Violinist Jennifer Koh is recognized for her intense, commanding performances, delivered with dazzling virtuosity and technical assurance. With an impassioned musical curiosity, she is forging an artistic path of her own devising, choosing works that both inspire and challenge. She is dedicated to performing the violin repertoire of all eras from traditional to contemporary, believing that the past and present form a continuum. She is also committed to exploring connections in the works she performs, searching for similarities of voice among diverse composers and associations within the works of a single composer.
The exploration of Bach’s music and its influence in today’s musical landscape has played an important role in Ms. Koh’s artistic journey. In 2009, she debuted Bach and Beyond, a series of three recitals that explore the history of the solo violin repertoire from Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas to modern day composers including newly commissioned works. During the 2012-13 season, Ms. Koh performs the second recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part II, which connects Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1 to Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and Phil Kline’s Partita for solo violin, a new work that will receive its world premiere as part of Bach and Beyond Part II at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto in November 2012. Ms. Koh also performs Bach and Beyond Part II at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, MD, Town Hall in Seattle, and for Cal Performances in Berkeley, CA. The first recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part I, featured Bach’s Partitas Nos. 2 and 3 and works by Ysaÿe, Saariaho, Carter, and Salonen with a video commission by Tal Rosner. The short film, a dynamic interpretation of Salonen’s work, Lachen Verlernt, was presented at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and is included as a visual component on her recording Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin, released on the Cedille label in 2009. Since the launch of the recital series, Ms. Koh has performed Bach and Beyond worldwide, including in New York, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Santa Barbara, Portland, ME, at Oberlin College, Amherst College, UNC Chapel Hill, and at the Lammermuir Festival in Scotland. Ms. Koh’s Bach and Beyond series will also be released on three CDs by the Cedille label. The first recording in the series, to be released in October 2012, includes Bach’s second and third Partitas, Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2, Saariaho’s Nocturne for Violin and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve O My Heart.
In October 2011, Ms. Koh performed Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin in a single concert – a feat long considered the ultimate test of a violinist’s command of his/her instrument – presented by Columbia University’s Miller Theatre at the Academy of Arts and Letters. She has since played the complete works at the Castleton Festival in Virginia and at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts, and this season she performs all six Sonatas and Partitas in a single concert in Houston. Her interpretations of Bach’s solo works, both in marathon recitals and paired with contemporary pieces, have been praised as thoughtful, intense, energetic and beautifully phrased. In 2009, to commemorate the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth, Ms. Koh performed a series of concerts devoted to the Sonatas and Partitas, also presented by Miller Theatre. Following her performance of Bach’s Partita in D Minor, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times wrote, “she gave a deeply expressive account of the Chaconne, dispatching the challenges with such security that you did not notice the sheer virtuosity at work. The ovation was so ardent that Ms. Koh, who had been visibly engrossed in her performance, wiped away tears.”
This season, Ms. Koh launches a new project called Two x Four, celebrating the relationship between teacher and student through music. Named for two violinists and four works, Ms. Koh will be joined by Jaime Laredo, her former teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, in performances of works for two violins and orchestra including Bach’s Double Concerti for Two Violins, Philip Glass’s Echorus for two violins and string orchestra, and newly commissioned pieces by composers Anna Clyne and David Ludwig. The duo premiered Ludwig’s work, Seasons, with the Delaware Symphony in May 2012 and they perform the world premiere of Clyne’s work, Prince of Clouds, and Bach’s Double Concerto with the IRIS Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern in Memphis in the fall of 2012. Additionally this season, they will perform works from the project with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Harry Bickett (Ms. Koh’s subscription debut with the orchestra) and Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and they’ll perform all four works with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra on tour in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
In the 2012-13 season, Ms. Koh will play a broad range of concertos that reflect the breadth of her musical interests. She will perform Lutoslawski’s Chain 2: Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra in her New York Philharmonic subscription debut conducted by Lorin Maazel, as well as with the London Philharmonia Orchestra led by Esa-Pekka Salonen; both in commemoration of the 2013 centennial of Lutoslawski’s birth. She will also perform Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Oregon Symphony, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the Eugene Symphony, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic, Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Westchester Philharmonic and Boulder Philharmonic, and Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Ms. Koh is the first female to perform the solo violin role of Einstein in a new production of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. Never before seen in North America outside of New York City, last season Ms. Koh performed Einstein in Ann Arbor with the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan and at Toronto’s Luminato Festival. This fall she will perform Einstein at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Presented in celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, the new production is a historic restaging based on the original 1976 version and the first revival with the original creators since 1992.
