Juilliard student returns for S.E. music center concert

They call this East Portland teen a musical “whiz-kid”. See why he returned to offer a special concert to benefit his alma mater …

Matthew Cohen plays classical selections with verve and passion, during a benefit concert at his former music academy, the Community Musical Center in Inner Southeast Portland.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Starting when he was six years old – and continuing on for a decade – Matthew Cohen held his violin case tightly, as he headed into the Community Music Center (CMC) on SE Francis Street for his music lessons.

The result? At 19 years-of-age, Cohen is now in his second year studying at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City.

On August 11, Cohen returned to his roots, to perform a benefit concert highlighted by works for viola and piano by J.S. Bach, Max Reger, Ernest Bloch, and George Enesco – accompanied by Janet Coleman.

Switched to viola
Before his concert, Cohen talked about his life in music. “I became frustrated with learning the violin, My Mom encouraged me to try the viola one summer, when I couldn’t get violin lessons,” the young virtuoso explained. I was afraid all my friends would get better than me during the summer if I wasn’t taking lessons.”

Cohen kept studying with teachers after he left CMC at age 16. He served as Principal Violist of the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and was twice winner of the Oregon Viola Society competition – and a host of other musical talent contests as well.

“I wanted to give a recital this summer; having a dated deadline gave me the drive to prepare, during my vacation,” noted Cohen. “I’ve played in this hall so many times over the years; this concert gives me the chance to give back to the Center.”

Playing the “hits” (of classical music) in Southeast Portland: Second-year Juilliard School of Music student, and East Portlander, Matthew Cohen.

Concert benefits endowment fund
CMC Director Gregory Dubay was, understandably, excited about the event. “We’re very honored that Matthew Cohen has offered to give this benefit concert. The proceeds will go to the newly-created Naomi Blumberg Endowment Fund for Chamber Music Education. It supports students like Matthew to follow their dreams of becoming a skillful musician.”

After completing his Bachelors of Music degree at Juilliard, Cohen told us  that he’ll pursue a Master’s Degree. “I’m not interested becoming a tenured musician in an orchestra. I’d rather be part of a professional chamber ensemble; I’d also like to teach at a university or conservatory.”

Before this accomplished violist walked on stage, he gave high marks to his former school. “They have a lot of skilled teachers here who really care; they know what they’re doing. If anyone was looking to start learning an instrument, CMC is the first place I would recommend to them.”

Visit the Center’s website at www.communitymusiccenter.org to learn more; or call (503) 823-3177.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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