By Burl Burlingame
March 16, 2007
LOOK carefully at this picture. Are you looking at the adorably eager young musician or at the musty old violin? Because Jennifer Koh has only been around since 1976 -- in which time she has become an internationally ranked violinist noted for combining flamboyant intensity with classical poise -- and the violin she saws on is a famous 1727 Stradivarius called "the General DuPont."
Gen. Pierre Dupont de l'Étang, you may recall, was the Napoleon-era military commander notable mainly for surrendering his army at Bailen in 1808 during the Peninsular campaign and later being swept up in the "100 days" entanglements. But he also managed a campaign or two in Italy, where he seems to have picked up a Strad.
(This is not the DuPort Stradivarius, which is a cello anyway, and which
still bears the scars from Napoleon's spurs as he tried to crank out a
More recently, the General DuPont Strad wound up in the capable hands of Belgian violinist Arthur Grumiaux, who died on tour in the 1980s, apparently fiddle in hand.
And the girl?
Koh is back sitting in with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra this week, in the "Deservedly Classic" Masterworks presentation on Friday and Sunday. Rossen Milanov conducts Copland's "Appalachian Spring," Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto and Mozart's Symphony No. 40.
That's a lot of catgut to scratch. Or as Star-Bulletin reviewer Valeria Wenderoth put it in 2005, covering an earlier gig with the Honolulu Symphony, Koh's "easiness and smooth phrasing kept the audience excited. She performed the fast scales and double stops in the Allegro movement with great confidence and energy while delivering the melodies of the slower movements with elegance."
A Korean American born in Chicago, Koh now hails from New York City. She graduated from Oberlin College -- with studies in violin and English literature -- and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she studied under Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir.
Koh has a private sponsor for the loan of the Stradivari she uses in performance.
Thanks to her college majors, Koh maintains an interest in literature as well as music, and often plays in classrooms in her own "Music Messenger" program. "The majority of children in this country have not been given the opportunity to learn music as a form of self-expression," she says, "and I want to share this experience of making and listening to music with them. ... Music is a positive outlet for emotions and is much more creative and constructive than spending hours in a shopping mall."
In addition to the Honolulu gig, Koh is committed to concerts with the Oregon Symphony, Marin Symphony, Spokane Symphony, New Jersey Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Whatcom Symphony, Orchestra 2001, Greenwich Symphony, Tallahassee Symphony and the Annapolis Symphony over the next season.
Her most recent recording, with her frequent partner, pianist Reiko Uchida, is "Schumann: The Sonatas For Violin and Piano."
© 2007 Honolulu Star-Bulletin