Star Tribune
By Larry Fuchsberg, Special to the Star Tribune
January 23, 2010
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Bach and beyond

Jennifer Koh mashes up Bach and newer music in a St. Paul recital with cellist Anssi Karttunen.

Jennifer Koh loves Bach.

"I've been doing all of Bach's sonatas and partitas in New York this year," said the busy young recitalist and recording artist, who has won superlatives from critics ("gutsy," "deeply expressive," "fearless" and "sensitive"). "For me, everything feels like it's coming from Bach."

Yet Koh's latest CD, "Rhapsodic Musings," on the Cedille label, is all about new music, including works for solo violin composed in this century by John Zorn, Augusta Read Thomas and Esa-Pekka Salonen.

For a Twin Cities concert on Tuesday, Koh will balance old and older in an ingenious musical menu -- a Bartok hors d'oeuvre followed by three savory duos from the 1920s, all layered between slices of Bach's "Art of the Fugue"-- that is itself a work of art. Her recital, with Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, is being presented by the Schubert Club at Hamline University in St. Paul.

Born in Chicago, Koh was an English major before settling on music as a career. She was trained at the Oberlin Conservatory and the Curtis Institute and is now based in New York. Since placing second in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow 15 years ago, she has appeared with many leading orchestras, including those in Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York.

The congenial, reflective and articulate musician sketched the program's origins: "Anssi and I had known each other from afar. We connected because I had been playing [Finnish composer] Kaija Saariaho's Violin Concerto, and he came to New York to premiere her Cello Concerto. I told him I admired his work and he said the same. We decided to get together and read, and out of that we chose pieces that spoke to us.

"We discovered this incredible duo by Hanns Eisler, which I've never heard live," continued Koh by phone from Vancouver, British Columbia, where she was playing Bartok with the Vancouver Symphony. "It has that nostalgic character I associate with the Second Viennese School. I'm thrilled we're doing it."

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