Meet the Intern: Q&A with Jordan Cohen

Here at Festival Mozaic, we are committed to providing the best in musical performance and also to providing opportunities for emerging musical talents. But we are also committed to providing opportunities for young arts administrators through our internship program. This summer we have hired Jordan Cohen as Assistant to the Director. Here’s a conversation between him and Festival Executive Director Bettina Swigger.


Bettina: So how did you hear about Festival Mozaic?

Jordan: Three years ago, I was home from college on summer break when I happened to meet you in a social setting. I was about to become a senior at UC Davis, studying classical theory and composition and we started talking about music. Then you invited me to come see a concert that featured a new work, a Dvorak string quartet, and then the Festival’s orchestral finale. After growing up in Los Osos (a suburb of San Luis Obispo), I had eagerly devoured performances and experience with professional ensembles ranging from operatic to symphonic to chamber. So I dragged my father to my first concert with the Festival, a premiere, which was something he had never been exposed. He, of course, found it too new, too interesting, and definitely too much fun!  It was shocking to me that something of the theory-driven contemporary music of academics and black box theaters, something I was studying insulated by mandatory theory/composition student audiences, was drawing an audience in San Luis Obispo! 

Bettina: I remember that. That was the premiere of John Novacek’s Cello Sonata, which he and Michelle Djokic performed. 

Jordan: So last summer, when was home between gigs, I found myself drawn once more to the Festival.  I attended six or seven events, and was once again impressed by the continuity in originality and talent I found, especially coming from working in San Francisco to listening in SLO.  Not only did I find a cultural community I never before knew existed in San Luis Obispo, but I found myself captivated with the inherent talent level drawn here by Scott Yoo and the Festival.  I knew this was something that I wanted to be a part of professionally.

Bettina: So then what happened?

Jordan: I was working in the Production Department at the San Diego Opera and six months ago, I emailed you, saying that I would love to volunteer for the Festival – to take a working vacation to visit my family and see as many of the ensembles as I could manage.  Instead, you invited me to apply for the Assistant to the Director internship. And the rest is history. The opportunity to meet musicians of this level, and to work for someone like Scott Yoo is a huge opportunity.  My local roots are somewhat serendipitous, and I hope to use my knowledge of the community to foster a hospitable environment within the festival community. I am very excited to be able to contribute to this years festival, and help bring the best classical music, best musicians, and best festival yet to the Central Coast. 

Bettina: What performance are you most excited about in this upcoming season?

I am definitely most excited about the concert on Chapel Hill in Shandon.  In my opinion, a concert isn’t necessarily 100% about the piece being played. In contemporary music, it is much more common that people come to see the performers, not the piece. Having worked in Opera, this is a phenomenon with which I became very familiar. People didn’t come to see Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida, they come to see the performers interpret the piece.  I think this can be extrapolated to a setting too.  The Chapel Hill concert put me, and my imagination, in an Italian villa listening to music in 17th century Italian vineyards. I’m looking forward to experience that music, in that setting. It’s a unique opportunity.

Bettina: So what do you think could draw more young people into wanting to experience live classical music performance?

Jordan: I think the way to draw young people into experiencing classical music is being exposed to it from as early an age as possible. People respect pure talent in any discipline, which is why a juggler can get ten million views on YouTube. The key is to expose people to the sheer talent in this medium much earlier.  The other problem lies in cost-benefit analysis. We are now at a point where my generation’s parents didn’t listen to classical music as much, so being “retro” is more about going to Steely Dan and Tom Petty concerts at the fair. Spending $200 on Red Hot Chili Peppers tickets is something you can brag about –something that earns a certain social cachet — but to the average high school/early college- aged person, going to see Schubert isn’t something you brag about (outside of conservatory circles), especially at $45-$60 a pop.  For a high school kid, buying a ticket at that price to see a classical music concert translates to six hours of work at minimum wage.  I think a certain amount of 100% free tickets to the more popular events for people who have not yet graduated college, or are under graduation age, would be well in order.  More needs to be done to getting kids hooked on classical music for the long term. 

Bettina: What are your top five favorite desert island pieces of chamber music?

1)       Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, L.137 Claude Debussy

Bettina: That’s fortunate, because that piece is going to be performed at this summer’s festival in a concert on July 22. 

Jordan: That’s right. Here’s the final four.

2)       Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Op. 75, Camille Saint-Saens

3)       String Quartet No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, op. 131, Ludwig van Beethoven

4)       Sonata in A Minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 36, Edvard Grieg

5)       Lamento della Ninfa, SV 166, Claudio Monteverdi 


Jordan has a Bachelor’s degree from UC Davis. He was a Double Major in Music Theory/ Composition and Medieval Studies. He has worked at the San Diego Opera, the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts and many other companies. He is also a very friendly guy, so please tell him hello when you see him at the Festival this summer.


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