4Q’s: Koh-laborating on Classical Violin

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 26, 2018
Violinist Jennifer Koh performs at St. Anthony’s Chapel (photo by Juergen Frank)

Violinist Jennifer Koh has brought her three-part “Bach and Beyond” and the cutting edge “Bridge to Beethoven” recital series to Hahn Hall for several concerts with UCSB Arts & Lectures over the years. Now, the fearless fiddler is returning to town with her most ambitious endeavor to date: “Shared Madness”, a set of 30 short pieces for solo violin created by her colleagues for free to pay back the benefactors who helped her pay for her valuable instrument – who, coincidentally, she met at Hahn Hall when asked for an autograph following her first concert at the theater. At her request, the commissions explore the theme of virtuosity for the violin in the 21st century, however that arose for the various authors, a list that reads like a “Who’s who” of contemporary classical composers.

Koh performs half of the new works at 7 pm Friday, April 27, at St. Anthony’s Chapel, 2300 Garden Street. Call 893-3535 or visit www.ArtsAndLectures.UCSB.edu.

Q. How did you choose which composers to ask to create pieces for you? Or was it just everyone you knew?

A. I went to all of the ones I had worked with previously. In a sense, they feel like my community of collaborators as well as my friends. Almost all of them said “yes” right away. They were so incredibly generous that I was really moved. It was very hectic at the premiere in New York in 2016, because I’d never done a project with so many composers. It’s okay to cut it close with a single sonata or a concerto. But this was more than 30 people. Some did it on time, but many didn’t, turning them in less than 24 hours before the concert. So, it was kind of crazy. I remember thinking I should call my next project “Calm and On Time”.

How did you hit upon the idea of exploring modern virtuosity?

It grew out of thinking about the past and the present in “Bach and Beyond”. For most violinists, virtuosity is still defined by Paganini’s 24 Caprices, which are from the 1800s. That’s a really long time ago. The world is a very different place now. I’m already ambivalent about the definition of the concept, so I wanted to see what might happen. What came out in the pieces is that because they knew me as a player and human being, a lot of them were exploring concepts like extended technique, or humor, while others are fast and challenging. Some directly approached Bach, because that’s how they knew me. Quite a few said there were engaging with the idea of phrasing, that virtuosity is beyond conquering the physical challenges on the violin. The main content was expressivity and poeticism.

Meaning the player’s personality? Or something else?

I’m consolidating everybody’s ideas into one, but it’s something like “How do you completely embody being a musician?” In the 1800s, most people played an instrument, and they understood how difficult it was to play fingered octaves or thirds. The relationship to listeners is different now, after MP3s and computers and modern technology. For example, Gabe Kahane asked me what was the most terrifying thing for me, which is public speaking. So, his piece is a mono-drama, where I have to talk all the way through. It pushed me to a new place, and now I’m a lot more comfortable with it…. Life is all about context.

It’s fairly unusual to have only new music for an entire concert. Do you have concerns the audience may not follow?

I hope not. I want it to become more usual. (Laughs). I do run through the pieces almost nonstop, so people have the experience without any preconceived notion about the composers they like or don’t. There’s an order, but it can be difficult to parse the end of one piece and the beginning of another, which also went into the programming decision. It might be a key that relates, or a way to create a journey or an experience. They can ask me later if they want to know more.

Classical Corner

The Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra (SBCO) supposedly played its final concert mid-year 2017 after its foray for better financing fell far short of the goal. But the ensemble apparently wasn’t ready to go gently into the night. The Lobero Theatre Foundation has embarked on a new collaboration with the SBCO to keep the music playing, still under the aegis of 35-year veteran maestro Heiichiro Ohyama, who will conduct a smaller ensemble featuring many of the SBCO’s musicians in a first foray for the new venture on Friday, April 27. The 7:30 pm program features frothy stuff: Jacques Ibert’s Divertissement, Copland’s Appalachian Spring (Suite for 13 instruments), and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings Op. 48. Details at 963-0761 or www.lobero.com.

