Maya Cohon, violin
Violinist MAYA COHON is an avid chamber and orchestral musician. She has been a member of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra since 2017, and also performs with the San Francisco Symphony, Seattle Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Growing up in a family of musicians, Maya cultivated her love for chamber music reading string trios, quartets and quintets with her cousins, aunts, and uncles. Today, she performs chamber music that spans a range of musical and narrative styles, which includes the world premiere of The Wind Will Blow Us Away by San Francisco composer Sahba Aminikia, and George Crumb’s Black Angels.
Maya earned a Bachelor of Music degree from Northwestern University, where she had the privilege of studying with Almita Vamos. In Chicago she was a member of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, going on to join the New World Symphony in Miami, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas. She has attended music festivals including Tanglewood Music Festival, Music Academy of the West, and Pacific Music Festival, which has given her the opportunity to collaborate with musicians from all over the world and perform in venues all nationally and internationally, from Carnegie Hall in New York City, to Suntory Hall in Tokyo. Today marks her first appearance on the Second City Chamber Series.
Sophie Baird-Daniel, harp
Praised for her “technicolor” sound (Gramophone), harpist SOPHIE BAIRD-DANIEL is in high demand as a soloist and collaborator. She has been featured at numerous series and festivals, including Tanglewood Music Center, Seattle Symphony, Aspen Music Festival, Bellingham Music Festival, Seattle Modern Orchestra, and North Corner Chamber Orchestra. As an orchestral musician, Sophie performs with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Opera, San Francisco Ballet, and Orquestra Filarmonica de Jalisco.
A champion of new music, she has given premiers of works by Freya Waley-Cohen, George Benjamin, Megan Bledsoe-Ward, Marc-André Dalbavie, and Ha-Yang Kim. Sophie was a participant in the prestigious 2018 International Harp Contest in Israel, a quarter finalist in the 2016 International Dutch Harp Competition, and the silver medal at the 2017 Vancouver international Music Competition. She was the 2015 winner of the Frances Walton Competition, which culminated in an outreach tour of rural Eastern Washington reaching thousands of school-aged children. The experience has continued to inspire her work in outreach and education.
Alongside her performing career, Sophie is the artistic director of Archipelago Collective, a dynamic and forward-thinking chamber music festival on San Juan Island, Washington.
Sophie has been mentored by some of the world’s leading harp pedagogues including Isabelle Perrin, Nancy Allen, Elizabeth Fontan- Binoche, Mariko Anraku, Valerie Muzzolini, and Jessica Zhou. She completed her Artist and Performance Diplomas at the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music under the tutelage of world-renowned harpist Judy Loman. Today marks Sophie Baird-Daniel’s debut on the Second City Chamber Series.
Please enjoy this interview with our featured artists, who performed in “Sweet Scrapes and Sweet Strums,” on March 14, 2021 at 2 PM.
Svend: So hello again, this is Svend Rønning, artistic director of the Second City Chamber Series. And it’s really my pleasure to welcome Sophie Baird-Daniel, as a harpist, and Maya Cohon, violinist. Great to have you here!
Maya: Thank you for having us!
Sophie: Thank you so much.
Svend: It’s really great. We’ve been planning this for a really long time, and we imagined, a year out, that there was no way that this pandemic would still be going on. Anyway, thank you for being here, and for doing this. The amusing thing to me is that we call chamber music the music of friends. It’s really the music of friends because of the audience and the performers, but also, because those of us who get together to perform – it’s like we’re friends already. This is in a psychologist’s office, so it’s like, *really* intimate music, in this case. And there you are on the couch and everything. So.. I guess that would lead me to my first question. Tell me about your childhood, right?? [laughter] Because you haven’t known each other, that long, but you did grow up together. You grew up in the same city, and you kind of know each other’s family. (We were just talking a little beforehand.) So, just tell us a little bit about how you got interested in your instruments.
Sophie: It is actually pretty crazy that we never became friends earlier, because we traced it out, and we’re pretty sure we were in SYSO together, at the same time, when we were in high school, but we went to different schools, and were a couple years apart. Maya actually grew up friends with my younger cousins, which was wild. But we connected for real, as adults, at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 2016, and we both have been back and forth from Seattle and San Francisco. Our paths just keep crossing, so it’s been fun to be able to collaborate.
Maya: Yes, and as you said, chamber music is like playing with friends, and it feels like that with each other. We met at Tanglewood in orchestra, but this past year is the first time we got to play chamber music together. And it’s been so fun and easy to play with Sophie.
Svend: Awesome, with these beautiful pieces that you’re doing, too. They’re just… that Saint-Saëns is just one of the most beautiful pieces that you’ll be doing. And the others too, they’re just lovely.
Sophie: Well, this combination of instruments is not short for good repertoire, that’s for sure.
Svend: That’s true, yes. Amazing. So, tell us a little bit about your current careers as well.
Maya: My primary job is in a San Francisco opera, which of course, is not happening right now. Nothing is happening right now, but I play with the opera, and I also sub with the ballet and symphony in San Francisco. And then, I come back here, and sometimes I play with the symphony here. So we get to play almost in all those groups together, which is fun.
