Published on May 25, 2020

An interview with Les Violons du Roy music director Jonathan Cohen about life at home during the COVID 19 pandemic

Jonathan Cohen answers our questions from his home in London.

Q: How are things in London right now?

Life indoors is probably the same here as elsewhere, I imagine. It’s spring over here now and, as the weather is quite nice, it’s very tempting to go outside. I try to go out every day just for a little walk. London, like a lot of other places, is basically shut down. Just this week people started going back to work, particularly those who can’t work from home. However, that excludes musicians. We’re not performing together at the moment—we’re using the time to prepare for future projects.

Q: Has the lockdown given you the opportunity to do things that you usually don’t have the time to do? Do you play music at home?

Yes. I’ve got a lot of music here at home. I thought it would be nice to learn some Mozart Piano Sonatas again, although my piano has gone a little bit out of tune, so, I won’t be recording that.

I have also been working on edits for CDs. It’s quite nice to be able to spend time doing that. I am currently looking at Handel’s Brockes-Passion, which is on my desktop for editing. I’ve spent quite a lot of time actually going through that music.

It’s strange, however, because it’s a complete change of life suddenly to have nothing in the diary, no commitments, no rehearsals starting at 10:30 a.m., no music to learn for the next month. My life before the pandemic was filled with a lot of responsibilities, “this to do for then” and “this to learn for then.” My work has always been geared towards a purpose, often with a particular deadline, so it’s a challenge to continue to be productive and to keep track of things under these exceptional circumstances. Since my daily work routines have been taken away, in my case the coronavirus-enforced lockdown has become also a sort of slowdown.

On another note, while school is out my son Joshua is with me. I enjoy spending a lot of time together with him and helping him with his schoolwork.

Q: What do you miss the most these days?

Music-making! Doing music is a big thing to me, as to any musician. If one thing comes out of this lockdown, it’s that we should never take for granted what a great honor and pleasure it is to be living our life with music and to be making music together.

I found myself quite recently looking back at last year’s photos, concerts, and recordings. While going through those memories, I was thinking “oh wow, that was incredible and so special.” When you give a performance you’re of course completely involved in it and trying to make really good music. I do think we have taken it for granted to have great opportunities to perform music. When we get back to doing music together, I think I’ll feel lucky, I’ll feel that it’s a special thing to be able to give concerts and a great privilege to be able to spend all your time making music. When you put all your life into that and then, suddenly, it’s taken away, you think to yourself “goodness, I really miss that, it is truly important.”

I do miss traveling as well. It’s the sort of thing that when you spend all your time traveling you grumble about it. Now I’ve been at home for six weeks and I’m thinking “Oh, it would be so nice to visit such and such a place, and I want to go to that other place, too”.

I also miss Quebec City and to be on that side of the world. I had an odd dream the other night about taking my son Joshua to New York. In the dream we were enjoying some proper American burgers, visited the Empire State Building, and walked around Manhattan. It was a strange dream but I interpreted it as simply missing traveling. As for Quebec City I miss the people there, I miss our music-making and our concert hall as well as the Auberge Saint-Antoine, all the places and friends.

Q: What do you think you will say to the musicians of Les Violons du Roy when you meet and are able to make music together again?

First of all, I think we’ll have very big smiles on our faces when we meet again. I think I’ll say to everybody that we mustn’t forget what it’s like to not to play music with each other. We should try to remember that. It’s such a great thing to do music, so we should always enjoy it when we have the opportunity to do so.

The interview took place on May 15, 2020

Jonathan Cohen and Les Violons du Roy at a rehearsal. Photo: Jacques Gaines