By Tom Keogh
March 16, 2012
The Seattle Times
The breadth of virtuoso violinist Jennifer Koh's passion for old and new violin repertoire would be disorienting if not for the deliberateness with which she builds bridges between past and present.
The Chicago native, making her debut with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra Thursday, notes on her website she not only believes traditional and cutting-edge music are part of a continuum, she is committed to exploring connections between the very diverse works she performs.
A small sample of her current season's activities bears that out.
Koh's "Bach and Beyond" project is a series of recitals exploring links in solo violin repertoire, from Bach's Six Sonatas and Partitas to music by Ysaÿe and Bartók, and to newly commissioned pieces by, among others, Phil Kline.
(Not content with Bach highlights, last October Koh played all of those unaccompanied sonatas and partitas in an arduous, critically-praised marathon performance in New York.)
In celebration of Philip Glass' 75th birthday this year, Koh has become the first woman to perform the solo violin role of Einstein in Glass' and Robert Wilson's "Einstein On the Beach." She is also premiering two compositions written for her, Missy Mazzoli's "Dissolve, O My Heart" and Jennifer Higdon's "String Poetic."
Koh's Benaroya Hall appearance is built around Johannes Brahms' technically demanding Violin Concerto in D major, first performed in 1879. Seattle Symphony music director Ludovic Morlot will conduct the piece in a program that also includes music by Schubert and Janácek.
In its own way, the Brahms concerto folds together different eras.
"I absolutely love the concerto," says Koh by phone from New York.
"Compositionally, Brahms looks to the past and integrates it into his writing. There's an incredible juxtaposition of lyricism and rhythmic complexity. If you slow it down, there are parts that sound exactly like Bach. I'm drawn to really great music, whether from history or written yesterday. For me it's wanting to work with compelling music I believe in and want to share."
Koh says her openness to new musical vistas encourages a fresh approach to something as familiar as the Brahms concerto.
"Part of my philosophy is to strip away any viewpoint you had before.
I want to look at a score and believe there are a billion ways to play it. It's limitless. You have wisdom from experience and study, but in a way, it's about making yourself a child again, open to every possibility."
© 2012 The Seattle Times