‘I sorely miss performing live’ | Interview with Avishai Cohen

Two Roses. An album years in the making. Avishai Cohen needs no introduction. Read our interview with the world-class musician below!

Describe your sound in three words please!

The elements that best describe my music I think are freedom, love of people and nature, elegance, simplicity and complexity all in one. Oops that’s more than 3 😊

You have lived in various places from Israel to the USA and it seems that throughout your life you have been engaged with the exploration of different music styles and instruments. We are wondering if and if so, how your music reflects these time periods of your life? 

I always have been into Middle Eastern Music and Western Music. Coming back to Israel was reconnecting myself to my roots, and Israel’s diversity and art. My years in NYC engaged me with the whole Latin world in all those different small and large spaces, where people hang and you engage and learn so much from that melting pot, Israel has also been a melting pot for music, its in every breath, alongside my love of classical music, the written notes and free expression of Jazz. I do not refer to boundaries in my music, music just needs to be good, tell a story and effect people…  on top of all of this I have dedicated my self to learning and listening to young and old musicians, you can learn from anyone anytime.  

You have travelled a lot. Do you think that in order to perfect a genre your physical presence is required or could this be achieved through study and hard work? In other words, how much does knowing the culture affect your ability to capture it in your sound?

Well travelling, and savoring new cultures is a big inspiration to me, when I am tour I always walk around in the cities where I am performing it’s really inspiring (ohh sounds like ages ago) I think the travelling in combination with a daily practice is ‘my recipe ‘ , it also helps me understand the local audience… it’s so rich and I am feeling blessed I was already in so many different places all over the globe, I hope we can return to this soon.

With your latest collaboration with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra you attempt to bring together two different music worlds. However, given that many classical musicians have distinct priorities (for example a world-class soloist can devote his/her entire career improving the interpretations of classical pieces), one could argue that you wish to connect two worlds “speaking a different language”. Would you like to tell us more about your approach?

When I started it seemed a natural time to do it because I have been writing and arranging more and more for strings and classical arrangements over several years. I’ve always dreamt of making it a whole project.  My classical training, other than studying classical piano from ten years old has been mainly listening to a lot of great composers. My studying of Bach, Mendelson and even Bela Bartok in my younger years triggered my hunger for classical music. Working with classical musicians was more difficult to start with because they work differently, even just in the fact that they are used to playing through written music from scores and we are used to improvising. That‘s what makes it different and also adds to the music in a special way.

For many years I had thought of writing some of my existing music and new compositions for a full orchestra. It seemed more like a fantasy for a while, at a certain point it felt like the right time. So I decided to contact some good orchestrators and begin the journey. 

Diving into the assignment, getting deeper and deeper into it and within a few years this incredible body of work was ready to be performed and recorded. I engaged several wonderful arrangers/ orchestrators along the way connected to the classical word,  working closely with them day by day, such as Robert Sadin, USA Jonathan Keren (IS) and Per Ekdahl (SE), themselves great musicians in their own right. 

If you had to choose between playing live in a new place or return to one you have previously visited, what would you choose? The first option allows you to explore new places while the second gives you the opportunity to track how the atmosphere and the energy of the crowd might have changed

I like indeed to return to places to rediscover new things and remind me of the things I explored during my last visit, but then even more intense… but there are also so many places I never visited before and I would like to discover, but as mentioned I am feeling so blessed to have been able to visit so many different places while touring. Right now after this pandemic I think I would choose to return to some nice places I’ve missed… there are so many unique people and places, I don’t have a favorite, but I have some amazing high moments performing all over, every audience and space is unique. When I return to live performances soon, I sense there will be high energy and level of emotions all around like no other for some time, we are all starving this connection ‘Live’.

Nowadays, (emerging) artists are required to maintain a very active social media presence in order to gain visibility for their work. What is your relationship with social networking platforms? What do you think is the major issue in the music industry at the moment?

Well social media is way of staying connected with my fans as a mainstay these days, I‘ve been lucky that I have a team working with me to help me with this, as it is a lot of work to update everything. During the ‘first’ lockdown in March 2020 I was happy to have social media , on a daily basis I added some video’s of me performing in my home studio and posting this on social media, it was nice for me to share music, but when I read the reactions of my fans, it motivated me to continue for a while, we all needed music and something to get through  , something pure, beautiful and positive … I always try to read all the messages , unfortunately I can not answer them all … but its so heartwarming how close we can stay connected, it’s a communication tool. The nice thing as well during this pandemic is that some musicians started to ‘perform’ together digitally, so I played a tune and many young musicians, and even old friends from NY started to jam on my solo takes and rifts, so we had a duo, trio or even a full choir singing with me, that was fun and inspiring, I met many new and wonderful  musicians … I think we reinvented ourselves and creativity took over to stay connected to the world and the music fans and followers, however I sorely miss performing live.

What is a melody you wished you have composed yourself?

Too many to mention, I cannot  choose one, this is an unfair question .

I am proud of the  music I have written myself but very much look forward to writing another new one, and then another everlasting melody…  I enjoy, a great melody they are after all everlasting!

What do you do during the day apart from making music?

I practice a lot, this is a daily routine I would say, and stay in the music.

Importantly too I take care of my family, I have 3 young children now, so besides being a musician I also am a husband and father of 2 beautiful daughters and a son it’s a blessing. 

Thanks Avishai!

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