The American born of Korean parents violinist, Jennifer Koh, began playing the violin by chance, choosing the instrument in a Suzuki-method program only because spaces for cello and piano had been filled. She made her debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age 11. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Oberlin College and went on to study at the Curtis Institute, where she worked extensively with Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. While a student at Oberlin, Koh shared the silver medal at the 1994 Tchaikovsky International Competition, making her a de facto winner at age 17 of the prestigious Moscow-based contest, since no gold medal was awarded. That same year she won the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and in 1995 she was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant.
Jennifer Koh is one of those fearless violinists unafraid to take on the daunting challenge of performing the six J.S. Bach sonatas and partitas on the same recital program or to play difficult and not necessarily audience-friendly contemporary works like the Saariaho Graal Theatre violin concerto. Yet, her risk-taking usually elicits cheers and ovations from audiences and glowing reviews from critics. Koh regularly performs a fairly equal number of concerts as a soloist, chamber player, and recitalist, and, not surprisingly, in a broad and eclectic range of repertoire, of all eras from traditional to contemporary, believing that the past and present form a continuum, taking in mainstream works by Antonio Vivaldi, W.A. Mozart, L.v. Beethoven, Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Ravel, and Prokofiev, and lesser known or contemporary fare by Max Reger, Szymanowski, Menotti, Ruggles, Carter, Lou Harrison, and Jennifer Higdon. She is recognized for her intense, commanding performances, delivered with dazzling virtuosity and technical assurance. With an impassioned musical curiosity, she is forging an artistic path of her own devising, choosing works that both inspire and challenge. She is also committed to exploring connections in the works she performs, searching for similarities of voice among diverse composers and associations within the works of a single composer.
Koh debuted at Carnegie Hall to enthusiatic reviews in November 1995 in a programme of J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Ysaÿe, and César Franck. Since the 1994-1995 season, Jennifer Koh has been heard with leading orchestras and conductors around the world, including the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Montreal Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, New World Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Abroad, she has appeared with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (London), BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Brandenburg Ensemble, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Helsinki Philharmonic, Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Lahti Symphony, Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony, and Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra where she performed the Russian premiere of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto conducted by Valerie Gergiev. A prolific recitalist, Jennifer Koh appears frequently at major music centers and festivals including Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, Castleton, Grant Park, Marlboro, Spoleto, Wolf Trap and The Festival International de Lanaudiere in Canada. She has collaborated with a number of musicians in concert, including violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Christian Poltéra, and pianists Reiko Uchida and Benjamin Hochman.
By the new century Jennifer Koh was firmly established as one of the rising stars among violinists. She debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2003 in an acclaimed performance of the Menotti violin concerto. She regularly received lavish praise from overseas, as well as with her performance of the Nielsen violin concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in February 2005.
The exploration of J.S. Bach’s music and its influence in today’s musical landscape has played an important role in Jennifer Koh’s artistic journey. In 2009, she debuted Bach and Beyond, a series of three recitals that explore the history of the solo violin repertoire from J.S. Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas (BWV 1001-1006) to modern day composers including newly commissioned works. During the 2012-2013 season, Koh performs the second recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part II, which connects J.S. Bach’s Sonata No. 1 and Partita No. 1 (BWV 1001-1002) to Béla Bartók’s Sonata for solo violin and Phil Kline’s Partita for solo violin, a new work that will receive its world premiere as part of Bach and Beyond Part II at The Royal Conservatory in Toronto in November 2012. Koh also performs Bach and Beyond Part II at the 92nd Street Y in New York, Strathmore Hall in Bethesda, MD, Town Hall in Seattle, and for Cal Performances in Berkeley, Caligornia. The first recital in the series, Bach and Beyond Part I, featured J.S. Bach’s Partitas Nos. 2 and 3 (BWV 1004 & BWV 1006) and works by Ysaÿe, Saariaho, Carter, and Salonen with a video commission by Tal Rosner. The short film, a dynamic interpretation of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s work, Lachen Verlernt, was presented at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival and is included as a visual component on her recording “Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin”, released on the Cedille label in 2009. Since the launch of the recital series, Koh has performed Bach and Beyond worldwide, including in New York, San Francisco, Ann Arbor, Santa Barbara, Portland, Maine, at Oberlin College, Amherst College, UNC Chapel Hill, and at the Lammermuir Festival in Scotland.
Jennifer Koh’s Bach and Beyond series will also be released on three CD’s by the Cedille label. The first recording in the series, to be released in October 2012, includes J.S. Bach’s Partitas Nos. 2 and 3 (BWV 1004 & BWV 1006), Ysaÿe’s Sonata No. 2, Saariaho’s Nocturne for Violin and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve O My Heart.
In October 2011, Jennifer Koh performed J.S. Bach’s complete Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006) in a single concert - a feat long considered the ultimate test of a violinist’s command of his/her instrument - presented by Columbia University’s Miller Theatre at the Academy of Arts and Letters. She has since played the complete works at the Castleton Festival in Virginia and at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival in Massachusetts, and this season she performs all six Sonatas and Partitas in a single concert in Houston. Her interpretations of J.S. Bach’s solo works, both in marathon recitals and paired with contemporary pieces, have been praised as thoughtful, intense, energetic and beautifully phrased. In 2009, to commemorate the 325th anniversary of J.S. Bach’s birth, Koh performed a series of concerts devoted to the Sonatas and Partitas, also presented by Miller Theatre. Following her performance of J.S. Bach’s Partita in D Minor (BWV 1004), Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times wrote, “she gave a deeply expressive account of the Chaconne, dispatching the challenges with such security that you did not notice the sheer virtuosity at work. The ovation was so ardent that Ms. Koh, who had been visibly engrossed in her performance, wiped away tears.”
