- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2001

Seattle-based Jeffrey Cohan is a flutist with a flair for history, which he uses to entertaining but informative ends.
Mr. Cohan will oversee the Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival as its artistic director. He has arranged a series of four concerts in local settings — Thursday and next Saturday and July 15 and 21 — that will feature period instruments from four centuries.
Joining him are five other classical musicians of note. They include harpsichordist J. Reilly Lewis, who is founder and music director of the Washington Bach Consort and music director of the Washington National Cathedral Choral Society; cellist John Moran, a Washington-area native and a founding member of the Trio Riot; and violist Scott McCormick, a D.C. resident. The others are violinist Risa Browder, an associate of the Royal College of Music in England, and harpsichordist John Whitelaw, a professor at the Conservatory of Ghent, Belgium.
The first program, titled "Van Eyck in the Sculpture Garden," is a free outdoor event at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at Independence Avenue and Seventh Street SW. It is being held in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution's Art Night on the Mall. A poetry reading precedes the recital, which commemorates the 17th-century tradition of blind Dutch carillonneur Jacob van Eyck coming down from the bell towers of Utrecht in Holland to serenade townspeople at twilight by improvising on favorite tunes of the mid-1600s.
Mr. Cohan will perform that evening on what is known formally as a descant Renaissance transverse flute, similar to the one used by van Eyck.
"It's a very romantic time to embellish the surroundings with the flute music," Mr. Cohan says over the telephone from Seattle, recalling eight other times he has performed similarly in rose gardens at twilight.
The performance next Saturday, "Italian Diminutions, Canzonas and Sonatas," will have Mr. Cohan and Mr. Whitelaw playing Italian Renaissance and baroque music from the late 16th through the early 17th centuries at 8 p.m. at Christ Church, 620 G St. SE.
The third program, also at Christ Church, is "Library Gems" at 8 p.m. July 15. It features unpublished and little-known late-18th-century and early-19th-century chamber music from special collections at the Library of Congress. Mr. Cohan, Mr. McCormick and Mr. Whitelaw will perform.
The final event, at 8 p.m. July 21 at St. Peter's, 313 Second St. SE, will feature Mr. Lewis, Mr. Cohan, Miss Browder and Mr. Moran. Called " Frederick the Great," the performance imitates in some ways the court customs of King Frederick II of Prussia, who was a flute player.
"It's an attempt, without costumes, to bring back to life the experience of the little concerts that Frederick the Great gave at least three nights a week before dinner," Mr. Cohan says, describing a portrait that shows the 18th-century king with his flute teacher ("one of the highest paid members of his staff") and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who worked for the king and was the son of the famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach.
One of the numbers that evening will be a trio sonata for flute, violin and continuo from the well-known "The Musical Offering" by Johann Sebastian Bach; its theme was suggested by the king.
The festival's musical selections are hardly "the usual meat and potatoes of the repertoire," Mr. Cohan concedes. In this respect, they reflect the group's programs from last year, which included a piece for flute, violin and cello "centered around a flute I have that was made in 1785."
"The flute maker had worked with two of the people whose compositions we played," Mr. Cohan says. (This is the festival's second year.)
Mr. Cohan, 51, who attended Annapolis High School when his father was stationed in Annapolis with the Navy, was first attracted to his chosen instrument at age 10 after he heard one played in an elementary school assembly.
"I remember liking the fact it could play so softly," he says. "Somehow it attracted me."
He later became an oceanography major at the University of Washington before switching to music. His mother lives in Columbia, Md., and he often visits the Washington area and does research at the Library of Congress.
The possessor of 35 flutes, he also performs modern repertoire and has appeared as soloist in 23 countries.
"It's not just to have a collection of old things," he says. "Every flute I have I need for some reason. … The music really comes to life with the appropriate flute. Playing old music on a new flute is like playing modern flute music on any other instrument, say a saxophone, which has some similar fingering. I've heard you can pick up a saxophone if you can play flute and at least squawk out a melody."
Early-music lovers won't hear any such experimentation in festival programs, which are geared to giving history an entertaining face in the purest possible way.
Audience members at the past three concerts will be asked to give a $15 donation, or $10 for students. (Students 14 years and younger are admitted free.)
For information, call toll-free 877/307-9549.

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