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, to commemorate the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth, she debuted Bach and Beyond, a three-part series of recital programs that explore the history of the solo violin repertoire by pairing Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas with modern-day works and new commissions. This season, she concludes the series with the final recital program, Bach and Beyond Part 3, that combines Bach’s Sonatas No. 2 in A minor and No. 3 in C major with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII and, starting in January 2015, a new work commissioned from American composer John Harbison titled For Violin Alone. Prior to the world premiere of For Violin Alone at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Ms. Koh performs John Zorn’s Passagen in its stead.
The recital program for Bach and Beyond Part 2, performed during the 2011-13 seasons, included Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1, Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and a partita commissioned by Phil Kline titled Dead Reckoning. The first recital in the series, performed from 2009-11, featured Bach’s Partitas Nos. 2 and 3 and works by Carter, Saariaho, Ysaÿe and Salonen with a video commission by filmmaker and video artist Tal Rosner. Mr. Rosner’s short film, a dynamic interpretation of Salonen’s work Lachen Verlernt was presented at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and included as a visual component on Ms. Koh’s recording Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin, released on the Cedille label in 2009. Ms. Koh has performed Bach and Beyond recitals worldwide, and during the 2014-15 season, in addition to the recital at the 92nd Street Y, she performs Part 3 at Oberlin College, at Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda, for the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, for Cal Performances at UC Berkeley, and at the Athanaeum Music & Arts Library in La Jolla.
Ms. Koh’s Bach and Beyond series is being released on three CDs by the Cedille label. The second recording of the series, to be released in April 2015, includes Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1, Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and the world-premiere recording of Kaija Saariaho’s Frises for solo violin and electronics. The first Bach and Beyond recording, released in October 2012, includes Bach’s second and third Partitas, Ms. Saariaho’s Nocturne for Violin, Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2, and the world-premiere recording of Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart. The album was named one of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2012 by The New York Times.
In April 2015 at UC Santa Barbara, Mr. Wosner and Ms. Koh premiere their four-part Bridge to Beethoven recital series, which pairs Beethoven’s ten violin sonatas with new commissions from Anthony Cheung, Vijay Iyer and Andrew Norman, as well as with Sommersonate by Jörg Widmann, a work they performed the US premiere of in 2014. The project explores the significant impact that Beethoven has had on audiences and artists from various cultural backgrounds. The first Bridge to Beethoven recital program juxtaposes three of Beethoven’s violin sonatas—Sonata No. 1 in D Major, Op. 12; Sonata No. 2 in A Major, Op. 12; and Sonata No. 9 in A Major, Op. 47, “Kreutzer”—with the world premiere of a new work in conversation with the “Kreutzer” sonata, by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer. Mr. Wosner and Ms. Koh have been praised by The New York Times for their “impressive partnership” in performances, citing “Mr. Wosner’s singing tone and expressive musicality complementing Ms. Koh’s insightful, richly hued playing.”
In May 2014, Ms. Koh launched a video series called Off Stage On Record, co-presented by Strings magazine and the non-profit organization MusicBridge. In a series of short, documentary-style episodes aimed to entertain and inform students, artists, and fans alike, Ms. Koh goes on record to discuss what preparations a concert artist must take into consideration before performing onstage. The first three episodes—“Creativity,” “Collaboration” and “Body”—are available on Ms. Koh’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/jenniferkohviolin) and new episodes, on subjects that include the recording process, instrument care, juggling one’s schedule, and coordinating with a team that includes a manager, publicist, donors and presenters, will be released this season.
Ms. Koh spearheaded another project in 2012 titled Two x Four, celebrating the relationship between teacher and student through music. Named for two violinists and four works, Ms. Koh and Jaime Laredo, her mentor and former teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, performed works for two violins and orchestra including Bach’s Double Concerto for Two Violins, Philip Glass’s Echorus, Ms. Clyne’s Prince of Clouds (premiered in November 2012 with the IRIS Orchestra in Memphis) and Mr. Ludwig’s Seasons Lost (premiered in May 2012 with the Delaware Symphony). Ms. Koh and Mr. Laredo performed select works from Two x Four with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and presented the program of all four concertos with the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble in New York and the Curtis Chamber Orchestra in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. The project culminated with a recording of Two x Four with the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble, released by Cedille in April 2014.
