Master Classes with Tomás Cotik: Teaching Timeless Classical Music with a Modern Twist of Creative Entrepreneurship

Influenced by numerous musical styles, from baroque to jazz to even pop—Tomás Cotik, a professor, producer, and violinist of international renown, teaches the art of classical music and creative entrepreneurship tech-infused music concepts in a series of master classes in Spain.

The man some call one of the most versatile violinists of his time had traveled the world playing and teaching music before he came to the Frost School of Music in 2010 to pursue a DMA in Instrumental Performance. 

Since then, Argentinian violinist Tomás Cotik has been recognized not only as an exceptional musician and highly sought-after recording artist but as an innovative music professor who has catapulted international attention with his creative master classes and tech-infused music projects. 

Starting this fall, Cotik is taking a sabbatical from his position as violin professor at Portland State University, where he has been honored with several prestigious awards, including the Dean's Council Award for Research, the Kamelia Massih Outstanding Faculty Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a Fulbright Scholar Award to teach a series of master classes in Spain.

"I enjoyed Miami as a cultural hub," remembers Cotik, who plans to embrace Madrid, Barcelona, and Zaragoza's similar cosmopolitan city vibes as he teaches and performs throughout Spain. "Miami opened its doors to me and presented me with many opportunities, such as becoming a member of the Delray String Quartet and Amernet String Quartet."

The magic city also led him to dabble in pop recordings of notable artists such as Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Barry Gibb, George Benson, and Alejandro Sanz, as well as performances with Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, Dave Grusin, Frank Sinatra Jr., and Take 6.   

While working on his doctorate, Cotik formed a duo with pianist Tao Lin. They toured and eventually recorded eight CDs for Naxos and Centaur Records with music by Schubert, Mozart, and Piazzolla from his home country, Argentina. His recent recording of Mozart's complete sonatas has over four-and-a-half million Spotify streams, and his second Piazzolla recording was nominated for the International Classical Music Awards.  

Cotik is now interested in exploring a repertoire of folk-and popular-inspired classical works from the wider Hispanic sphere. During his one-year stay in Spain, he hopes to learn and get inspired by additional repertoire and share his artistic and pedagogical interests with colleagues and students.

"In music, we see these ever-changing fashions and trends in terms of the music that is performed, the way it is performed, and the presentation format," he explains. "So, in my master classes, I ask myself and my students those discerning questions: 'What's our role as classical musicians? How has classical music changed through time, and how do we allow this medium to change and stay relevant?" 

Cotik intends to bring his point across to the masses by using multimedia and technology as aids. At a recent music festival, he projected a musician's shadow on a four-story building with loudspeakers amplifying his historically informed performance of music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The best part of this presentation was when he saw a broad and diverse audience captivated by music they might not have listened to at home.

"Whether you are at a park or in a crowded downtown area, these are the experiences that open doors for many to something unknown... something unexpected," he says. "It could be that an individual would not have listened to a classical piece or instrument, but these elements of surprise and magic drew them to the sound. It introduces them to a new type of music to enjoy, which makes for an unforgettable moment and enjoyment of classical music and allows us artists to share part of our culture."

In collaboration with the National Endowment of the Arts, Cotitk created another installation in downtown Portland. Using a large-scale projection of a violinist playing on a roof, he transformed a downtown building into a jukebox. People walking by could listen and see a projection giving the illusion of a violinist playing from the rooftop of a building. "I love creating those experiences for people in our communities. And I try to inspire students to become entrepreneurs in my master classes, too." 

While Cotik brings his master classes to three universities and conservatories in Madrid, Barcelona, and Zaragoza in Aragon, Spain, he will take advantage of the Iberian peninsula music—the mix of cultures, instruments, and melodies perfected through the centuries—to explore new repertoire. He will also create new projects around some of his areas of expertise, baroque music, and Piazzolla's Tango Nuevo. A documentary based on the subject will explore the influences of the traditional Tango, Jazz, Klezmer, and classical music in Piazzolla's idiomatic music.

In the documentary, Cotik speaks about this music and its meaning of it —how it informs and speaks about immigrant cultures and how bringing it to a larger audience can trigger them to explore their own identities and share their culture. 

"I love to challenge those dogmas still very ingrained in today's society—how we speak about classical music and different kinds of music, and how it goes through different waves that come and go. It gives a perspective on the sometimes transient and conditioned aspect of our own taste," concludes Cotik.