Clarinetist Joshua Rubin. Photo courtesy of DigitICE

For clarinetist Joshua Rubin, Ojai Music Festival is a perfect mix of new music and familiar setting


Clarinetist Joshua Rubin’s love affair with contemporary music took hold at the Ojai Music Festival in 1992. The series of concerts the teenage Rubin heard over that long weekend helped set him on a lifelong journey of discovery.

“Ojai was a way to dip my toes into new music,” Rubin said recently by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y. “It was like learning a new kind of language.”

As founding clarinetist and co-artistic director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Rubin has been part of a nurturing group of musicians — 35 in all, many of them active as soloists — dedicated to commissioning and performing new music.

Now in its 71st season, the four-day Ojai Music Festival, which begins June 8, will feature ICE in chamber music configurations from three to 21 members, along with
ICE soloists, including Rubin and flutist Claire Chase, who founded the group in 2001. (She stepped down as the ensemble’s co-artistic director in November to pursue a solo career; percussionist Ross Karre now fills her position.)

From Chase‘s initial seed money of $603, ICE’s annual budget has grown to more than $2 million. Rubin figures ICE has commissioned about a thousand scores since its founding. Not all of them end up being winners, but that doesn’t bother him.

“If a quarter of them are successful in performance, enough to add them to our repertory, that’s an incredible accomplishment,” he said.

Rubin chose the clarinet after hearing a cassette of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” in second grade at Santa Monica’s Franklin Elementary School. “I tried to replicate the sound of those opening squeals,” he said.

Neither of Rubin’s parents play an instrument, but his father’s interest in electronics rubbed off on him, influencing his professional life as a musician. “My father started as an aeronautical engineer, then became a doctor,” Rubin said. “I built my own instruments. Electronic music has been around for a long time, and with computers, you can take that history with you on a
laptop. Many pieces have electronic components that become part of a composer’s musical language.”

The clarinetist, who is based in New York, majored in biology and music at Oberlin College in Ohio. “I’m an analytical person who loves the beauty of the natural sciences, as well as going deep into a score,” he said.

Later, Rubin studied with Colburn School and USC clarinet pedagogue Yehuda Gilad, who was born in Israel. “He’s the father of us all, our clarinet guru,” Rubin said. “He’s an inspirational leader in music and in life.”

This season’s Ojai music director — the festival appoints a new one every year — is Vijay Iyer, a 45-year-old jazz pianist, composer and bandleader who appears to be a perfect match for ICE, which debuted in Ojai two years ago and made such an impact that it has been referred to as the festival’s “house band.” ICE’s presence at the festival this year includes opening night performances of the American premiere of Iyer’s “Emergence” for trio and orchestra, and the world premiere of his “Trouble” for violin and chamber orchestra with violinist Jennifer Koh.

“For me, Vijay was the first to represent the musicians of my generation,” said Rubin, 40. “How we see music stretching across and transcending genres. And his textured piano sound, built on many layers and improvisation, was fascinating.”

Rubin said Iyer’s “Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi,” featured on June 10, is a pivotal piece in his musical life that he’s been performing with ICE on tour. Conducted by Steven Schick, the ensemble’s artist-in-residence who served as Ojai’s music director in 2015, “Radhe” is a wordless 35-minute film by the late filmmaker Prashant Bhargava, with music by Iyer.

“The piece is an alternative ‘Rite of Spring’ celebrating the Hindu goddess Radhe,” Rubin said. “A lot of music will be created on the spot — electronic, improvised, composed — showing Iyer’s fluency in many genres.” (ICE’s solo players will be featured in an arrangement of Stravinsky’s actual “Rite of Spring,” conducted by Schick, on the same night as “Radhe.”)

Like ICE, the Ojai Music Festival likes to mix old and new. Along with the Vijay Iyer Sextet on June 11, the festival also features the Brentano Quartet in Mozart’s Quartet in E-flat major (K. 428) and excerpts from Bach’s “The Art of the Fugue” on June 10.

On June 9, George Lewis’ “Afterword, an Opera,” receives its West Coast premiere, and Koh also gives a solo recital, including works by Bach, Missy Mazzoli and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Other events and concerts include talks on the art of improvisation and several more premieres by contemporary composers.

Based in Chicago and New York, ICE performs more than 150 concerts a year in a variety of venues, including synagogues, jazz clubs, even Uptown Chicago bars. “We were really all over,” Rubin said. “We’ve been able to harness a creativity and spirit in all kinds of combinations.”

