Just in: Cleveland’s longest-serving clarinet steps down

Just in: Cleveland’s longest-serving clarinet steps down


norman lebrecht

December 22, 2014

Franklin Cohen has called it quits after 38 seasons. Press release below.


CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Orchestra today announced that Franklin Cohen, Principal Clarinet since 1976, will retire from the ensemble in the summer of 2015.  After 39 seasons, Mr. Cohen will have had the longest tenure of any solo clarinetist in the orchestra’s history.  The title of Principal Clarinet Emeritus will be bestowed on Mr. Cohen next summer upon retiring.  He will be the first Cleveland Orchestra musician officially recognized with this honor.

 franklin cohen

Mr. Cohen joined The Cleveland Orchestra at the invitation of Music Director Lorin Maazel.   In 1968, he gained international recognition as the first clarinetist to win the First Prize at the prestigious Munich International Music Competition.

Mr. Cohen is one of the few musicians of his time to combine a world class solo, chamber, and orchestral career.   He is widely considered among the great musicians of his generation.   Acclaimed for the strength, passion and beauty of his playing, he is one of the most frequent concerto soloists in the history of The Cleveland Orchestra, appearing as soloist at Severance Hall, Blossom Music Center, Carnegie Hall, and on tours throughout the United States, Asia and Europe to critical acclaim.

Over the span of Mr. Cohen’s career, he has been heard in many thousands of concerts and broadcasts.   His commercial recording credits won a Grammy Award and much critical acclaim.  His unique, expressive sound and musicianship have brought a distinctive voice to The Cleveland Orchestra for many years.   He has earned glowing praise for his poignant musicality and technical mastery.  Mr. Cohen has performed with many of the great string quartets of the 20th Century.


He has taught and performed at virtually all the major American music festivals and has served as Department Head at the Cleveland Institute of Music for 39 years.


  • Anon2 says:

    I never would have guessed it from seeing Cleveland Orchestra’s ad in the December International Musician for principal clarinet. Anyway, congratulations to Mr. Cohen on his career! He leaves many fine Cleveland Orchestra recordings as part of his legacy.

    • harold braun says:

      Actually,that doesn´t come unexpected.Mr.Welser Möst and Mr.Cohen had a big clash in 2013 and FWM banned him from performing in his concerts and on tours with him(Europeans may have noticed that Mr.Cohen didn´t play on the two last international tours.).Mr.Cohen,however,did play concerts with other conductors.This kind of insult may have been a decisive factor in Mr.Cohen stepping down.It´s indeed sad,since Mr.Cohen is one of the worlds finest clarinet players,and a defining member of this superlative orchestra.

      • Max Grimm says:

        What kind of clash did they have that lead FWM to ban him from his concerts (if it isn’t too personal to ask)?

        • beckmessieur says:

          I too am dying to know. Even just the nature of it – if not the details.

        • Barb says:


          • Doug says:

            (Almost) all the Europeans come to North America and immediately think “play higher” when they hear the woodwinds. When we’ve trained so hard to play dead center on pitch it’s an outright insult.

          • Max Grimm says:

            Thank you Barb. I can see how something as contentious as a woodwind players intonation might cause lengthy debates or arguments.

          • beckmessieur says:

            This would be an fascinating subject to hear more about, if it were possible without going into name calling. FWM is a fine musician, and if this disagreement is found typically with European conductors, why then isn’t it more of a combustible issue? Plenty of Euro conductors work with US orchestras. Pitch is relative — the higher tuning A in Europe can’t be the only culprit.

          • william osborne says:

            I find this intonation issue implausible. One doesn’t last in an orchestra for 30 years if they can’t adjust their intonation up a bit. There’s obviously more to the story, and it probably has to do with personal conflicts between Cohen and W-M.

            Ellen dePasquale, one of the Cleveland Orchestra’s most high-profile musicians, resigned as associate concertmaster a few years ago. The orchestra, at the request of Franz Welser-Most, specifically created a new chair to by-pass her. In short, she was being by-passed just as Cohen was. The Maestro is sensitive. The full story is here:


          • MarkB says:

            “Intonation” is not implausible, but it could have a broader meaning. Before Stephen Gerber retired as principal cellist, the London press noted that FWM had asked him to work on his intonation. Perhaps intonation is a code word for I think it is time for you to retire. We do see orchestra members–whether in Cleveland or elsewhere–having trouble keeping up with their skills, and it is most apparent when they are in a principal position. However, some have held up their standards for 50 years, like the former Cleveland principal flute Maurice Sharp.

            None of this is meant to disparage Mr. Cohen or to take sides with FWM. If in fact Mr. Cohen is not permitted to play when FWM is conducting, there is perhaps a deeper story to flesh out. I do not have a high regard for FWM, and so my inclination is to be supportive of Mr. Cohen. But I’d want more of a story before making my own judgment.

        • harold braun says:

          I don´t know what the exact reason for the fall out was.From what i heard,from a good friend of mine who studied with a member of the orchestra and has several good friends playing there,it didn´t have to do with issues like intonation etc..Her exact words were,it was just a clash of two big egos.

  • Michael Klotz says:

    Congratulations to Frank Cohen, one of the true great clarinetists of our time. What a terrific tenure! Who cares what the scandal was? Bravo for an amazing legacy. Looking forward to playing Mozart Quintet in February with this legend.

  • David Starobin says:

    I was lucky enough to hear Frank (and occasionally play with him) in the days when he was principal clarinetist of the Baltimore Symphony. So many of his performances stand out in my memory, but perhaps most, a Brahms quintet he did at Marlboro. A lot of moist eyes in the audience after that one!

  • ruben greenberg says:

    Just a thought for the late Charles Olivieri, who made Mr. Cohen’s reeds for so many years. A clarinettist is only as good as his reed! Mr. Cohen will be very busy, as he is playing better than ever.

  • MarieTherese says:

    Mr Cohen will be greatly missed. The woodwind section is very strong in the Cleveland Orchestra, turning in a strong performance week after week, no matter who is on the podium. It’s telling to note that guest conductors never fail to recognize the outstanding contribution from the woodwind players after each concert, and that students come from around the world to CIM to study with Mr Cohen.
    He will be missed but his legacy will be carried on by his students who are playing in orchestras all over the world.

  • Jim Willliams says:

    Mr. Cohen is a wonderful musician. Each time I saw him walk out on the stage at Severance Hall I knew I was going to have a terrific night of music. I have met and talked with Mr. Cohen, and he was a delightful person to talk to. He is obviously a knowledgeable musician, but his grace and patience in talking to me, a non-musician, made him an a delightful man to talk to. Best of luck to him in his future endeavors, which, he assured me, will be many.

  • Wendy says:

    Ellen and Frank are two casualties of a sorry period in the history of the orchestra. Under this music director it has been a time of extraordinary politics inspired by a music director who surrounds himself with a small contingent of acolytes—small but powerful, thanks to fewer checks and balances than most orchestras. Nepotism has been allowed to flourish, and in this case, a handful Frank’s colleagues aided and abetted the music director in driving him out. Whatever one thinks of his playing or personality and behavior, the morale in the orchestra has been impacted greatly by the way things have been done over the last decade or so.