Fred Cohen

SJSU Spartan LogoDr. Fred Cohen
Director, School of Music and Dance; Orchestra


Fred Cohen's compositions have been hailed for their originality, intensity, and sonic beauty. He began his musical career as a chorister with the San Francisco Boys Chorus, performing with such organizations as the San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Symphony. Following undergraduate studies at the University California, Santa Cruz, Cohen worked as a conductor with the Fundacion del Estado para la Orquesta National Juvenil (Venezuela), after which he earned his doctoral degree in composition at Cornell University where he studied with Karel Husa and Steven Stucky. He has been a member of the music faculty at the University of Richmond (Virginia), Montclair State University (New Jersey), and the Schwob School of Music at Columbus State University.

Cohen's output is extremely varied, from a Piano Concerto written in honor of a gift of 67 Steinway pianos to the Schwob School of Music, to Curls of Motion for trumpet and wind ensemble, premiered by Phil Smith, former Principal Trumpet of the New York Philharmonic. He has been commissioned by the Shanghai String Quartet, the Borromeo String Quartet, the Richmond Symphony, and many other musicians and ensembles. Commissions have come from Chamber Music America, National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the New Jersey and the Virginia Council for the Arts, and many others. His music is published by Subito Music Publications and American Composers Edition, among others. Cohen has served as a Visiting Team Chair for NASM since 2009 and currently serves as member of the Commission on Accreditation, as a board member of the American Composers Alliance, and as Treasurer of the Southeastern Composers League. 

Cohen has directed the SJSU Symphony Orchestra since 2015, leading performances throughout the Bay Area in symphonic literature, opera and musical theater.  Highlights include a fully staged production of Bernstein's MASS, full productions of In The Heights and Into The Woods, and many wonderful symphonic works with amazing guest artists.  Previously, Cohen led the University of Richmond Orchestra from 1986 -2002, the Montclair State University Orchestra from 2004-5, and the Schwob School of Music Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008-2011. He served as the founder and director of CURRENTS, a professional new-music ensemble in Richmond (1986-2002), the Cornell Contemporary Ensemble (1982-1986), and has commissioned and premiered over 60 works by composers from around the world. He has appeared as a guest conductor with a variety of professional and collegiate orchestras and wind ensembles, including lengthy tenures with the Richmond Symphony and with a variety of new-music ensembles based on the East Coast. 

Cohen is Professor of Music and Director of the School of Music and Dance at San José State University.