Exclusive: Cleveland looks to Seattle for next clarinet

Exclusive: Cleveland looks to Seattle for next clarinet


norman lebrecht

July 28, 2015

The Cleveland Orchestra has to fill the principal clarinet seat, left vacant by Franklin Cohen’s retirement.

From the auditions,  Ben Lulich of the Seattle Symphony emerged in first place. Ben will play next season as Acting Principal, while on leave from Seattle. He can be heard in Europe when the Cleveland comes on tour in October.

ben lulich


  • JB says:

    Ben is a fabulous musician, a stunning clarinetist, and a wonderful person. Mr Cohen leaves big shoes to fill, but Cleveland has done very well for themselves.

  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    Better band — lesser city for food and scenery.

  • Daniel F. says:

    I got the impression from a previous posting that FW-M forced Franklin Cohen’s hand by refusing to have him play when he conducted. Does anyone know why Maestro W-M found Mr. Cohen’s playing, which I’ve greatly enjoyed for years, to be so intolerable?

    • MacroV says:

      No idea if any of that is true, but as a general matter, Frank Cohen is now 69 years old, and it does not disrespect the great man to suggest he might not play as well as he once did.

      • Michael Klotz says:

        Since I don’t play in The Cleveland Orchestra I can’t comment on the goings-on there, but having performed the Mozart Clarinet Quintet this past season with Mr. Cohen I can assure you that there were no signs of age whatsoever in the playing. The sound was pure and magical and the phrasing so elegant – words cannot describe it.

    • Jevgeniy says:

      internet gossip suggests it’s purely musical differences – some relating to pitch – the kind of differences European conductors have had with American orchestra players for decades.

      • MacroV says:

        Is “pitch differences” a polite way of saying he has intonation problems? In any case, Mr. Cohen and FWM have been playing together for over a decade, so you’d think any American-Euro difference would long ago have been resolved.

        In any case, Frank Cohen is a fabulous clarinetist, and a very interesting, original musician, which is not always common in top-level orchestras. He deserves to retire with honor, but everybody’s time comes, and 70 seems like a reasonable time. Plus, in most cases, the new generation plays – at least in technical terms – on an entirely different level than their predecessors did even at their best, the same way that today’s runners and swimmers are faster than the previous generatoin; when I was a kid (30-odd years ago), the Nielsen Concerto was a tough challenge even for a good professional; now high-schoolers are playing it.

        • Daniel F. says:

          “At least in technical terms” is a most important qualifier in what you say, but what makes the difference, between players and between orchestras, at least in the performance of of the standard repertory and much of the non-standard, does not involve technique per se. There are also exceptions to your overall analysis: has anyone ever played the violin (“in technical terms”) better than Heifetz or the piano better than Earl Wild?

          • NYMike says:

            In pure technical terms, Hilary Hahn and Yuja Wang come to mind. On the other hand, artistry is a somewhat subjective matter.

  • ruben greenberg says:

    Even if you are at the top of your form at 70, there’s something to be said for giving somebody else a chance. It certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t go on playing-possibly with renewed vigour-in other musical contexts.

  • TK says:

    Ben’s time in the Seattle Symphony was short but quite distinguished. He can be heard in the newly-released recording of the Dutilleux Symphony No. 2. He will be missed greatly, but I certainly wish him well in Cleveland.