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Direct Input

Richmond Symphony’s new concertmaster pulls the strings.


Newly appointed Richmond Symphony concertmaster Diana Cohen comes from a family of music makers. “I couldn’t avoid becoming a musician” the violinist says.
  • Newly appointed Richmond Symphony concertmaster Diana Cohen comes from a family of music makers. “I couldn’t avoid becoming a musician” the violinist says.

Violinist Diana Cohen stands in the hallway of Albert Hill Middle School on a recent weekday morning. “C … C,” she sings out loud. She holds the note and waits for the pupil with whom she’s working to meet her pitch.

“C … E … E … C,” they sing together. The eighth-grader raises his violin and plays the notes, again and again, increasingly in tune. An efficient and confident teacher, Cohen guides his attention to the shape of his hand, the weight of his fingers, the position of his thumb.

As the new concertmaster of the Richmond Symphony, Cohen participates in its programs for pupils. Her more visible role is serving as leader of the symphony’s violin section.

“I always knew I wanted to do something where I had direct input into the product,” Cohen says of her musical goals. As concertmaster, she shapes the sound of the orchestra’s strings, in consultation with the conductor, by making decisions such as those related to bow speed and direction.

Prior to joining the Richmond Symphony, Cohen served as concertmaster of the Kalamazoo, Mich., and Charleston, S.C., symphony orchestras. Her extensive list of accomplishments includes playing with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic; she also performs across the United States and Canada in Trio Terzetto, a chamber ensemble she formed with two friends in 2007.

Cohen’s father is principal clarinetist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and her mother was a bassoonist. Music surrounded the family. Her parents bought a house specifically for its long living room where they could hold concerts. “I couldn’t avoid becoming a musician,” she says.

When she was young, her father came back from a tour in Mexico with a little violin for her that didn’t really work. “I resented it! I asked for a violin I could actually play,” Cohen says, and that’s how it all began.

Cohen will perform Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 on Sunday with the symphony for its second Metro Collection concert of the season. The series, held in the 670-seat Blackwell Auditorium at Randolph-Macon College, uses about half of the symphony’s musicians to present works of a more intimate scale.

This Mozart concerto is “such a youthful, ebullient work. It’s got sparkle and life,” Cohen says. “It’s ideal for this size group.”

The Richmond Symphony has presented Sunday concerts at Randolph-Macon since 2002. In recent years, the same program also was given on the previous Friday night at rotating locations throughout the region, particularly in western Henrico County and Chesterfield County. This year that format was discontinued.

David Fisk, executive director of the symphony, cites recent full-orchestra performances at Henricus Historical Park and Clover Hill High School as examples of ways the symphony continues to reach people in less traditional venues. As part of a “sensible evolution,” the Metro Collection concept — that is, an orchestra that can fit into smaller spaces — will be used to develop new audiences.

“For example, some of the Metro programs are being given privately this year to corporations and clubs,” he says, “as a tailored experience unique to each group’s request.” S

The Metro Collection: Classical Symphony concert, which includes works by Prokofiev, Sibelius and Revueltas, takes place Oct. 23 at 3 p.m. in Blackwell Auditorium at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland. Tickets are $10-$20. Information at


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