Joyce DiDonato stars as the title character in Massenet’s Cendrillon (Cinderella), the final Live in HD transmission of the Met Opera’s 2017-18 season on Saturday morning, April 28. The composer’s sumptuous take on the classic story is actually appearing at the Met for the first time, with a cast that also features Alice Coote as Prince Charming, Kathleen Kim as the feisty fairy godmother, and Stephanie Blythe as the imperious Madame de la Haltière. Bertrand de Billy conducts the orchestra for Laurent Pelly’s imaginative storybook production. Screen time is 9:55 am at the Metro 4 Cinema, 618 State Street. Tickets are $20. Call 965-7684 or visit www.metrotheatres.com/location/2274/Metro-4. (Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall hosts an encore screening at 2 pm on Sunday, May 13).

Double Dose of Dance: Ballet & Brazilian

Santa Barbara Festival Ballet’s spring showcase of classical and contemporary ballet features choreography by artistic director Aimee Lopez and Valerie Huston, who is also on the UCSB Dance faculty, plus the debut of Letters Never Sent, choreographed and danced by senior company member Tamar Cohen. Also appearing are guests from State Street Ballet Young Dancers, Opus I, and the UCSB Freshman Dance Company. Former longtime Festival Ballet artistic director Denise Rinaldi will also showcase excerpts from her new children’s ballet, The Magic Toy Shoppe. Show times are 3 and 7 pm on Saturday, April 28, at Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo.

The following day brings the Bahia Magia Dance Company to the black-box theater’s stage in a vivid celebration of the rich history of Brazilian culture through acrobatic Capoeira demonstrations, live Brazilian percussion and drumming ensemble, Orixa dances, traditional African-Brazilian dances, a stick fight dance of resistance, and contemporary African-Brazilian dance pieces. Performances are at 2 pm and 6 pm on Sunday, April 29, with a reception with complimentary appetizers and beverages served one hour prior to the evening show. Tickets are $30 general, $15 children, for the matinee, $40 and $20 at 6. Call 963-0408 or visit www.CenterStageTheater.org.

Revels’ Pole-r Party

Dance duos with music at the Santa Barbara Revels‘s ninth annual May Day celebration at Paseo Nuevo’s Center Court on Tuesday, May 1. The 4 to 6 pm mini-fest features the Revels Chorus led by music director Erin McKibben in special spring songs, the Revels Dancers performing “Prince William,” a favorite English Country dance, plus guest guitarist Josh Jenkins joining McKibben, who also sings and plays flute for a few selections, and members of the Santa Barbara Sheriff Pipe & Drum Corps playing a number of Irish tunes that anticipate the theme of this year’s winter production of The Christmas Revels. Everyone is invited to join in singing seasonal songs and learning a traditional English Country dance, and there are free flowers available to make garlands, nosegays, and wreaths before the afternoon culminates in the traditional maypole ritual that finds two circles of participants walking in opposite directions around the maypole, holding colorful ribbon streamers and creating intricate patterns as they weave to the inside and then the outside of each other. Free admission. Visit www.santabarbararevels.org.

Going Rogue: UCSB Scores Famed Film Composer

In late 2016, Michael Giacchino scored Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first film in the Star Wars canon not composed by the legendary Hollywood hero John Williams. But it’s not as if the dude just walked in off the street. Giacchino’s credits include Pixar’s animated blockbusters Up, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Inside Out, and Coco, Disney’s Zootopia, the live-action hits, Jurassic World and Super 8, plus two installments each in the Mission: Impossible, Planet of the Apes, and Star Trek series. His canon also boasts scores to TV’s Lost, Alias, and Fringe and the video games series Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. The Grammy, Emmy, and Oscar winner is coming to UCSB’s Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall at 7:30 pm Wednesday, May 2, to speak about his career and lead a Q&A session hosted by UCSB Music’s Dr. Jon Nathan – though, alas, there’s no orchestral offering. Admission is free; reservations are recommended. Visit www.music.ucsb.edu or call 893-2064.


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