New Jersey Star Ledger
By Ben Finane, for the Star-Ledger
January 5, 2007
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Violinist enjoys tackling 'unplayable' concerto

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra

Jennifer Koh is 30 years old, but she's had a long history with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. For this thoughtful violinist, the concerto is a pillar, one whose perspective shifts each time she revisits it.

"It marks how my approach has changed, how I've changed as a musician," says Koh.

After Tchaikovsky completed his Violin Concerto in 1878, it wasn't performed for three years because the then-dedicatee, violinist Leopold Auer, deemed the work "unplayable." More than a century later, the unplayable concerto is played seemingly more often than not.

New Jersey concertgoers have three opportunities this weekend to hear Koh as she joins the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra to perform the Violin Concerto in D Major (Op. 35), under the baton of New York City Opera music director George Manahan. The NJSO will also perform Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F (Op. 93), as well as John Adams' "Shaker Loops."

A champion of new music, Koh finds a thread that binds composers, from Bach and Tchaikovsky to Saariaho and Ligeti. Koh believes new music stretches her technique and imagination by the kinds of sounds that can be created on the instrument, which can then inform her interpretation of, say, the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto.

Speaking to the unplayability of the work, Koh concedes that the concerto is difficult on a technical level, with challenging double stops and passages that require the player to leap around the instrument. But Koh thinks being a good musician is about how well you listen, not how the instrument is approached technically, and any struggles for the soloist must be interpretive rather than technical.

"Whatever the technical difficulties are, you can't let them get in the way; you still have to make music," she says.

Koh sees the concerto as an expansion of chamber music, which she considers the greatest form of making music.

"Having that give and take is one of the most incredible things," Koh explains. "Everyone wants to do as well as they can in bringing a piece together and bringing it to the audience; it's a process that I really look forward to. In a weird sense, what I enjoy most is the process, and the performance is just part of this interaction."

Born in Chicago of Korean parents, Koh resides in New York City. Her latest recording, "Violin Fantasies" (Cedille), features four fantasies by Schubert, Schumann, Schoenberg and Ornette Coleman. As a recitalist, Koh appears frequently at music centers and festivals, including Carnegie Hall, Mostly Mozart, Marlboro and Wolf Trap. This spring she will perform with orchestras throughout the country and in Puerto Rico.

In Newark and Morristown, Koh will also participate in post-concert chats. She welcomes them not just for the instructive value, but as tools to break down barriers between the stage and the audience.

"Music is a living form," says Koh, "started by the composer, continued by the performer, and finished by the listener."

Off the stage, Koh reaches out to schools through her program, Jennifer Koh's Music Messenger, which offers presentations, seminars and master classes for children and young adults. Collaborators have included the New Jersey Youth Symphony.

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