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Bienen School concert celebrates retiring faculty Steven Cohen and Gail Williams

May 10 program features three world premieres composed for the honorees
Gail Williams, Rosario Galante and Steven Cohen in recital. Photo by Ari Sloss

Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music faculty clarinetist Steven Cohen and hornist Gail Williams will perform a final recital together in May before they retire from Northwestern University, culminating a combined 50 years of service. Williams taught 33 years and Cohen 17 years at the Bienen School. Their colleagues and students join them in concert, with Director of Jazz Studies Victor Goines, Daniel Rosman, Jackson Brown and Samantha Winkler on clarinet, She-e Wu on percussion and Kay Kim on piano.

The performance will take place on Tuesday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Galvin Recital Hall, located in the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts at 70 Arts Circle Drive on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Cohen and Williams’s program notably features three world premieres: Victor Goines’s “Gonna Take That Train Home,” commissioned by Steven Cohen, a former teacher of Goines; James Stephenson’s “RE:NU” trio for clarinet, horn and percussion; and “Amid the sadness…” a work for horn and strings by Dana Wilson.

“Gonna Take That Train Home” intends to capture “the vibrant spirit of Steve and some of the musical experiences he has been exposed to during his musical career and life,” said Goines. “His work as a virtuosic clarinetist in the world of classical music is obvious to all. But his roots as the son of a fantastic saxophonist/clarinetist/educator who was steeped in jazz, combined with the time he spent as clarinet professor at Loyola University in New Orleans and Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, qualifies him to demonstrate the depth of the blues in his soul.”

In a similar fashion, Wilson wrote “Amid the sadness…” to honor his friendship with Williams. It is a “slow, somewhat mournful piece, perhaps to reflect these difficult times,” he said. “Gail’s magnificent sound and generous spirit have always been an inspiration to me.”

In addition to the premieres, the recital will feature other works for winds, percussion and piano. Carl Nielsen’s “Humoresque Bagatelles” comprises a collection of six spirited movements thought to have been written with the composer’s children in mind. Ukrainian-Australian composer Catherine Likhuta’s emotive “Lesions” characterizes her mother’s journey with multiple sclerosis and meditates upon the stages of grappling with incurable illness; and the overture from Johann Strauss’s “Die Fledermaus” for clarinet quintet adapts the operetta’s famous waltz for five wind instruments.

“It's exciting and yet bittersweet to share the stage one last time with some of my favorite performers, composers and dear, dear friends,” Cohen said of his final performance as a faculty member.

Composer James Stephenson similarly reflected on his relationship with the musicians. “I am extremely honored to be able to be a part of Gail and Steve’s joint retirement recital from Northwestern,” he said. “Both of them have been incredibly supportive of my music, and I chose to recognize that relationship by quoting several of those collaborative pieces in [“RE:NU”], while also writing music that reflected upon their combined contributions to the Northwestern students and community. The music is at various times thoughtful and subdued, while other times virtuosic and celebratory. I am thankful to be their musical colleague, and also their friend.”

Tickets to the May 10 concert are $8 for the general public and $5 for full-time students with valid ID and may be purchased from the Bienen School Ticket Office by visiting or calling 847-467-4000. The recital also will be presented as a free live stream. Visit for details.

Prior to joining the Bienen School faculty in 2005, Steven Cohen served as principal clarinet and frequent soloist with the New Orleans Symphony, later known as the Louisiana Philharmonic. He has performed as principal clarinet at the Brevard Music Center each summer since 1979 and gives solo recitals and master classes throughout the world.

An alumna of Northwestern, Gail Williams has served on the Bienen School faculty since 1989. She is an original member of Summit Brass and a founding member of Chicago Chamber Musicians, whose recording of all-Mozart works, including the Horn Quintet, was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2006. She served as associate principal horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and as a member of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Though retiring as a full-time professor, Williams will continue to teach horn part-time at the Bienen School.

View the Davee Media Library recording of Steven Cohen and Gail Williams performing in Beethoven’s Septet for Winds and Strings in E-flat Major, Op. 20 recorded live on Jan. 24, 2020, as part of the 24th Winter Chamber Music Festival concert.

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