Svend: So you play in the Seattle Symphony as well?
Maya: Occasionally I sub with them when I’m back in town.
Svend: I see.
Maya: I’m mostly full-time in San Francisco, until this year. I’m living here, just for a year, hopefully.
Svend: Playing chamber music.
Maya: Yes. I love chamber music!
Svend: All right. And Sophie?
Sophie: Well, at the beginning of the pandemic, the weather was nice enough, and Maya and I actually read a lot of duets outside of my apartment building, and serenaded the neighbors, which has been really fun. Sort of the impetus for us to pursue this duet more. I grew up in Seattle, graduated from the SYSO family.
Svend: The Seattle Youth Symphony?
Sophie: Yes! Thank you. And then I went to school in Toronto, at the Glenn Gould School, and then moved back here about 4 or 5 years ago. I also sub with the Seattle Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet, so we’re both back and forth a lot. I’m actually the Artistic Director of the Archipelago Collective, which is a chamber music festival on San Juan Island in Friday Harbour. We’ve had Maya play for us before.
Svend: Awesome, wow. What an idyllic place to be doing chamber music!
Sophie: No kidding.
Svend: Wow… When does it take place?
Sophie: It’s usually the first week of September. Obviously this past year, we had to do a virtual festival, which we managed to do. We’re really hoping that this upcoming year, it’ll be in-person again. It’s just about a 5-min walk from the ferry docks in Friday Harbor. So beautiful, and so much fun.
Svend: What’s your connection to the place? How did you get to be doing chamber music in that part of the world? How did you manage something so incredibly idyllic?
Sophie: Well, actually, I grew up spending my summers there. My dad is a professor at the University of Washington, and he taught marine biology classes there. There’s a marine biology laboratory on the island, and I spent a lot of time up there in the summers, just staying with him, and running feral around the tide pools, and got to know a lot of people. It’s always been a very special place for me.
Svend: Yeah, it’s a beautiful place. A lot of artists like to hang out there too. I know there are other music festivals that go on up there. I think of composers who use that part of the world as a place to just create. I think Morten Lauridsen has a cabin up there where he composes. Amazing.
Svend: Awesome. And tell us about the pieces that you’re going to play, how you’ve come to know them. I’ve done some of these, and I’ve had the pleasure of performing them, but my story is not your story with these pieces, so tell us about them.
Maya: The Saint-Saëns is one of the classic pieces for this duo. It’s the first piece we really performed and put together for a concert. It’s so much fun to play. We’ll almost always put that on a concert if we can.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s such a standard, and it’s so “meaty” for both instruments. Very often, the harp gets stuck in the “um-chuck-chuck” role of just accompaniment, while she gets all the juicy bits. But we both get a real chance to shine in that piece. It’s very flashy, but also has these incredible, lyrical moments. It’s so much fun to play.
Svend: I’m always amazed by hearing that piece. It’s so vibrant, and so fresh. Saint-Saëns was an old man when he wrote it, but it sounds like the music of a young person. It’s a beautiful piece. How about the others?
Maya: We discovered that we love exploring different kinds of repertoire, finding our own ways to re-arrange it, and being creative with what we play. The Arvo Pärt is more of a meditation. You can just relax, and be in the music and experience it, rather than following the arcs and the path, like you do the Saint-Saëns. It’s a different experience for the audience, and we’re excited to bring that.
Sophie: The Pärt is very appropriate for a therapist’s office, isn’t it?
Svend: [Laughing] I was thinking that too!
Sophie: It’s sort of an exercise in mindfulness, in grounding. Breathing. Just sort of… Being.
Svend: I wonder if that’s why it’s such a popular piece! It’s one of the most played pieces of classical music, ever. It’s in that sci-fi movie, Gravity, with Sandra Bullock. It’s been in around twenty films. It’s got a real pull on the popular consciousness.
Sophie: Oh, and the tangos are something we’re really excited to play. Like Maya was saying, we’ve been playing around with not-very-traditional forms of music. We’ve done a lot of arranging of medieval Sephardic music, adding in percussion. I’ve been wearing ankle bells for those, which is always a hoot. And jamming out. We’ve done a little bit of folk music. Lot of wacky, contemporary stuff. Maya actually herself is actually a very good improviser. She does Irish fiddle, and Django Reinhardt-esque.
Maya: I’ve just… actually, since the pandemic, been experimenting more with that. It’s a lot of fun. We’re trying to incorporate that into our music.
Svend: So you’ll come back and do a hot jazz concert for us?
Maya: Getting there, getting there.
Sophie: Not there yet! [Laughter]
Sophie: The Piazzolla is a really great opportunity for us to let loose a little bit, because with so much of the music we normally play, we have to be very accurate, and controlled. But this, we get to let loose, and kind of dance it out, make some weird noises. So you’ll hear a little bit of extended technique from both of us.
Svend: Right, the “Sweet Scrapes” of our title, right? [Laughter] Yes, exactly. Very good.
Well, that’s great. Well, it’s terrific having you, and we look forward to your concert.
Thank you so much!
Maya and Sophie: Thank you!!