This season (2011-2012), Jennifer Koh launches a new project called Two x Four, celebrating the relationship between teacher and student through music. Named for two violinists and four works, Koh will be joined by Jaime Laredo, her former teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, in performances of works for two violins and orchestra including J.S. Bach’s Double Concerti for Two Violins (BWV 1043), Philip Glass’s Echorus for two violins and string orchestra, and newly commissioned pieces by composers Anna Clyne and David Ludwig. The duo premiered Ludwig’s work, Seasons, with the Delaware Symphony in May 2012 and they perform the world premiere of Clyne’s work, Prince of Clouds, and J.S. Bach’s Double Concerto (BWV 1043) with the IRIS Orchestra conducted by Michael Stern in Memphis in the fall of 2012. Additionally this season, they will perform works from the project with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Harry Bicket (Koh’s subscription debut with the orchestra) and Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and they will perform all four works with the Curtis Chamber Orchestra on tour in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC.
In the 2012-2013 season, Jennifer Koh will play a broad range of concertos that reflect the breadth of her musical interests. She will perform Lutoslawski’s Chain 2: Dialogue for Violin and Orchestra in her New York Philharmonic Orchestra subscription debut conducted by Lorin Maazel, as well as with the London Philharmonic Orchestra led by Esa-Pekka Salonen; both in commemoration of the 2013 centennial of Lutoslawski’s birth. She will also perform B. Bartók’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the Oregon Symphony, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with the Eugene Symphony, Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic, Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with the Winston-Salem Symphony, Westchester Philharmonic and Boulder Philharmonic, and Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
Jennifer Koh is the first female to perform the solo violin role of Einstein in a new production of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. Never before seen in North America outside of New York City, last season she performed Einstein in Ann Arbor with the University Musical Society at the University of Michigan and at Toronto’s Luminato Festival. This fall she will perform Einstein at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and for Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Presented in celebration of Philip Glass’s 75th birthday, the new production is a historic restaging based on the original 1976 version and the first revival with the original creators since 1992.
Jennifer Koh Koh is passionate in her efforts to expand the violin repertoire and has established relationships with many of today’s composers, regularly commissioning and premiering new works. In addition to premiering Anna Clyne’s Double Violin Concerto and Phil Kline’s Partita for solo violin this season and David Ludwig’s Double Violin Concerto in June 2012, in recent seasons she became the only violinist other than Lorin Maazel to perform his Violin Concerto, conducted by Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival and gave the USA premiere of Augusta Read Thomas’s Third Violin Concerto “Juggler in Paradise” with the Houston Symphony Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach, a work she performed in her 2008 PROMS debut with the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. She also premiered Mark Grey’s Mugunghwa with the LA Masterworks Chorale; and Missy Mazzoli’s Dissolve, O My Heart, commissioned for her by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in a concert that also featured Koh with composer/guitarist Steve Mackey in his own piece, Four Iconoclast Interludes with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by John Adams. She also premiered Jennifer Higdon’s The Singing Rooms, a concerto for violin with chorus, with the commissioning orchestras including the Philadelphia Orchestra led by Christoph Eschenbach, the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänskä and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Spano, the latter of which was recorded and released by Telarc in September 2010. In December 2011, she premiered the John Zorn Passagen to great acclaim at the Miller Theater in New York City.
Jennifer Koh has recorded for Cedille, Telarc, BIS, and other major labels. She brings the same sense of adventure and brilliant musicianship to her recordings as she does to her live performances. Among her first recordings were a 1995 BIS CD of the Violin Concerto by Uuno Klami and a 2001 Cedille disc of J.S. Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin (BWV 1004) and solo chaconnes by turn of the century contemporaries by Max Reger and Richard Barth. Bach and Beyond Part I will be her 7th recording for the Chicago-based Cedille label. Her other albums on Cedille include “Rhapsodic Musings: 21st Century Works for Solo Violin”; a Grammy-nominated recording “String Poetic” which features the world premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s work for which the album is named, as well as works by John Adams, Lou Harrison and Carl Ruggles, performed with pianist Reiko Uchida; an acclaimed CD devoted to the complete Robert Schumann violin sonatas (another critical triumph); “Portraits”, a disc featuring the Szymanowski and Martinu violin concertos recorded with the Grant Park Orchunder conductor Carlos Kalmar; a concept album titled “Violin Fantasies” comprising fantasies for violin and piano by Robert Schumann, Arnold Schoenberg and jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman..
Jennifer Koh is on the string faculty of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. A committed educator, she has won high praise for her performances in classrooms around the country under her innovative “Music Messenger” outreach program. Now in its ninth year, the program continues to form an important part of her musical activities. “The majority of children in this country have not been given an opportunity to learn music as a form of self expression,” Jennifer Koh asserts, “and I want to share the experience of creating and listening to music with them.” Her outreach efforts have taken her to classrooms all over the country to perform for thousands of students who have little opportunity to hear classical music in their daily lives. "Music is a visceral experience which can create a positive outlet for emotions and a place for inner expression that is more compelling than time spent in front of the television or at a mall,” she adds. Ms. Koh is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Foundation for the Advancement for the Arts, a scholarship program for high school students in the arts.
Jennifer Koh is grateful to her private sponsor for the generous loan of the 1727 Ex Grumiaux Ex General DuPont Stradivari she uses in performance. She is married to pianist Benjamin Hochman, who occasionally performs with her. The couple were the soloists in the American premiere of the Double Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra, Op. 40, by Lera Auerbach with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrew Constatine on February 13, 2010.