Blogs The Green Room Zachary Cohen

Zachary Cohen is Principal Bass of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Cohen, a native of the Bronx, won the position of principal bass of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in his senior year of Juilliard at the age of 22. Cohen received his Bachelor of Music from Juilliard where he studied with legendary bassist Homer Mensch. During his summers Cohen has performed at the Marlboro Music Festival, Grand Teton Music Festival, and The Dresden Musikfestspiele. As an active chamber musician Cohen has collaborated with a wide range of artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Richard Goode, Mitsuko Uchida, Midori, Mark O'Connor and members of the Guarneri and Mendelssohn quartets. He has also worked closely with some of today's most respected composers such as Henri Dutilleux, Osvaldo Golijov, and Mario Davidovsky. While attending Juilliard, Cohen became a member of the chamber group 'The Knights.' He has recently recorded two albums with them on Sony Classical.

Spiritual America: Zach Cohen on William Brittelle, Wye Oak, and Michi Wiancko

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician Zach Cohen shares his perspective on Wye Oak + William Brittelle: Spiritual […]

Left to right: Lorna Dune, Aaron Roche, Charles Block, Paul Wiancko, Michi Wiancko, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and William Brittelle. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

William Brittelle’s Spiritual America at Aria, October 14, 2015. Left to right: Lorna Dune, Aaron Roche, Charles Block, Paul Wiancko, Michi Wiancko, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak, and William Brittelle. Photo: Jayme Halbritter

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician Zach Cohen shares his perspective on Wye Oak + William Brittelle: Spiritual America with special guest Michi Wiancko. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Brooklyn-based composers William Brittelle and Michi Wiancko, in collaboration with the Baltimore-based band Wye Oak, performed at Aria this past Wednesday evening in a concert copresented by the Walker Art Center and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series.  The performers journeyed through a wide swath of soundscapes blending musical genres—most notably electro-acoustic—bringing a group of top-notch musicians from varying backgrounds on stage together for the first time. The eclectic group of musicians included Charles Block (double bass) William Brittelle (electronics and keyboards) Lorna Dune (keyboard), Aaron Roche (vocals, guitar, bass), Andy Stack (percussion), Jenn Wasner (vocals, guitar and bass), Michi Wiancko (5-string violin), and Paul Wiancko (cello).

The Liquid Music performance series is curated by SPCO’s Kate Nordstrum and spotlights some of today’s most innovative performing artists. Artists are given the space and resources to experiment freely with their newest projects and audiences are delivered something fresh and cutting edge. Spiritual America is one of five copresentations between the Walker and Liquid Music in the 2015-16 season; this iteration of this suite of music was also commissioned by the Walker.

The first half of the show featured the talented and multi-faceted violinist and composer Michi Wiancko. Demonstrating this in action, Michi was performing as part of Spiritual America the same week she was joined the violin section of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, as well as having written a world premiere arrangement of ‘Five Melodies’ by Prokofiev for the SPCO’s program.

Some of the highlights from the first half of Wednesday’s performance at Aria included Michi Wiancko’s string arrangements, which acted as a constant thread throughout the show, bridging and blurring collaboration of the “rock” musicians with the “classical” ones. In her arrangement of Wye Oak’s song “The Tower”, string harmonic glisses and rhythmic pulsing electric bass lines doubled by the violin created unusual sonorities with fascinating outer space-like effects and textures. “Shriek” also employed these effects outlining chords in the synthesizer, cello, and violin that shimmered as indie rocker Jenn Wasner sang over it in a haunting, mellow, and throaty tone.

After intermission, composer and multi-instrumentalist William Brittelle performed selections from Spiritual America, a project which he calls “electro-acoustic orchestral art songs”. The music of Spiritual America examines Brittelle’s journey in exploring and understanding his cultural and perhaps existential feelings in moving to New York City from his native small town roots.

In songs like “Canyons Curved Burgundy”, the listener hears a collage of string sounds like that of Americana Appalachia, and later bass drum, voice, and guitar wave effects meld into one, so that all the sound came together into one trembling and vibrating pitch.

Brittelle is able to discover new sound textures amid a general feeling of melancholia which perhaps captures a glimpse of this generation’s feeling of spiritual America.

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