On That Note: When Things Go Awry

Oct 3, 2016

Every month, Lake Effect talks with contributor Robert Cohen, the cellist for the Milwaukee-based Fine Arts Quartet, about the life of a working and touring professional musician.

It can be a uniquely challenging occupation. There are a lot of variables that can either help or hurt a musician's performance. And unfortunately when things go wrong, they seem to leave a bigger impression. 

"It's so easy to remember all of the disasters, it's not always so easy to remember all the wonderful moments," says Cohen. "The disasters definitely stick in your mind." 

Most musicians can give you dozens of horror stories from the stage, but Cohen had a uniquely disastrous time during a live radio performance in Spain.

"I was playing an incredibly difficult cello concerto by H.K. Gruber in Spain, and he was conducting the performance and it was live on the radio," says Cohen. "As I was sort of about 10 minutes into this half an hour piece, my top A string just completely snapped." 

The snapping string sounded like a gun shot went off, and Cohen rushed off stage to replace it. Of course, he had to interrupt the performance, and when returned to the stage he was still a bit shaken up. "You kind of settle down after a while, but you are kind of shaking from the whole thing," he says.

"And then it happened again," says Cohen. "I could not believe it. It was just complete and utter disaster, and I thought, 'This is the end of my career.'" (Don't worry, it wasn't.)