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 works by the composers featured in her Bridge to Beethoven, Bach and Beyond and Two x Four projects, last season she returned to Miller Theatre to perform the US premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Frises for violin and electronics juxtaposed with Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D Minor. Ms. Saariaho’s Frises was directly inspired by Bach’s D-minor partita, drawing on Baroque forms while incorporating live electronics to expand upon the typical capacity of the solo violin. She also performed the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, a concerto for violin and chorus, with the New York Choral Society at Carnegie Hall. The Singing Rooms was a work she had premiered in 2008 with the commissioning orchestras: the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänskä, the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Spano, the latter of which was recorded and released by Telarc in September 2010. In other recent seasons, Ms. Koh became the only violinist other than Lorin Maazel to perform his violin concerto, in a concert conducted by Mr. Maazel at the Castleton Festival, and gave the US premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Third Violin Concerto, “Juggler in Paradise,” with the National Symphony Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach, a work she performed in her 2008 PROMS debut with the BBC Symphony conducted by Jiří Bělohlávek. She premiered John Zorn’s Passagen at the Miller Theatre, Mark Grey’s Mugunghwa with the LA Masterworks Chorale, and Ms. Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart, commissioned for her by the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a Green Umbrella 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.
In the 2014-15 season, Ms. Koh plays a broad range of concertos that reflects the breadth of her musical interests. Making her debut with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, she joins the conductorless ensemble to play the world premiere of Anna Clyne’s concerto Rest These Hands and Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor at concert presented by Carnegie Hall, Cal Poly Arts, Stanford Live, and SUNY Purchase. She also plays the world premiere of Ms. Clyne’s violin concerto The Seamstress with Ludovic Morlot and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Giacinto Scelsi’s Anahit with the Oberlin Contemporary Ensemble and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in her first collaboration with Gustavo Dudamel, Salonen’s Violin Concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in her first performance of the work, Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 with the San Antonio Symphony, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Florida Symphony, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra and Rhode Island Philharmonic, and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Berkeley, Sioux City, and Waco symphony orchestras, among other engagements.
She also performs the world premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s trio Light and Matter at the TELUS Centre in Toronto and the US premiere of the piece at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in May 2015 with pianist Benjamin Hochman and cellist Anssi Karttunen, in a program of works that include violin sonatas by Debussy and Ravel; solo and chamber works by Brahms, Mr. Ludwig, Yehudi Wyner and Mr. Zorn at the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival with Mr. Hochman, cellist Raphael Bell, and violist Timothy Summers; and chamber works by Beethoven, Fauré and Mr. Ludwig at the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society as part of the Variation String Trio with pianist Natalie Zhu.
From 2012-14, Ms. Koh played the solo violinist role of Einstein in Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s new production of Einstein on the Beach, with performances at Berliner Festspiel, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Cal Performances, LA Opera, Toronto’s Luminato Festival and University of Michigan. Brought together in celebration of Mr. Glass’s 75th birthday, the production was the first to be seen in North America outside of New York, and the first restaging of the original 1976 version since 1992 with the original creators. In 2016, Ms. Koh will present a recital, staged by Mr. Wilson, of Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin.
Presented by Columbia University’s Miller Theatre at the Academy of Arts and Letters, Ms. Koh performed the complete Sonatas and Partitas in a single concert – a feat long considered the ultimate test of a violinist’s command of her instrument – for the first time in October 2011. She has since played the complete works at the Castleton Festival in Virginia, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts and for Da Camera in Houston. Her interpretations of Bach’s works for solo violin, both in marathon recitals and paired with contemporary pieces, have been praised as thoughtful, intense, energetic and beautifully phrased. In 2009, Ms. Koh performed a series of lunchtime concerts devoted to the Sonatas and Partitas, also presented by Miller Theatre.
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, Nashville Symphony Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony, New World Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony 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, London Philharmonia, Moscow Radio Symphony, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, 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, Aspen, Castleton, Grant Park, Marlboro, Spoleto, Wolf Trap and The Festival International de Lanaudière in Canada.
Ms. Koh brings the same sense of adventure and brilliant musicianship to her recordings as she does to her live performances. The upcoming release of Bach and Beyond Part 2 will be her tenth on the Chicago-based Cedille label. Her other albums on Cedille include the aforementioned Two x Four recording; Signs, Games & Messages, featuring works by Kurtág, Janáček, and Bartók performed with pianist Shai Wosner; Bach and Beyond Part I, named one of the best recordings of 2012 by the New York Times; Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin; a Grammy-nominated recording String Poetic, which features the world premiere of Ms. 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 Martinů and Szymanowski 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 Schoenberg, Schumann 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.
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 10th 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.
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. In a shift of disciplines, Ms. Koh earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from Oberlin College before studying 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. Ms. Koh is the Artistic Director of MusicBridge, a non-profit organization she founded in 2013 to foster and promote collaborations between artists of diverse disciplines and styles. MusicBridge provides leadership and support for innovative music and artistic commissions, educational initiatives, and professional development of classical musicians. MusicBridge exists to build a community of artists working together to expand appreciation for classical music performances and artistry. For more information go to www.musicbridge.org.