Sioux City Journal
By Bruce Miller
September 27, 2014
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Review: with Sioux City Symphony, violinist Koh up to task of Sibelius concerto

SIOUX CITY | It takes a strong work ethic to tackle something like Jean Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D Minor.

Rough, rugged and full of precarious runs, the piece is basically an obstacle course for a violinist.

Thankfully, Jennifer Koh was more than up to the challenge Saturday night, confidently forging through the speed and depth of Sibelius’ work.

Wearing a magenta strapless gown (presumably because sleeves would just get in the way), she showed fans of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra that music isn’t necessarily meant to calm or comfort. It’s a test, too, of what one can do – and master.

Letting the audience into her special world, she owned every moment of the piece, bouncing with its first section, battling with its second and embracing its third.

The orchestra, basically, just gave her moments of brief pause. Sibelius didn’t provide other instruments the same kind of workout, save for an echo here or crescendo there. As if realizing audiences might not appreciate all of the anger and the fire, the composer created an end that, while showy, doesn’t belong with the rest of his rather dark creation. Still, Koh sold it, making this peek into her world a welcome one.

Technically brilliant, the young violinist also has great stage presence and an affinity for the music that immediately resonates. In the orchestra’s season opener, she proved hard work does, indeed, pay off.

In the concert’s second half, those complementary musicians got their own workout with Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1.

Similarly dark – and rugged – it offered a more straightforward look at life – from the dawning of a day (and the sprightly awakening) to a darker, more challenging funeral march.

Mahler’s piece is more accessible for most listeners because it has themes that are immediately recognizable. It also does some early sampling (“Frere Jacques,” anyone?) and offers those swelling moments we come to associate with orchestras.

Ryan Haskins’ bunch was prepped and ready, providing moments that were just as inspiring as Koh’s. From those first trumpet sounds offstage, it was clear the Sioux City musicians, too, were in command and ready for whatever might come their way.

The 99th year started with great promise.

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