Budapest Festival Orchestra
Interviews October 27, 2014

"It is very easy to sit back and enjoy this music" - interview with Jonathan Cohen

As far as I know, your main interest and engagement is the human voice, the art of singing. If so, is this the reason for the concert program in Budapest, including a Händel cantata you will conduct?

Indeed these baroque cantatas give us the flavour of the baroque aesthetic. With Sigrid we will prepare a real baroque staging with gesture and costume to get as close as it is possible to the aesthetic.

How do you feel about baroque music? It seems to get trendier to listen to this kind of music.

Baroque music is an adventurous and fast developing moment of music history. New forms and discoveries in instrument technologies and compositional devices are making this period of music very exciting. A very important feature of this style is the link with dance and other art forms such as poetry. I feel strongly that this period of music speaks universally today to our innate understanding of elegant harmonic and rhythmic patterns. As an expressive art form, it is very easy to sit back and enjoy this music without having expert knowledge in this field. For those people who know a lot about Baroque music there is also a great depth to it.

What is the most important instruction from the conductor to the musicians when playing Baroque music?

The most important duty for the conductor is to shape and sculpt the music so it sounds clear and expressive in its intentions and to communicate the meaning of the score as a whole entity so everybody is connected to a specific interpretation.

What are your most important messages in connection with Telemann and Pietro Antonio Locatelli?

The concerto grosso is really a very important 'form' and really the historical basis for the concerto. It is a dialogue between the ripieno or larger group and the concertino or the smaller group. Locatelli's concerto grosso "Pianto d'Arianna" specifically uses this expressive device of the individual to personalise the story telling against the backdrop of the tutti ensemble. It is also set in a very unusual key of e flat minor and fluctuates in its mood swings and tempi. I enjoy the eccentricity of Telemann who writes in quite an off the wall style.

You are a cellist, a harpsichordist and a conductor as well. What is the most important for you of all these?

All are equally important to me and I enjoy the variety in my career, but my different specialisations are all united by my interest in chamber music. I think all baroque and classical music are really in this aesthetic of chamber music. That is to say the role of director in this music is subtley different to the late 19th century and more modern and well known job of a "conductor."

Do you still deal and work with children? If so, what kind of work is it?

I enjoy working with children in music. I believe every child has an innate musical ability. It's not often I get to enjoy playing music with children but I know the joy of this from playing music with my 4 year old son.