Ms. Koh is passionate in her efforts to expand the violin repertoire and has established relationships with many of today’s composers, regularly commissioning and premiering new works. In addition to premiering Anna Clyne’s double violin concerto and Phil Kline’s Partita for solo violin this season and David Ludwig’s double violin concerto in June 2012, in recent seasons Ms. Koh became the only violinist other than Lorin Maazel to perform his violin concerto, conducted by Mr. Maazel at the Castleton Festival and gave the U.S. premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Third Violin Concerto “Juggler in Paradise” with the National Symphony led by Christophe Eschenbach, a work she performed in her 2008 PROMS debut with the BBC Symphony conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. She also premiered Mark Grey’s Mugunghwa with the LA Masterworks Chorale; and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart, commissioned for her by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a concert that also featured Ms. Koh with composer/guitarist Steve Mackey in his own piece, Four Iconoclast Interludes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by John Adams. She also premiered Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, a concerto for violin with chorus, with the commissioning orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach, the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänskä and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Spano, the latter of which was recorded and released by Telarc in September 2010.
Since the 1994-95 season when she won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and the Avery Fisher Career Grant, Ms. Koh has been heard with leading orchestras and conductors around the world, including the Atlanta Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, Chicago Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, New World Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony and Seattle Symphony. Abroad, she has appeared with the BBC London Symphony, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony, the Brandenburg Ensemble, Czech Philharmonic, Helsinki Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony, Lahti Symphony, Moscow Radio Symphony, the Singapore Symphony, and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra where she performed the Russian premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto conducted by Valerie Gergiev. A prolific recitalist, Ms. Koh appears frequently at major music centers and festivals including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Castleton, Grant Park, Marlboro, Spoleto, Wolf Trap and The Festival International de Lanaudiere in Canada.
A committed educator, Ms. Koh has won high praise for her performances in classrooms around the country under her innovative “Music Messenger” outreach program. Now in its ninth year, the program continues to form an important part of her musical activities. “The majority of children in this country have not been given an opportunity to learn music as a form of self expression,” Ms. Koh asserts, “and I want to share the experience of creating and listening to music with them.” Her outreach efforts have taken her to classrooms all over the country to perform for thousands of students who have little opportunity to hear classical music in their daily lives. "Music is a visceral experience which can create a positive outlet for emotions and a place for inner expression that is more compelling than time spent in front of the television or at a mall,” she adds. Ms. Koh is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Foundation for the Advancement for the Arts, a scholarship program for high school students in the arts.
Ms. Koh brings the same sense of adventure and brilliant musicianship to her recordings as she does to her live performances. Bach and Beyond Part I will be her seventh recording for the Chicago-based Cedille label. Her other albums on Cedille include Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin; a Grammy-nominated recording String Poetic which features the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s work for which the album is named, as well as works by John Adams, Lou Harrison and Carl Ruggles, performed with pianist Reiko Uchida; an acclaimed CD devoted to the complete Schumann violin sonatas; Portraits, a disc featuring the Szymanowski and Martinu violin concertos recorded with the Grant Park Orchestra under conductor Carlos Kalmar; a concept album titled Violin Fantasies comprising fantasies for violin and piano by Schumann, Schoenberg and jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman; and a program centered on Bach’s Chaconne that includes solo chaconnes by turn of the century contemporaries Richard Barth and Max Reger.
Born in Chicago of Korean parents, Ms. Koh began playing the violin by chance, choosing the instrument in a Suzuki-method program only because spaces for cello and piano had been filled. She made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. Ms. Koh earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Oberlin College and went on to study at the Curtis Institute, where she worked extensively with Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. Ms. Koh is on the string faculty of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.