Go Memphis
By Jon W. Sparks
November 1, 2012
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Violinists Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh celebrate connections with IRIS orchestra at GPAC

When the IRIS Orchestra performs Saturday night, it will take a risk.

It's always a gamble when a new piece gets its first performance, although considering how much talent is involved, there's a good chance it'll be a sure thing.

The new work on the program is a double violin concerto by Anna Clyne performed by renowned guest artists Jennifer Koh and Jaime Laredo. Saturday's premiere is a portion of the Two x Four project that Koh and Laredo started to celebrate the connections between teacher and student — Laredo taught Koh when she attended the Curtis Institute of Music — as well as how music connects over the generations.

The full project — two artists playing works by four composers — involves the violinists performing Bach's Double Concerto for Two Violins, Philip Glass's "Echorus" for two violins and string orchestra, and newly commissioned pieces by composers Clyne and David Ludwig. Koh and Laredo premiered Ludwig's work, "Seasons," in May with the Delaware Symphony, and on Saturday they'll perform the world premiere of Clyne's work, "Prince of Clouds," along with the Bach Double, accompanied by the IRIS Orchestra, conducted by Michael Stern.

"I came across Anna Clyne's music because I'm always looking for interesting composers," Koh said in an interview. Clyne's 2009 piece "Within Her Arms" immediately got Koh's attention. "As soon as I heard that piece, I found her on a website and e-mailed her." They met for ice cream, started talking and rapidly found they were on the same wavelength.

"The thing about Anna's music is how much it moves me in an emotional, visceral way, speaks to me directly," Koh said. "A lot of times I can clearly tell if a piece is interesting and structurally fascinating, but it's rare for me to be so moved by it."

Eventually, the composer was commissioned to contribute a piece for the Two x Four project.

"The project honors the idea of mentorship between teacher and student," Koh said. "Jaime was my teacher, and I love playing with him, but I wanted to think beyond the performance tradition passed on from teacher to student. I wanted to think of it in larger way, as well — for example, how does Bach's music influence present-day composers?"

The Bach Double thus serves as inspiration for Clyne's piece, which uses the same instrumentation. How it finds inspiration in other ways will be discovered Saturday night by the audience at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre.

The pairing of former student Koh and teacher Laredo evolved naturally.

"He's a generous person and a generous musician in that he always gives space to converse musically," Koh said. "I remember that very clearly as a student. He's said there are times he would never play a piece the way I play it, but he always let me be free to be myself and do that. And because we had that kind of relationship as teacher and student, he made it easy to transition into musical colleagues."

That freedom allows Koh to explore a piece from one performance to the next. "I don't perform the same piece the same way from night to night," she said. "It's breathing and changing in a slightly different way, and there's something beautiful about that. Ideally, there's room to rediscover a piece for yourself, and that's what Anna did as a composer — to make this form her own."

‘Koh and Laredo: Back With Bach’

IRIS Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern with guest artists Jaime Laredo and Jennifer Koh on violin. Works include Elgar’s Serenade in E minor, Op. 20; Bach’s Double Concerto in D-minor, BWV 1043; Anna Clyne, “Prince of Clouds”: Concerto for Two Violins and Strings (world premiere, co-commissioned by IRIS Orchestra); and Mendelssohn’s Octet. 8 p.m. Saturday, Germantown Performing Arts Centre, 1801 Exeter. Tickets: $55. Call 901-751-7500, or go to irisorchestra.com.

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