The Daily Tar Heel
By Abby Gerdes
April 13 & 18, 2011
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Violinist Jennifer Koh talks art, performance

With a respected technical excellence and a reputation for being creatively daring, Jennifer Koh has become an internationally renowned violinist. Her album, “String Poetic,” was nominated for a Grammy in 2008. Known for reimagining similarly constructed songs to revive past compositions, Koh will perform a number of works in her first visit to Memorial Hall.

Staff writer Abby Gerdes sat down with Koh to discuss art, outreach and the experience of performing solo.

Daily Tar Heel: Describe what it feels like to be on stage alone.

Jennifer Koh: This program, it’s one of the most naked programs possible … but it’s also one of the most intimate journeys you can take with an audience, and there is something really beautiful about that.

DTH: You’ve played in a multitude of symphonies. How is a solo performance different for you?

JK: Playing in a symphony, there is something powerful about being a small part of something greater than yourself. What is different about a very intimate solo violin recital is that it’s still about being a part of something greater than yourself, but in a much more esoteric way. You are carrying out music that was around over 300 years ago, so you become a small part of that process.

DTH: Why did you first start exploring the connections between past and present pieces?

JK: That’s just the way my brain works, and I’ve always liked programming thematically.

It just seemed natural. Contemporary music creates a thread to the past: Being alive in this time period, we don’t necessarily relate to the social circumstances of when Bach was alive, but you can reach that place by making connections through music ­— and in many ways that makes music of the past seem more relevant.

DTH: Your new CD, “Rhapsodic Musings,” includes a video aspect by Tal Rosner. In what ways have you seen your art become more complex?

JK: What’s exciting is that I’ve always loved working with other artists, so it’s about continuing a conversation into a different genre. It just felt like a natural progression: having a conversation with the screen.

DTH: You do a lot of work sharing music with children. Could you tell me a little bit more about your Music Messenger project?

JK: The arts should be an integral part of any students education. I wanted to reach out to parts of the community.

Music is such an organic part of who I am as a human being, so it became something I wanted to share with kids.

DTH: You said in the program notes that “Bach and Beyond” is an attempt to form a connection from the past into the future. Can you tell me a bit more about what the audience should expect?

JK: There are all these different layers in which the music goes from light to dark and back into light, so there is a kind of journey, but there is also the idea of changing how we listen to music.

DTH: What do you hope people will take away from the performance?

JK: I guess its about just reconnecting — the video in the program is about having forgotten to laugh. It’s this beautiful metaphor about teaching us to connect to emotions that we believe we have forgotten. I think that’s the whole purpose.

DTH: Tell me about Bach.

JK: There is something about Bach that’s amazing. What’s nice about this program is that through its course it changes how you hear and how you play.

It still feels as though God came down and wrote through his hands — there is something so transcentident about it. The ending piece is about the human struggle to find peace.

There is a theory that Bach was away traveling and didn’t hear about his wife’s death until he returned.

It’s a memorial and you can kind of hear his struggle to find peace. I often think that its one of the most incredible pieces ever written they don’t even know if it was ever performed during his lifetime, so there is something so personal about it.

Jennifer Koh performs at Memorial Hall this Thursday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for students, and $20 to $55 for the general public.

© 2011 The Daily Tar Heel

© Jennifer Koh, All Rights Reserved. Photography by Juergen Frank. Site by ycArt design studio