Rubin, who identifies culturally as Jewish, said musicians often form something close to a spiritual community. For him, it’s all about connecting with people. “Musicians can work anywhere in the world,” he said, “and music is a language that can be understood by anyone.”

One of Rubin’s most personal recent connections to Judaism was through its klezmer musical tradition. Rubin’s arrangement for clarinet quartet, “The Klezmer’s Freilach,” presented by the Jewish Arts Ensemble of New York in 2010, has been a hit on YouTube. And after a performance in Beijing,
the work’s popularity generated thousands of downloads.

“I was bombarded with so many requests by Chinese clarinetists for the sheet music that I made the score available as a free download,” Rubin said “The opening of the piece simulates an accordion player on the street, then turns into this raucous clarinet jam in the middle.”

Rubin is philosophical about his passion for new music coming full circle at the Ojai Music Festival.

“New music doesn’t fit so neatly into categories, but it will have its own category 10 or 20 years from now,” Rubin said. “Music ceases to live when it ceases to be reshaped and reimagined by a community of engaged composers, performers and listeners. For me, that’s the essence of ICE’s mission and the thrill of new music.”

The Ojai Music Festival runs June 8-11. For more information, visit ojaifestival.org.

Israeli clarinetist Anat Cohen. Photo by Shervin Lainez

Israeli clarinetist brings Jewish style to Brazilian music


It’s no great novelty when a jazz musician announces a foray into Brazilian music. American players, in particular, have been investigating the music of the bossa nova songwriters for well over 50 years.

But rather than a samba excursion or yet another program of Antonio Carlos Jobim tunes, clarinet virtuoso Anat Cohen’s new album, “Rosa Dos Ventos” (Anzic), delves into Brazil’s choro style.

Choro (a Portuguese word pronounced sho-ro) is a string and flute instrumental music made by small, informal ensembles. It’s a kind of Brazilian bluegrass — or klezmer — with a tradition that dates back to the late 19th century in Rio de Janeiro. It’s lively and exuberant, yet, as Cohen shows, it has the capacity to incorporate different musical forms.

This is music made in the corner café, rather than the concert hall. Like the sounds of Cuba, the Caribbean and Africa, it found its way to America’s biggest 19th-century port city, New Orleans. Cohen’s interpretation comes to the Blue Whale in downtown Los Angeles on May 6, as part of a 15-city tour that stretches from Seattle to Milan and takes in Germany, France and the Czech Republic.

Born in Tel Aviv and a longtime resident of New York, Cohen is no stranger to Los Angeles, having played Disney Concert Hall with Cuban diva Omara Portuondo and been featured at the Playboy Jazz Festival.

“Rosa Dos Ventos” (literally “wind rose,” or weathervane) features her horn coupled with Trio Brasileiro, a choro group with whom she recorded in Rio.

“What I love about choro is that it’s open to different influences. I love the mix of Afro-Brazilian roots, samba, baiao, even rock,” she said in a recent interview. Indeed, over the swirling guitar and bandolim (Brazilian mandolin) lines and rhythms, her clarinet exults in soaring joy and heaves in chalumeau sorrow — one minute an ecstatic wedding ensemble, the next a cantor with the sorrows of the world on his brow.

Cohen began on the clarinet but was a multireed player in New York when she discovered choro in 1999. “After years of playing the saxophone, it made me want to play the clarinet again,” she said. “I started to play this music weekly.”

She met bandolim player Dudu Maia at a choro workshop in Port Townsend, Wash. “We were both teaching,” Cohen said. “We met and we played, and I felt right at home.”

Broadcaster Sergio Mielniczenko’s radio shows on KPFK-FM (90.7) are a beacon to Southern California Brazilians and lovers of his country’s music. He has played Cohen’s recordings on his “Brazilian Hour” show.

“She’s excellent,” he said, “because she not only has the feel of choro but she interprets it.”

Reminded of the parallel elements heard in choro and klezmer, Mielniczenko added, “They’re so interestingly similar. Some Brazilian musicians of the late 19th century and early 20th century studied in Paris, and they surely brought back what they heard there. And there are a number of great Brazilian Jewish musicians, like pianist Daniel Taubkin and saxophonist Ivo Perelman.”

