Franklin Cohen, ChamberFest Cleveland co-founder. PHOTO | ChamberFest Cleveland

Jewish themes key to ChamberFest Cleveland concerts at Maltz Performing Arts Center

By Carlo Wolff

Franklin Cohen may be retired, but he’s anything but inactive. After the fifth season of ChamberFest Cleveland concludes next month, the Cleveland Heights resident is off to China to perform and teach clarinet, the wind instrument he reveled in as first clarinetist of The Cleveland Orchestra for 39 years.

In 2015, Cohen left the orchestra to pursue more personal interests like connecting and making music with old friends and develop a mouthpiece business. The principal clarinetist emeritus has done the former, but the latter is still in the embryonic stage.

“I have sold some to friends,” he said in a recent interview, but he hasn’t commercialized the mouthpieces. At the same time, Cohen still teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Music, “and, the day after ChamberFest (ends), I’m going to Beijing to perform and to teach. I am busy.”

On June 15, Cohen, along with his daughter Diana Cohen, will launch the new season of ChamberFest Cleveland, the summer music festival they co-founded. After an opening night party at Crop Kitchen, a restaurant in University Circle, ChamberFest Cleveland V formally launches at 8 p.m. June 16 at Mixon Hall at the Cleveland Institute of Music.

Cohen is thrilled that a June 18 concert will take place at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at The Temple-Tifereth Israel on the western campus of Case Western Reserve University. The festival concludes July 2 with a second performance in that hallowed venue, which debuted last fall with a stirring “Violins of Hope” concert.

“We figured that in our fifth anniversary season, having just witnessed the renaissance of that synagogue, especially as an art center, that this was the perfect opportunity to perform at our ChamberFest — especially this concert that is so focused on the Old Testament, with ‘Isaac the Blind,’” Cohen said.

The full title of Argentine-American composer Osvaldo Golijov’s 1994 work is “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” Scored for klezmer, clarinet and string quartet, it explores Old Testament themes in a presentation also featuring works by Franz Joseph Haydn, Benjamin Britten — and Cohen, along with accordionist Merima Klujco.

Cohen and Klujco’s “Miriam the Prophetess” is a meditative piece Cohen commissioned Klujco to write. Late last October, she performed her haunting “Sarajevo Hagaddah: Music of the Book,” at the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Gartner Auditorium.

This iteration of ChamberFest Cleveland ends July 2 at the Maltz Performing Arts Center on the CWRU campus with works by Antonin Dvorak, J.S. Bach, Eric Ewazen — and the highlight, Igor Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat,” or “A Soldier’s Tale.”

“We were figuring that in this, the inaugural year of that center, why not play there and showcase this beautiful center to Cleveland audiences,” said Cohen, a member of Cleveland’s Jewish community for more than 40 years. “I’ve known Milt and Tamar Maltz now for quite a few years, and they’re very significant supporters of our mission and our festival.” CV

On stage

WHAT: Fifth season of ChamberFest Cleveland

WHEN: June 15 to July 2

WHERE: Various Greater Cleveland venues

TICKETS & INFO: Call 216-471-8887 or visit

Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on June 10, 2016.

Lead image: Franklin Cohen, ChamberFest Cleveland co-founder. PHOTO | ChamberFest Cleveland