A familiar face in Portland Oregon, Arnaldo Cohen is the Artistic Director of Portland Piano International. But that’s not all he does. He’s a professor at Indiana University and a busy concert pianist, receiving accolades at across the globe. Here’s his most recent:
As San Diego’s Upright and Grand Piano Festival pulls into the home stretch, it was fitting to feature a mighty Romantic piano concerto on the San Diego Symphony’s concert at the Jacobs Music Center Friday (January 29). Music Director Jahja Ling has always favored the popular piano concertos by Russian composers—Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev—but this time he selected Johannes Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 15.
It proved an inspired choice, with Ling and the orchestra boldly complementing guest soloist Arnaldo Cohen’s intuitive, commanding take on this towering concerto of the Romantic canon. According to my records, Cohen last performed in San Diego in December of 2011, a highly successful solo piano recital for the La Jolla Music Society. The Brazilian pianist’s refined, masterful technique realized Brahms’ flamboyant displays with confident assurance, but, more importantly, he portrayed the poetry in the concerto’s reflective forays with soulful insight.
Although the D Minor is Brahms’ youthful piano concerto, we benefited from the maturity of Cohen’s interpretation. After the first movement’s extended, symphonic introduction, which Ling conducted with unrelenting drive and dark determination, the piano’s subdued entry theme can sound underwhelming, but Cohen’s deep touch and resonant sonority gave it the gravitas of the composer’s late Intermezzos. I appreciated that Cohen crafted clear intention into every phrase, and his linear clarity served Brahms’ classically oriented Romantic style well.
The accolades are no less surprising considering that Cohen was actually filling in for Horacio Gutierrez. The Tribune started their stellar review this way:
Big name can’t do show. Newcomer fills in. Star is born.
A showbiz cliché became reality Friday evening when pianist Arnaldo Cohen replaced the scheduled headliner at Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall, Horacio Gutiérrez, and was enthusiastically showered with tumultuous applause.
That trope, however, needs qualification. Cohen is no newbie; he’s had a distinguished career for over four decades. But it was his debut with the San Diego Symphony, and for the majority of the audience, likely the first time they’d heard this infrequently-recorded virtuoso.