Told that the late clarinet great Artie Shaw was dismissive of klezmer music because, in his experience, the people who played it were amateurs, Cohen sounded surprised. “Traditional choro is like klezmer,” she said. “The people who played it originally were postal workers and dentists — anything but professional musicians. And like klezmer, it wasn’t written down, it was passed along from one person to another. It was only notated later on. But you need to have the right heart and the musicianship to play them both.”

“People might hear Jewish elements in everything I play, whether it’s choro, European or New Orleans music, or anything else,” Cohen said.  “I was taught to play like a cantor sings — with a strong sense of melody. I want to take a melodic line and express it as powerfully as I can. You hear that in all of the great Jewish jazz horn players, like Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and Stan Getz.”

So, does an Israeli living in New York and playing Brazilian music feel American or something else?

“I’m a hundred percent Israeli,” Cohen said. “But when I go to Brazil or any other part of the world, I want to feel like I’m part of the local culture, and it’s the same in the U.S. You keep your individuality but respect the surroundings.”

The Blue Whale is a listening room and that seems to suit Cohen. “I’ve got no tricks,” she said. “I’m no magician. We’ve just got great music.”

Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro will perform at 9 p.m. on May 6 at the Blue Whale, 123 E. S. Onizuka St., Suite 301, Los Angeles. Tickets are $20. For more information, go to bluewhalemusic.com.

Yehuda Gilad teaches the importance of strong minds, muscles and funny bones


Ever since Mozart discovered the clarinet’s versatility and tonal beauty in the 1760s, the instrument has grown in stature, relying on distinguished teachers to keep its wide range of joyous, jazzy, autumnal and rapturous moods thriving. And there’s no better caretaker of the instrument’s legacy than Yehuda Gilad, whose studio at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles is a go-to venue for aspiring professional clarinetists everywhere.

Gilad, who took up the clarinet late (he was already 16) on a kibbutz near Caesarea, Israel, a town midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, discovered he owned an extraordinary gift, or as he put it recently during an interview from the International Clarinet Association’s ClarinetFest 2015 in Madrid, “I was a little bit talented, and very quickly began to do good things.”

Gilad’s comments about his thriving conducting career are equally understated. “I got into conducting by chance,” he said, adding he saw the job as an opportunity to become the “total musician.” 

Gilad will conduct the Colburn Orchestra, the conservatory’s flagship ensemble, at the Valley Performing Arts Center in Northridge on Sept. 27 in a program including Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, “Emperor,” with new Colburn faculty member Fabio Bidini as soloist, and Brahms’ sweetly melancholic Symphony No. 2 in D major. 

Before that, on Sept. 12, Gilad will lead the first Colburn Chamber Music Society concert at the school’s Zipper Hall, featuring Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 for winds in B-flat major, “Gran Partita.” Listeners may recall the adagio from this score in the acclaimed 1984 film “Amadeus,” in which rival Salieri rhapsodized how Mozart’s use of a clarinet filled him with delight and “such longing, such unfulfillable longing.”

Gilad’s musical life began with a recorder. “It was all we could afford,” he said. His father escaped pogroms in Russia in 1925 and his mother fled Germany in 1936; they met on the kibbutz. “They were pioneers who had three kids. I’m the youngest.” 

Gilad said he was virtually penniless after his army service, but that didn’t deter him from moving on. “When you’re at zero,” Gilad explained, “everything you get or achieve is a plus.”

After moving to London and then, in 1975, to Los Angeles, Gilad met the composer, conductor and arts activist Herbert Zipper, whom he called “my teacher, my rabbi, my mentor.” Zipper encouraged Gilad’s conducting career, which began with a six-year stint as music director of the Santa Monica Symphony. Later, as conductor of the Colonial Symphony of New Jersey, Gilad combined conducting and teaching, winning awards for innovative school programs that made music more accessible to students.

Gilad also said he learned from attending classes by conducting masters such as Sergiu Celibidache. “He was a difficult personality,” Gilad said, “but an unbelievable musician. He taught the long line, the inner lines of music that keep the ship moving.”

As music director of the conservatory’s Colburn Orchestra since its inception in 2003, Gilad said he sees between 30 and 50 new faces every September. “This is a big challenge for any conductor, when almost one-half of the orchestra graduates each year,” Gilad said. “Suddenly we have 17-year-olds performing with 23-year-olds. You have to find ways to make them singing musicians, professional musicians.”

Although Gilad still occasionally performs, his work and reputation as a clarinet teacher have taken center stage, with some 100 of his pupils at USC’s Thornton School of Music and the Colburn Conservatory over the years earning positions in major international orchestras. 

