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Memorial concert to honor Edward Cohen

Edward Cohen
Edward Cohen
Photo courtesy / MIT Music and Theater Arts Section

Edward Cohen (1940-2002), a classically trained musician inspired by jazz and devoted to new music, was greatly respected and loved as a colleague and teacher at MIT.

When he passed away after teaching for 25 years in MIT's music section, his colleagues decided to honor Cohen by setting up a memorial fund to finance a new series of concerts at MIT, each of which would showcase at least one of Cohen's compositions.

"When Ed died we lost a mainstay of the composition and theory department," said fellow composer Professor Peter Child, one of the organizers.

The first Edward Cohen Memorial Concert, to be held Monday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium, will feature Collage New Music, directed by David Hoose, performing works by Cohen and others who were close to him. Admission is free.

The program will include Cohen's "Elegy" (1977), featuring soprano Janet Brown, and "Sextet" (1961); "Duomo" (1997) by Marjorie Merryman (Cohen's widow, who is the Drake Professor of Humanities and Fine Arts at Macalester College); and "In Eius Memoriam" (1968) by Seymour Shifrin, who was Cohen's composition teacher at the University of California at Berkeley.

In addition, there will be two short works for piano solo. One is a new work, "Eulogy-E.C.," written especially for the concert and dedicated to Cohen's memory by Martin Boykan, a composer and close personal friend of Cohen's. Boykan is the Irving Fine Professor of Music at Brandeis University. The other is a transcription of "I Should Care" from a recording by Thelonius Monk. Cohen adored Monk, and this transcription was done by MIT's Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Music Evan Ziporyn as a gift for Cohen shortly before he died.

Cohen composed works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles and orchestra, as well as two operas, receiving acclaim both on and off campus. "Forgive the stereotype, but university professors aren't supposed to compose music like this," wrote Richard Buell in his Boston Globe review of Cohen's 60th birthday concert in 2001. Buell described Cohen's voice as a "surprisingly lyric, long-spanned one, quite striking once you get past the wide registral span of the melodies and a tonal language that, though obviously 'modern,' leaves diatonic afterimages in the mind. And all of it built like a steel trap."

In addition to Brown, performers at Collage's Edward Cohen Memorial Concert will include: Linda Toote, flute; Peggy Pearson, oboe; Robert Annis, clarinet; Catherine French, violin; Anne Black, viola; Joel Moerschel, cello; Christopher Oldfather, piano; and Craig McNutt, percussion.

Collage New Music has commissioned, performed and recorded contemporary classical music in the Boston area since 1972. The group received a Grammy nomination for Best Small Ensemble Performance for its 2006 recording of "Mottetti di Montale," composed by MIT Institute Professor John Harbison.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 15, 2006 (download PDF).

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