Artist Interview: Jennifer Koh, violin

By Erik Petersons on February 18, 2013

Curtis-made violinist Jennifer Koh is forging a unique artistic path.  Dedicated to performing repertoire from all eras from traditional to contemporary, she is known for exploring the connections between works.  As she puts it–“searching for similarities of voice among diverse composers and associations within the works of a single composer.”  With this mission driving her creative programing, Jennifer launched a new project called “Two x Four,” which celebrates the relationship between teacher and student through music.  On Monday, March 11th at the Perelman Theater, Jennifer will perform with her former teacher, Jaime Laredo, and the Curtis Chamber Orchestra.  She sat down with us recently to discuss this special program and the artists she is collaborating with.

Erik Petersons: After your performance with pianist Shai Wosner in January, you will appear a second time on our series with Jaime Laredo and the Curtis Chamber Orchestra in March with a program entitled “Two x Four.”  Describe how this program came about and what inspired it.

Jennifer Koh: I am very happy to return to Philadelphia with Jaime and the Curtis Chamber Orchestra for “Two x Four” because my years living in Philly, studying with Jaime at Curtis inspired this project!  (Jaime and I first began playing the Bach Double together while I was still his student at Curtis.)  The idea that would become “Two x Four” began to take shape after that initial experience because the Bach became a conversation between two different generations of violinists.  We were speaking the same language because Jaime was my teacher and mentor, but there was also the sense of transformation from one generation to the next. “Two x Four” was about continuing the thread of musical conversation between different generations of composers and also expanding that idea of time through this process. So basically “Two x Four” is about mentorship but also is about transcending time through music.

EP: What is the process like in commissioning and working with your close friend, David Ludwig, and then also with Anna Clyne as well, to compose new works for two violins and orchestra?  How much of a role do you take in the compositional development?

JK: I initially spoke with both David and Anna about “Two x Four” over 3 years ago. Raising funds for commissions and finding the right partners can literally take many years!  I've know David since our days together at Marlboro many years ago and I got to know Anna through her music three years ago and since then we have become close friends!  I was less involved in working with David on his piece. Anna and I worked very closely together after her first draft. We both trust each other implicitly and I think that has led us to work closely together in all ways!

EP: Tell me about your relationship with Jaime Laredo.  What is it like to work with your former teacher, now colleague on this project? 

JK: I love Jaime. I will always be grateful to him.  When I was his student, he believed in me and supported me as a musician and human being before I believed in myself.  And now, as partners in "Two x Four," he still inspires me through his incredibly generous music making.

EP: Having studied at Curtis, what are your thoughts about performing this work with the Chamber Orchestra?

JK: I cannot wait!  First of all, I am thrilled to meet and hear the next generation of Curtis musicians! I am very happy that Jaime and I (both Curtis graduates) will be playing another Curtis graduate's piece–David Ludwig's "Seasons Lost".

EP: You have a strong commitment to education through your “Music Messenger” outreach program which has taken you into classrooms all over the country to share you music with students who have little opportunity to hear classical music.  What drives your interest in working with students?  What do you hope they take away from the experience?

JK: I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to be exposed to music by my parents. I cannot imagine my life without music and it literally has become a metaphor for how I live my life. I want to share this very visceral and personal form of communication with as many people as possible and that includes people that do not necessarily know about it!  For me, children should have every possible opportunity to discover everything in the world that can make life more beautiful. Music has given my life great meaning and I just wanted to share the love I have of it with them.

Jennifer Koh appears on Monday, March 11th at 8 PM at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.  For tickets and information, visit the concert page or call the PCMS Box Office at 215.569.8080.