Conductor Warren Cohen
“The recent death of Kim Il-Sung has reminded many us of the the crudeness of old style Communist propaganda. The duckspeak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Newspeak_words) practiced by politicians and hired political flacks in America, which is comically ludicrous and inane, seems like subtle and reasoned analysis next to the blabbering idiocy that passed for official statements in the Communist world. One interesting consequence of this overt idiocy was that no one really believed the content that was fed to them-they assumed everything said from official sources was a lie. I once asked a person who had fled the Soviet Union what he believed, if he assumed that all official information was nonsense. He said, without a moment’s hesitation “I believed rumors!” Part of the gymnastics of living in such a society was that you had to behave as though you actually believed what was said, or at least acquiesced in words to the official line. You knew that the price of dissent would be too high, and that your life could be ruined, or, during Stalin’s day, ended. People like Shostakovich led a “coded” existence, where official compliance lived side by side with mockery and subtle sabotage. It was the only way to stay sane.
However, there were some who simply could not play the game. The composer Iosif Andriasov was one. He refused the “Lenin Prize” offered to him for his Second Symphony saying “when you accept an award from criminals, you become an accomplice to their crimes.” Such a position-and such insolence-was almost unheard of. The consequence was his marginalization as a composer, despite a very promising start to his career, and eventual exile in the United States. Andriasov moved to the United States in 1979 (a time in which a number of dissidents were allowed to leave). He died in 2000, and since his death his widow Marta Andriasova and son Arshak have worked to restore his music to the repertoire. I knew nothing of his background when I first heard his music, but I was struck by the directness and immediacy of its appeal, and wanted to perform it based on quality alone. A striking feature of his music is that although he dabbled in a number of styles, including 12 tone music, his personal voice was so strong and immediately appealing that he was able to write in any style and still sound like the same composer. The First Symphony is fascinating because although there are gestures throughout that, taken in isolation, sound like Shostakovich, but unlike a composer like Weinberg, there is never a moment that actually sounds like Shostakovich. I suspect it was this ability to assimilate familiar musical gestures to a totally new voice that impressed Shostakovich so much. There is a recording available of his First Symphony and you can hear it on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWIOSn2N8iA. This version was the original version, but the composer revised the work a number of times, and the final revision was made in the year of his death. We are presenting the American premiere of this new version. The differences in orchestration are numerous, but often subtle, while the structure of the piece has remained pretty similar. I feel that all the changes are improvements-much of what he has done clarifies the structure of the piece, and it seems to effectively underline the programmatic aspect of the score, but I will not really know how effective it is until I hear the work in rehearsal. I find the work melodically beautiful, very dramatic and deeply satisfying, and given the directness of its appeal I suspect many of you will as well. One wonderful feature of Andriasov’s music is that he never overstays his welcome. He judges the length of his music perfectly. He seems to know exactly how much time he needs to use for the material he has. This Symphony is in one movement and is only 17 minutes long, and there is never a wasted gesture.”
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Warren Cohen is a Canadian composer, conductor and pianist and musical director of the Scottsdale-based MusicaNova Orchestra, identified by its mission statement – ‘musica nova’ means ‘new music’ – rather than a geographical location. The organization specializes in works that are newly composed or unjustly neglected, as well as new interpretations of standard repertoire. Mr. Cohen, who has so far had a two-decade career as a musical director, and who has significantly developed every organization with which he has been involved, studied conducting with Gustave Meier and Paul Vermel. Warren Cohen’s talent and inventiveness as both a composer and conductor has been recognized with 7 ASCAP awards for original composition.