At the top of his game

The sky’s the limit for 28-year-old Daniel Cohen, who will be conducting the Israeli Opera in ‘Rigoletto.’

A scene from 'Rigoletto' 370 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
A scene from 'Rigoletto' 370
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
On Saturday evening, the Israeli Opera will begin a run of 12 performances of Verdi’s ever-popular opera Rigoletto. The conductor’s podium will be occupied, alternately, by seasoned Italian conductor Daniele Callegari, and by young Israeli conductor Daniel Cohen. Callegari and Cohen’s cohorts in the production include British director David Pountney and compatriot costume designer Sue Wilmington.
The original 2005 set was conceived by Ethiopian-born Greek designer Stefanos Lazaridis, who died two years ago. The vocal and instrumental music will be performed by The Israeli Opera Chorus and The Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion respectively.
Cohen says he is very much looking forward to sharing baton duties with Callegari, although adding that will have his work cut out for him. “Verdi has his own distinctive style, and his own language, and it is always a special experience working on one of his operas,” says the 28- year-old conductor. “It is a very demanding opera, and the conductor and singers have to work hard. It is an endurance test. It is a tough and long work to perform, but it is very rewarding too.”
In fact, this will be first time Cohen has conducted Rigoletto, and only his third operatic venture with Verdi. “Most of my work until now has been with symphonic works,” he explains “I did Jerusalem three years ago, and La Traviata last year.”
His youth notwithstanding, Cohen has become one of the busiest bees on the global musical circuit. He has his baton in numerous genres and works with some of the biggest names in the business.
He is assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and was involved in preparing the ensemble’s renditions of the Beethoven symphonies cycle, as well as major works by Schoenberg and Boulez.
He also works alongside 87-year-old French composer-conductor-pianist Pierre Boulez at the Lucerne Festival Academy and has contributed to Boulez’s conducting master classes. Add to that his position as conductor of the Jersey Chamber Orchestra, music director of the Eden Sinfonia in London and a permanent guest slot with the Israel Chamber Orchestra and you end with a packed work schedule that many conductors twice his age would be proud of.
THERE IS also some extra-classical, crossgenre stuff in Cohen’s burgeoning resumé, principally his role as artistic director of the Gropius Ensemble, an interdisciplinary outfit which Cohen cofounded in 2004. The ensemble, which is also fronted by actor Itay Tiran, is named after pioneering modernist architect and founder of the groundbreaking early twentieth century arts and design Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius, and inspired by his theories and creations Gropius specializes in creating new artistic genres that draw on a range of disciplines, including music, theater, and dance. Cohen calls his work with Gropius his “artistic indulgence” and says it gives him the chance to following his non-musical muse too. “Itay [Tiran] is also a musician, and I have a penchant for the theater. Everyone on the stage contributes, both to the music and the drama. We are all actor-musicians, although each of us has a stronger side to them in or other of the fields.”
It must be tough keeping up with all that globetrotting and working in so many diverse, if not disparate, realms of artistic endeavor, but Cohen says he just goes with the flow. “[Film director] Orson Welles was once asked how he thought of some previously untried camera angle and he said he was young and, at the time, didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to do that. I never really thought about what I should or shouldn’t do with my repertoire. I never really chose one area or the other to work in.”
Even so, there are some genres which Cohen finds more demanding than others.
“Whenever I work on some Baroque work I have to put more effort into the preparations,” he observes. “I was brought up on composers like Brahms, Mozart and Beethoven, and that’s where I feel most comfortable, and the Italians and Baroque are a new addition to my repertoire.” But Cohen obviously likes a challenge, and he says he is eager to perform Rigoletto. “The singers in both casts in this production are exceptional. It is a joy to work with them.”
Cohen’s professional agenda in the coming months will see him make trips to England, where he will conduct the Oxford Philomusica, to Italy to conduct the Orchestra International d’Italia at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, and an October date the Orchestra of the Arena di Verona, and to Switzerland to conduct a work commissioned by Boulez written by Benjamin Attahir. Cohen is particularly enthused with the latter project.
“Benjamin is an amazing young composer,” he exclaims. When a 28-year-old talks about someone else as “young” one wonders whether we might be dealing about a wunderkind here. In fact, French-born Attahir is all of 23 years of age, and Cohen describes him, quite simply, as “a giant talent.”
Judging by his work and the accolades he has garnered to date, Cohen appears to be no slouch himself.
The Israeli Opera will perform Rigoletto at the Opera House in Tel Aviv between June 30 and July 14. For more info: (03) 692- 7777 or