Violinist Hannah Lynn Cohen returns to Berkshires

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Hannah Lynn Cohen is coming home to the Berkshires and she wants to invite you to listen to her life's journey.

As a Monument Mountain Regional High School senior, the Lee native earned the 2015 Daniel Pearl Berkshire Scholarship, established in memory of Pearl, the late journalist and classically trained violinist.

In her application essay, she wrote, "I plan to continue to use my music to effect positive change in my community, as well as the broader world, for the rest of my musical career."

Cohen, "almost 23," has been keeping her promise. She began studying and playing violin at age 4, and her skills have put her in front of international audiences and helped her stage benefits for various charitable causes.

After graduating from the Boston University School of Music last spring with a bachelor of music in violin performance, she is now pursuing a master of music at the New York University Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, while simultaneously holding the position of adjunct instructor of violin studies for undergraduate non-music majors.

This winter, she'll also be showcasing in the Berkshires two of her latest collaborations: Harlow Chamber Players, a national chamber music collective she started, and a partnership with BodySonnet, a dance collective created by another Berkshire grown artist, Moscelyne Parke Harrison. The Foundry in West Stockbridge will host Cohen and Harlow Chamber musician Noah Krauss as a duo, performing at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 28. On Saturday, Jan. 4, Harlow Chamber Players and BodySonnet will present a free "site specific pop up performance" in the Kilpatrick Athletic Center at Bard College at Simon's Rock, hosted by Daniel's Art Party.

The Foundry program will cover four selections: Gliere 8 Pieces, Op. 39 for violin and cello; Schubert's sonata "Grand Duo for A Major" for violin and piano; a Franck sonata for violin and piano, and Passacaglia for violin and cello, a Handel-Halvorsen composition. Never heard of them? Don't be intimidated, she said.

Cohen and her fellow chamber musicians played the collective's first concert in her grandparents' Manhattan living room on Monday, offering the audience of 22 people a more intimate, laid-back salon-style experience in chamber music.

"For young people especially, chamber concerts have a weird stigma that you have to be silent, you can't ask questions and you have to stay quiet or your mom will yell at you," she said. "With a salon, there's food, drinks and no printed programs. The performers announce what they're going to be playing and the audience can ask anything they'd like. It's much more open and you feel like you're hanging out with the musicians."

"You look like you're having so much fun," is a statement of feedback Cohen said she heard multiple times after the performance.

While the Dec. 28 concert will, she hopes, have a larger audience and a printed program, she hopes "we'll be able to put our friendly, approachable twists on it."

Cohen observed: "A lot of people feel scared of classical and chamber music because they don't understand it or would feel stupid if they said, 'I don't get it.' It's a different experience when a musician's explaining to you what you're hearing while you have a glass of wine in your hand or you're eating a cookie."

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The Foundry performance, she said, will have a more "salon-like" atmosphere, and, "they have a bar."

That performance will also offer audiences a chance to see and hear what years of collaboration can do for a piece.

"I think that one of the coolest things about chamber music is that all the parts are written separately but are all written to work together. Whatever you hear tells a story, but it's up to your interpretation," said Cohen. "Watching chamber players is like watching actors. You can see us play with vigor and watch for that eyebrow raise and how we make eye contact."

Cohen met Krauss, of Manhattan, N.Y., about 12 years ago at the Greenwood Music Camp in the Berkshire-neighboring town of Cummington. Krauss, who will graduate this month from The Juilliard School, plays cello and piano with a zest and rigor on par with Cohen's. The same, Cohen says, goes for the rest of the musicians on the expanding Harlow Chamber Players roster.

"All of us went to different high schools and colleges. All of us are now in different graduate programs or cities. But the passion we all have collaborating, learning and performing chamber music together is something that gets overlooked a lot for young musicians. We want to bring that passion for it to different people. It's serious music, but we just love it," Cohen said.

The violinist says she sees a similar passion in ParkeHarrison in wanting to show people dance with a specific mission.

Cohen and ParkeHarrison attended elementary classes together at Berkshire Country Day School in Stockbridge, and studied ballet at Studio One in Pittsfield. ParkeHarrison is now a senior at Juilliard and is "incredibly amazing and an insanely talented choreographer," said Cohen.

"The BodySonnet mission statement is spot on: to create work which exemplifies dance as an intellectual, empowering, and accessible pursuit," Cohen said.

The violinist and dancer have supported each others' creative pursuits over the years. "I'm really excited to work with her," Cohen said of ParkeHarrison.

Krauss and fellow Juilliard-trained musician and girlfriend, Genevieve Smelser, a violinist, will join Cohen, ParkeHarrison and BodySonnet collaborators Sean Lammer and Mio Ishikawa for the Simon's Rock event.

Cohen said she's excited to be a part of a growing network of young musicians and artists interested in being a part of "innovative ensembles" and "musical entrepreneurship" to co-create "something beautiful and empowering and intellectual."

Working with peer collaborators, as well as professional mentors, keeps the spark of creativity and self-confidence in her musicianship alive, she said.

"Honestly, I'm really excited to come back [to the Berkshires]. It's been four years since I graduated high school, and I'm excited for people to hear me and see me and thank them for supporting me," Cohen said.


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