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 introduced 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. This season she introduces the final recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part 3, which explores the idea of development. The program comprises Bach’s Sonata Nos. 2 and 3, Berio’s Sequenza VIII, and John Zorn’s Passagen (later to include a new work by John Harbison). The second recital program performed during the 2011-13 seasons, concentrated on “firsts and beginnings” and included Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1, Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and a newly commissioned partita 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 Ysaÿe, Saariaho, Carter, and Salonen with a video commission by 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 is included as a visual component on her 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 2013-14 season she performs Part 1 in Dusseldorf, Germany, Part 2 at the Napa Valley Opera House, and Part 3 in Aspen, CO and Santa Barbara, CA among other cities. Since the launch of the series, she has performed Bach and Beyond at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Amherst College, for Berkeley’s Cal Performances, at Oberlin College, in Portland (ME), San Francisco, Santa Barbara, at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, Town Hall in Seattle, UNC Chapel Hill, University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, and at the Lammermuir Festival in Scotland. Ms. Koh’s Bach and Beyond series is also being released on three CDs by the Cedille label. The first recording in the series, 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, for the first time, 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 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, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts and for Da Camera 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 lunchtime concerts devoted to the Sonatas and Partitas, also presented by Miller Theatre.
Ms. Koh recently launched another project called 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, perform works for two violins and orchestra including Bach’s Double Concerti for Two Violins, Philip Glass’s Echorus for two violins and string orchestra, Anna Clyne’s Prince of Clouds (premiered in November 2012 with the IRIS Orchestra in Memphis) and David Ludwig’s Seasons Lost (premiered in May 2012 with the Delaware Symphony). In the spring of 2014, Ms. Koh and Mr. Laredo will perform works from Two x Four with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and Alabama Symphony Orchestra. They have previously performed works from Two x Four with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and all four concertos with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC. A recording of Two x Four with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra is scheduled for release by Cedille in the spring of 2014.
Ms. Koh reprises the solo violin role of Einstein in Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach this season with performances in Los Angeles and Berlin. Never before seen in North America outside of New York City until the current tour, Ms. Koh has previously performed Einstein in Ann Arbor with the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan, at Toronto’s Luminato Festival, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. First presented in 2012 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.
In the 2013-14 season, Ms. Koh plays a broad range of concertos that reflect the breadth of her musical interests. She performs Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto for her debut with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel, as well as with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Portland Symphony Orchestra (ME), and Reno Philharmonic. She also plays Barber’s Violin Concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra and Oklahoma City Philharmonic, Berg’s Violin Concerto with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Britten’s Violin Concerto with the Orchestra National de Lorraine, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Hollywood Bowl, and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Shreveport Symphony.
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. This season she returns to Miller Theatre to perform the U.S. premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s Frises for violin and electronics and Bach’s Partita No. 2. Ms. Saariaho’s Frises is directly inspired by Bach’s D minor partita, drawing on Baroque forms while incorporating live electronics to stretch the sounds of the solo violin. In April 2014 at Carnegie Hall, Ms. Koh will perform the New York premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, a concerto for violin with chorus with the New York Choral Society–a work she premiered in 2007 with the commissioning orchestras, 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. In addition to premiering works by Anna Clyne, Phil Kline, and David Ludwig 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 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.
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, 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 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 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.
Ms. Koh brings the same sense of adventure and brilliant musicianship to her recordings as she does to her live performances. Her most recent album, “Signs, Games & Messages” titled after Kurtág’s work, will be her eighth for the Chicago-based Cedille label. The recording, released in October 2013, includes Janácek’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, Bartók’s First Sonata, Kurtág’s Tre Pezzi: Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, and a selection of solo piano and solo violin pieces by Kurtág (two of which involve voicing by Ms. Koh) performed with pianist Shai Wosner. Her other albums on Cedille include 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 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. 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.