Award-winning violinist Jennifer Koh finds herself busy with a demanding, international schedule. Koh is not just performing the standard repertoire–she is devoting many concerts to new works, many of which she commissioned. I CARE IF YOU LISTEN managed to catch up with Koh and asked her five questions about her “New American Concerto” commissioning project and some of her views on diversity and cultural awareness in music.
You have a big premiere coming up in May. Tell us a bit about the new work and the composer, Chris Cerrone.
We’ll see what it actually sounds like during our first rehearsal in May! I have a concept of what new works will sound like by studying the score, but truthfully, the idea in my mind always transforms a bit when the music is finally embodied and played with others. I came to know Chris’ work through a piano piece of his that I heard in Los Angeles, and subsequently asked him to write a piece for Shared Madness.
This premiere is part of a larger project that you have initiated. Could you tell us about the “New American Concerto” project and some of its goals?
Essentially, The New American Concerto project is about creating a collection of new concerti for violin that would both engage the traditional form of violin concerti and also challenge that form. I wanted to create a commissioning initiative that would reflect the country that I live in, and the individual and collective experiences of both composers and myself.
Why the specific focus on the concerto form?
I find the violin concerto a particularly interesting form because violin is simultaneously the solo instrument and largest section in the orchestra, which is very compelling. It gives composers the space to think about the role of the violin soloist in relation to two sections of violin in an orchestra, as well as what is unique about a solo violin in conversation with, or in opposition to, a majority of itself.
Can you discuss the highlights of some of your previous commissioning projects?
I feel grateful for the artistic collaborators and human beings that I have been lucky enough to work with. My first big initiative was Bach and Beyond, which explores the history of solo violin works from Bach’s time to present day. But the preparation and collaborations behind Shared Madness, Limitless–which exemplifies the relationship between composer and performer through duo performances–and The New American Concerto Project are experiences that were enlightening, moving, and life-changing.
How do you see music fitting in with the current national discourse on diversity, gender inclusiveness and cultural awareness?
I believe that my job as a musician is to imagine the world that I want to live in, and then create that world through projects. Most of my projects simply reflect the world that I see right now. As a woman, and a person of color, I want to advocate for inclusivity and diversity. I don’t want to miss out and contribute to a massive loss of human talents, voices, and stories that would happen if we, in classical music, do not advocate for inclusivity.