Strumming from Paris to Jerusalem: Liat cohen and her guitar music

Classical guitar player Liat Cohen returns from Paris for a series of shows

Liat Cohen  (photo credit: AVSHALOM LEVY)
Liat Cohen
(photo credit: AVSHALOM LEVY)
On Thursday, December 13, classical guitar player Liat Cohen will perform solo with Haifa Symphony Orchestra under the baton of French conductor Nicolas Chalvin at Herzliya Performing Arts Center. A month later, on January 16, she will appear at Jerusalem’s Henry Crown Hall with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra led by Chen Zimbalista. With these concerts, Cohen celebrates the release of her new Paris Madrid album as well as her return home from Paris, which served her as the base for her successful globe-trotting career for the past 26 years.
“There’s nothing wrong with Paris and I have absolutely nothing to complain for,” said Cohen in a phone interview from Paris on the eve of her concerts, the signature joie de vivre ringing in her voice.
“Music life in France is flourishing, I’ve graduated from several music schools here and have been awarded with many prizes. The local music community has embraced me. Even more than that – two years ago I became a French citizen,” said Cohen and accentuated: “But there is a thing named “identity.” I was born in a specific country to specific parents both of whom have personal stories. At some moment in your life you need to connect yourself to the story which is yours.”
“In France, they respect and support arts. It comes from above and translates into high budgets, beautiful concert venues and free music education for kids, among other things. And I, with my silly optimism, still hope that one day we should at least partly adopt it, which is one of the reasons of my coming back. Without sounding bombastic, there are clear cultural values, which are characteristic of the Jewish people and which are recorded in our philosophy. If we abandon them – what is this all for?”
Liat Cohen says that she never intended to leave Israel for good.
“I left Israel at 20, straight after completing my army service. First, I studied, then, at the beginning of my career, I used to spend almost half a year on tour. But now I have a daughter and for me this is important to raise her in Israel, with our mentality, our values and roots.”
Cohen realized that this is “a risky step, in many ways. Musicians’ life is not easy in Israel, and also the political situation is tense. But together with my husband who is also a musician, we have come to a conclusion that after 26 years in Paris we feel here exactly the same as we did when we arrived and this is not going to change. We see ourselves as Israelis. For us, this is important be a part of the cultural process in Israel. Granted, over the years I’ve been collaborating with Israeli composers and music institutions, but it is different from living in the country.”
Cohen described her recently released Paris Madrid album as a musical journey.
“Music connections between Spain and France have always been strong, with Spanish composers living in France and being influenced by French music and vice versa. Bizet, Ravel and Fauré experienced the influence by music of de Falla and Spanish folk rhythms and more,” she explains. “So I thought that guitar perfectly suits this music journey.” Cohen says that the album features pieces for guitar solo, as well as those written for soprano or tenor and soprano.
“There also are pieces by Fernando Sor, who composed many pieces for guitar solo. But it comes out that he also composed an entire album of pieces for two or three tenors and a soprano, accompanied by guitar. I’ve never found any recordings of these little gems – and I really wanted to perform them.” She highly appreciates the contribution of the vocalists, who participated in the recordings – soprano singer Sandrine Piau and tenor singers Rolando Villazón and Charles Castronovo.
The upcoming concerts feature two major pieces of the classic guitar repertoire.
The Concierto de Aranjuez, by Rodrigo, which Cohen will perform with the Haifa Symphony, “is arguably the most performed 20th century classical piece. In January, I will perform the First Concerto by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a Jewish Italian composer who was forced to escape the Nazis, finding refuge in the USA. This had somehow changed his career – in America, he switched to music for movies and also managed a music school. Some people claim that if not for this dramatic turn, he could have become one of the major composers of the 20th century. Anyway, this concerto is a most beautiful piece and also the first I’ve ever recorded, with the Jerusalem Symphony, of all orchestras! The album was twice named the Disk of the Year in the US, so I am sort of closing the circle with this concert.”
The concerts will take place December 13th at Herzliya Performing Arts Center at 20:30.
For reservations: 1-7000-702929 and January 16th at Henry Crown Symphony Hall in Jerusalem.
For reservations: 1-700-70-4000.