For Gilad, the recipe for making a good musician includes three things. The first is physical. “To be a great musician, you must train and educate your muscles and fingers, bones and body,” Gilad said. “You have to take care of your machine.”

The second component is developing a philosophy of music and the world, without which, he said, a musician would just be a shell. “This is the depth of my teaching,” Gilad said. “The ‘why’ is the most important. The ‘how’ comes later. It’s about understanding what a work can say and how you can say it.” To perform Stravinsky, for example, one should understand Russian culture and literature in order to discover “your part in it, what you bring to it,” Gilad said.

The third ingredient is a sense of humor. For Gilad, this allows a soloist to “take the ego away, so the music will come through you. This applies to an orchestra as well.”

For clarinetist Signe Sõmer, 24, who started working with him at the Colburn Conservatory in the fall of last year, Gilad is “a living legend.” 

“I really like that he is trying to describe a certain atmosphere behind a piece,” she said, adding that while working last year on Sibelius’ Second Symphony, “he managed to describe everything … the people, scenery, the darkness and even the sound of the Finnish language.”

Gilad said when a student is learning a piece, he forbids them to listen to anyone else’s version. “If you are learning Debussy’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Piano,” he said, “I would have you listen to the composer’s String Quartet, ‘Jeux’ [and] ‘Afternoon of a Faun.’ Then the music will come to you. If [you listen to] other artists, you start to copy and lose your own special colors.”

But Gilad doesn’t neglect strictly technical matters. “We have been working on embouchure [the use of facial muscles and the shaping of the lips to the mouthpiece], air, and last year I changed my tonguing technique,” Sõmer said.

Sõmer is scheduled to perform Max Bruch’s Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra with the Colburn Orchestra at the Ambassador Auditorium on Feb. 6.

Todd Cope, 30, another former student of Gilad’s who is now principal clarinet of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, recalled his teacher’s three ingredients of a good musician, especially the part about having a sense of humor. 

“You have to be able to step back,” Cope said. “Sometimes we take everything so seriously. We’re all guilty of it. … Gilad teaches us that everything’s going to be OK.”

Cope said Gilad encouraged him to compete in international competitions, and “put myself out there.” The level of preparation required, Cope said, paved the way for successful auditions, leading to his present position in Montreal. Cope added that he still goes to see Gilad once or twice a year to play for him. “Once you’re a Gilad student, you’re a student for life,” Cope said.

Gilad seems firmly entrenched in L.A. He is married to Kimaree Gilad, an oboist who played with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra for 30 years, and they have three grown children. 

Yet Gilad is often on the road teaching, performing and conducting. People marvel at his energy. “It doesn’t matter if a student plays for him at the beginning or at the end of the day,” Sõmer said. 

“I hate the travel,” Gilad offered, “but I love the stuff I’m doing. Making a difference in people’s lives is rewarding and enriching. It recharges my  batteries.”

Yehuda Gilad and the Colburn Orchestra will perform a free community concert at 3 p.m. on Sept. 27 at the Valley Performing Arts Center, located at 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. For more information, call (818) 677-8800 or visit

Tel Aviv’s Anat Cohen again takes clarinet award


For the fifth straight year, Tel Aviv native Anat Cohen received the clarinetist of the year award from the Jazz Journalists Association.

The awards were presented Saturday in New York City.

Cohen’s last CD, “Clarinetwork,” featured the music of legendary clarinetist Benny Goodman. It was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 2009 during a weeklong centennial tribute to Goodman and included Benny Green on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums.

In 2007, Cohen was the first woman and the first Israeli to headline the famed New York City jazz club.

Based in New York since 1999, she is widely regarded as well for her versatility on the tenor saxophone, playing contemporary jazz as well as Brazilian choro and other world music.

Cohen, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, provides an important modern voice for an instrument that is no longer widely played, according to Larry Monroe, Berklee’s vice president of international programs.

Monroe praised her strong musicality and superb technique, as well as her great sense of the clarinet’s tradition and tremendous vision of where it might go.

“I am not at all surprised by her success,” he said.

Cohen’s brothers, Yuval and Avishai, also are acclaimed jazz musicians. Together they have recorded as the Three Cohens.

Cohen told JTA that she is headed to Israel for a guest appearance at the Giv’ataim Theater with the Shtricker Big Band conducted by her brother Yuval. Later this summer she is scheduled to perform in New York, Montreal and at the Newport Jazz Festival.

Jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen — so many roads


Jazz stays vital by virtue of the young players who step up and bring something new to the music. One of the most delightful “arrivals” to the jazz world in the past several years is Israeli-born clarinetist and saxophonist Anat Cohen, who performs a free concert Tuesday night at the Hollywood & Highland complex. She combines virtuosity with warmth, the experimental with the universal, and an eclecticism that avoids the pitfalls of mish-mosh.

The clarinet has had a shrunken profile in jazz since the demise of the big band era, roughly 60 years ago. Clarinet-playing bandleaders like Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw (both of Russian-Jewish heritage, not coincidentally) and Woody Herman kept the demanding reed instrument in the public ear, playing for dancers and listeners alike. In the interim, the instrument divided its limited exposure to two camps: the jazz avant-garde and traditional revivalists. Virtuosos like the late Kenny Davern and Evan Christopher explore traditional jazz, while Perry Robinson and John Carter innovated in the jazz avant-garde. Don Byron has been the principal contemporary jazz clarinetist of the last 20 years, reimagining jazz repertory and klezmer toward his own ends.

In Anat (pronounced a-NOT) Cohen’s music, Israeli songs, jazz, Brazilian choros, klezmer, Cuban habaneras and more all have a place. Speaking from her home in New York, she said, “Clarinet is a natural folkloric instrument of world music. With it I can have the classical feel, but I can also bend the notes and play the subtones of jazz.”

She was a classical music student in Tel Aviv from a musical family (her brothers Avishai and Yuval have jazz careers in New York, as well) when she heard the siren call of jazz. “My younger brother Avishai was my first influence,” Cohen states. “He picked up the trumpet, and I listened to him. The way he played — with the half valves and the smears — made me want to play like him. I had a strong classical foundation, but I switched my major to jazz in high school.”

“The clarinet is not so dominant in Israeli music as it is in klezmer,” Cohen continues. “I heard klezmer when I was growing up, but for some reason I avoided it. I listened to Louis Armstrong instead. But the sense of melody is the connection between jazz and klezmer. They both use simple, minor melodies, and you can bend the notes. The same thing happens in choro and the music of other cultures. You can laugh and cry on the instrument; it’s really expressive.”

The jazz world has taken notice of Cohen through her work with the swing-rooted big band Diva, Brazilian drummer Duduka Da Fonseca’s band, the sibling group 3 Cohens she shares with Avishai and Yuval, the Gully Low Jazz Band, Pedro Ramos’ Choro Ensemble and her own Anzic Orchestra and small group. Last year, she won Downbeat magazine’s Rising Star award in the clarinet category and was voted Best Clarinetist by the Jazz Journalist Association, an international body.

Brazilian music is something she particularly enjoys. “It’s intimate and sensual,” Cohen reveals, “yet it’s for the people. Being in Brazil is fantastic because the people know the songs, and they join in with the singer. Everybody feels the music.”

The 33 year-old Cohen makes her local debut as a bandleader Thursday at the free “Wine, Jazz, and Moonlight” series (she visited as a sidewoman with the all-woman Diva on a couple of earlier occasions). She fields a quartet of keyboardist Jason Lindner, bassist Ben Street and drummer Daniel Freedman. They’ll be playing music from the upcoming “Notes From the Village” album on Cohen’s Anzic label.

Aside from her originals, Cohen takes a thoughtful (if far-ranging) approach to standards. She takes Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” at double the usual tempo, executing the staccato theme like a football player high-stepping through tires at top speed. Her solo, though, is a playful dance of phrases with upturned ends and a paraphrase of an Irish jig. Sam Cooke’s civil rights lament, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” is full of soulful gravitas, with equal parts of mourning and hope.

Does she see herself as an Israeli ambassador to the music? “I definitely see myself as an international musician,” Cohen says. “When I play, I respect the source of the music, whether it’s Cuban, Brazilian or Israeli. I try to bring that to all of the music I play. Music has no borders and no flags.”

Told that her playing radiates a life force, she clarifies the point. “Israeli music,” she concludes, “has a lot of life — joy, but also a lot of sadness. My everyday life is not just walking around on clouds. But you have to give the really special things in life importance and not let the temporary things roll you off the road.”

The Anat Cohen Quartet will perform July 29 at 7 p.m. as part of the Wine, Jazz and Moonlight series at 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.