UCSB Arts & Lectures will sponsor a recital and video presentation by the phenomenally talented and fascinating young violinist Jennifer Koh at 8 p.m. Tuesday in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West.
Koh has reviewers falling all over themselves in a scramble for new superlatives, blowing ecstatic kisses at both the passionate intensity of her playing and the uncanny appropriateness of what she chooses to play. Her rise to super-stardom has taken on something of the steady, accelerating brilliance of a comet’s approach.
Her program at Hahn Hall, which she calls “Bach and Beyond,” is comprised of six works for solo violin: the Partita No. 3 in E-Major, BWV 1006 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); the Sonata No. 2 in A-Minor, Opus 27, No. 2 by Eugene Ysaÿe (1858-1931); the Nocturne “In memory of Witold Lutoslawski” by Kaija Saariaho (born in 1952); a Fantasy “Remembering Roger” by Elliott Carter (born in 1908); the Concerto for Solo Violin “Lachen verlernt” by Esa-Pekka Salonen (born in 1958); and Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D-Minor, BWV 1004.
Except for the two Bach Partitas, each of the works on the schedule makes reference to at least one other composer or musician. The six sonatas in Ysaÿe’s Opus 27 were written for and dedicated to other, younger violinists. No. 2 is for Jacques Thibaud, who was a baroque specialist and owned both a Bergonzi and a Stradivarius.
In addition, Ysaÿe liberally quotes here from the Bach work that immediately precedes him on this program. (More connections: Koh plays a Stradivarius, which was formerly owned by Arthur Grumiaux, the incomparable compatriot of Ysaÿe, who was a pupil of Georges Enescu, the dedicatee of Ysaÿe’s Opus 27, No. 3.)
Saariaho — her name is pronounced exactly as written — is a Finnish composer who has concentrated mainly on chamber music, though she has been recently working on a larger scale and has, in fact, produced three operas. Most writers who know her work say her main influences are the “spectral music” composers Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail (“spectral” here refers to a sonic spectrum, rather than ghosts or wraiths), but the subject of the Nocturne suggests considerable admiration for the late, great Pole.
The “Roger” that Carter’s Fantasy remembers is the hugely influential composer and professor Roger Sessions (1896-1985). Carter says of his colleague: “Deeply convinced of the power of music and his own compositional direction, Roger Sessions was one of the most interesting and widely cultivated persons I have known. His music always impressed me, so when he kindly offered to look over some of my early scores, I was greatly flattered. However, I never studied with him. As composers-in-residence in Berlin in 1964, I came to appreciate how his convictions were combined with charm and humor. In this Fantasy for solo violin, written in April 1999 for Rolf Schulte, I have tried to honor Sessions in my own way.”
Salonen, of course, is well-known to Southern California music lovers, though more in his capacity as conductor than composer. The title of his solo concerto, Laughter Unlearned, comes from the ninth movement of Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire: “Pierrot! My laughter have I unlearned/O once more give me, healer of spirits/Snowman of lyrics/Monarch of moonshine/Pierrot, my laughter!”
Salonen found this prayer “a very moving metaphor of a performer: a serious clown trying to help the audience to connect with emotions they have lost, or believe they have lost.” “Lachen Verlernt,” he continues, “is essentially a Chaconne, which in this case means that there is a harmonic progression that repeats itself several times. The harmony remains the same throughout the whole piece; only the surface, the top layer of the music, changes.” The piece was written for and dedicated to Cho-Liang Lin, who is also no stranger to Santa Barbara audiences.
To accompany her playing of Salonen’s work, Koh commissioned a video from artist Tal Rosner, and it will be shown during her performance.
Tickets to Koh’s performance are $30 for the public and $18 for UCSB students, and can be obtained by calling UCSB Arts & Lectures at 805.893.3535. Click here to purchase tickets online.
— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor. He can be reached at email@example.com.