serena’s Garden are very different from the concert music about which this blog was written. However, smiling is always good.

  6. micael hallinan Says:

    Hi Stephen, I loved what you had to say about inspiration versus hard work. It’s the last thing an art student wants to hear. Glad also to hear that ones work sometimes exceeds expectations. Thats a big statement and it doesn’t happen by accident. Have a great tour.

  7. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Everybody —

    First, thanks to all who responded. Stephen is one of the most creative people I know, and it’s a privilege to be able to have him as a guest. When this amazing period is over, maybe he’ll come back and give us a subjective (and candid) look at how it all went.

    Second, it looks like Robb will be coming to LA from Nashville around the time of the April 10 premiere at Shumei, and since Michele and I are already going, and Stephen is essential to the evening, it looks like the oldest band in America will have its first total reunion in four decades. If this happens, I may ask each member to write something about the experience.

    And third, I hope you can make it, too, Lil, and it was kind of Everett to characterize the endless fount of clarity that is this blog as “mad ravings,” and I can attest to micael’s point that hard work is the last things most fiction (like art) students want to hear about. They all envision the creative process as being struck by lightning and then springing to spiritual and artistic life, sort of like Frankenstein’s monster on the slab, but more photogenic.

    And as we know, it’s both drudgery and exaltation, but if you put them in Justice’s scales, drudgery would weigh more. And it wouldn’t be fun if it weren’t also hard work.

    So there.

  8. Larissa Says:

    Welcome back to the blog Stephen. I loved reading about your thoughts on the Creative Process back when that thread was up in a running and I’m glad to hear that you’re going to be nice and busy in the next few months! I think regardless of what creative field you come from-the satisfaction of having your work out there and in the public’s hands (or ears..) is well understood. I wish I could make it out there to see one of the events. Come to the midwest-we just built a shiny new performing arts center (c:

  9. Suzanna Says:

    Congratulations Stephen. Hope to catch one of your concerts some time in the future. Keep us posted, Tim.

    Have a great Pleasure Faire reunion! Looking forward to hearing how it went.

  10. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Micael – Thanks for the kind words and good wishes.

    Larissa – Tim’s series on creative process was fascinating. Thanks for remembering my contribution. I would love to learn more about your new performing arts center. It’s amazing that such a center has been or will be completed in an economic drought-for-the-arts that we are experiencing.

    Suzanna – thanks for the good wishes. I’m sure you will hearing more about the reunion.

  11. Larissa Says:

    Stephen-I agree, it was a very cool series on what it means and doesn’t mean to be creative. So, props to Tim for having good ideas and good friends to help him fulfill them. As far as the Performing Arts Center, it’s neat. It’s modeled after the opera house Down Undah and it’s beautiful. You can find the site for it here and a full view picture of it here

    (I’m going to cross my fingers that the html for those links works…if not, well, just copy paste through the mess 😀 )

    And yeah, I’m glad to see that they finished it. They started it a while a go and it’s been chugging towards completion. The Kaufman Foundation is a huuuuuuge supporter of the arts out here and they’ve managed to do a lot for the city even in tough times. We need more people like that! (c:

    Anyway-I have no idea how one goes about coming to play in such a space but it sounds like you’ve got more than enough clout to do it.

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