1. The New American Concerto

    What is America today? How can the field of classical music draw upon the cultural richness contained within our diverse country? How can we engage in a cultural dialogue that strengthens classical music through a multiplicity of experience? True representation of today’s America on our stages has the potential to inspire and motivate the next generation of musicians and audiences. There is space in our world for all of us and for all of our stories.

    THE NEW AMERICAN CONCERTO project seeks to engage with and reflect the diversity of America through the traditional form of the violin concerto. It seeks to represent America today. Each composer has been invited to draw upon their own personal experiences related to contemporary issues of today through the form of the violin concerto. The project is thus not only about broader cultural ideas, but also about exploring the unique power of this centuries-old form to speak to us in the 21st century.

    ─Jennifer Koh

    The New American Concerto
    Jennifer Koh (Photo: Courtesy Ojai Festival)

    The New American Concerto is violinist Jennifer Koh’s multi-season commissioning project that explores the form of the violin concerto and its potential for artistic engagement with contemporary societal concerns and issues. The goal for this project is to curate a diverse collective of composers to focus on socio-cultural topics that are both personally meaningful and particularly relevant to American life today through the form of the violin concerto.

    Koh invites composers to view their subjects through the lens of violin and orchestra and asks them to-examine conventional assumptions about the musical form of concerto. Is the soloist a typical “hero” as the role was defined in the Romantic Era of Classical music or does the soloist engage with earlier forms of concerti such as concerto grosso? How can composers play with the idea of one against many while being a part of the larger organism of the orchestra? THE NEW AMERICAN CONCERTO both re-examines the origins of the concerto form while seeking to establish a new form for the 21st Century. The fluctuating dynamic between the individual and group is a ripe metaphor and the composers of THE NEW AMERICAN CONCERTO, carefully curated by Koh are especially equipped to tap into the concerto’s expressive potential.

    During the 2017-18 season, THE NEW AMERICAN CONCERTO includes concertos by composers Vijay Iyer and Christopher Cerrone.


    VIYER: Trouble for violin and chamber orchestra (World Premiere)


    Workshop with Oberlin Students


    Vijay Iyer’s Trouble—co-commissioned by the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances in Berkeley, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra—explores the issues of discrimination and the immigrant experience, frequent topics of conversation between Koh and the composer in recent years. Koh and Iyer have grappled with problematic attitudes towards race—exacerbated by the current political climate and high-profile injustices—and they wanted to find a way to tackle the difficult subject matter of racial violence through music. The work’ musically creates a journey that contains birth, realization, an elegy for Vincent Chin, and gathering of a multitude of voices within the ensemble with the violin leading the call to assemble. Trouble contains a movement dedicated to the Chinese-American man, Vincent Chin, who was beaten to death in Detroit in 1982 while being accused of stealing jobs for being Japanese.  Koh was 5 years old and remembers this as one of the first Asian-American political movements in her life.  The third movement of the work is dedicated to Vincent Chin. The world premiere of this work was given two weeks before the 35th anniversary of his death.


    Christopher Cerrone’s violin concerto, commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, explores the impact of technology in transforming the way we think and live our lives. Among Cerrone’s inspirations for exploring this subject is the city of Detroit itself, situated in the Rust Belt region where workers in many industries have seen their jobs threatened by advances in technology. The concerto engages with the tension between automation and manual labor, as well as its human consequences. The music also reflects on how our patterns of thought are influenced by an increasingly “plugged-in” world, from 24/7 surveillance to unending streams of tweets and texts.

    May 25–27, 2018 Detroit, MI — World Premiere
    Detroit Symphony Orchestra / Leonard Slatkin, conductor

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