Distinguished composer, pianist, music theorist and teacher Alla Elana Cohen, immigrated to the United States from Soviet Russia in 1989. Now living in Boston, Cohen is a professor at both Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Today, Cohen is our next featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings of our artists and their personalities.
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
My parents weren’t musicians, but they loved classical music very much – since when I was very young, I had the happiness to listen at home to many classical masterpieces on records, on radio and TV, and especially I loved piano music but also listened to a lot of orchestral and chamber music. By some reason, growing up, I much preferred instrumental music to vocal. My favorites when I was a child – and still now – great pianists Emil Gilels, Maria Yudina, Dinu Lipatti and many many others!
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist/composer/creator?
I realized it very early. My parents bought a piano for me when I was 5, and I started piano lessons at 5, and a year later I started to compose music, and since then I have never wanted to do anything else in life – I always felt that being a composer/pianist is the greatest blessing, and is my true vocation. But my first creative experience started even earlier – I composed my first little poem when I was 4, and it was about my favorite candy that had a picture of bears near the pine tree in the forest on its foil, in Russian it had rhythm and rhyme, and if to translate it roughly into English, it will be something like: “Naughty little bear-cub put pinecones in his mother’s tub; his younger sister is of the same sort: all day she wallows in the dirt”!
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
My most unusual performance was in 2001, when 12-year old phenomenal prodigy cellist Sebastian Baverstam played with me my cello/piano duo in 3 movements at the concert of my music –a child played super-challenging cello part in a composition of extreme difficulty both interpretation-wise and technically, and he did it brilliantly, on the level of an adult master, and what is the most remarkable is that he received the music of this duo and learned it 10 days before the concert! I still have that amazing recording – from that concert. It was the beginning of our collaboration that lasts all these years and continues now – he played solo cello pieces and cello part in all the ensembles on my CD that PARMA releases now! And PARMA will release soon the CD, that consists of only cello/piano, solo cello and solo piano music, that we recorded with Sebastian.
What was your favorite musical moment on the album?
For a composer all his/her works should be equally dear, otherwise, there is no sense to perform/record them! Each of the works on this CD highlights certain aspects and facets of my individual musical style, each piece has its own, unique character, so it is impossible for me to decide.
Was there a piece on your album that you found more difficult to compose/perform than the others?
“Inscription on a Bamboo Screen” for soprano and viola (with cup-gong in the last movement) was the most challenging for both the singer and violist – vocal part is very challenging and requires very flexible voice and excellent intonation, and not less difficult viola part has certain extended techniques, with which my violist wasn’t familiar.
What does this album mean to you personally?
The release of my CD by PARMA, Ravello label, is very important for me – not only because it is the next step for me in my creative work, but because it is a start of my collaboration with PARMA, that will make my compositions more known to broader circles of listeners.
Alla Elana Cohen’s RED LILIES OF BELLS, GOLDEN LILIES OF BELLS, WHITE LILIES OF BELLS is now available on Amazon, iTunes, ArkivMusic and is streaming on Spotify.