Baroque in the modern world

Jennifer Koh combines contemporary and classical music in one performance


On Thursday Jan. 29, a packed audience listened to the echoing strings of a violin floating out from behind the stage, patiently waiting for the violinist to emerge. The woman behind the crisp, vivid notes was world-renowned violinist Jennifer Koh.

Koh has worked with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. She performed “Bach and Beyond Part III” Thursday as the guest of honor at Lippes Concert Hall in Slee Hall. Koh’s performance of “Bach and Beyond Part III”, a combination of baroque and contemporary renditions of Bach’s timeless music, was part of the final program of “Bach and Beyond,” a series she began in 2009.

A master class with Koh was scheduled for the night before, but it was canceled due to flight delays.

After gliding smoothly on stage, Koh got into position and began to play Bach’s Sonata No.2 in A Minor, BWV 1003. The first two movements “Grave” and “Fuga” were somber and deeply emotional pieces, while “Andante” and “Allegro,” the final two movements, were lighter and offset the first two.

At the conclusion of the first movement, it was clear Koh didn’t just command the stage; she graced it.

Koh’s performance also featured Luciano Berio’s “Sequenza for Solo Violin” and John Zorn’s “Passagen.” Berio and Zorn, contemporary composers influenced by Bach, implement his techniques into their pieces.

Throughout the evening, Koh’s control of the bow was swift and deliberate and her body movements mirrored the strength of her violin’s sound.

While addressing the audience before her performance of “Sequenza for Solo Violin,” Koh said the program was meant to show “the act of development and who we are to become,” referring to a musician’s journey to become a performer.

“I have a preference for contemporary, but I’ve been listening to a lot of Bach and [to have] it all come together in a great way here … it was excellent,” said Randy Tanner, an audience member with a master’s degree in music.

After a brief intermission, Koh returned to the stage to perform the final part of the program, Bach’s Sonata No.3 in C Major, BWV 1005. Her execution of the complex notes of “Adagio” and “Fuga” was effortless.

UB alum Gerry Goldberg, Mike Moses and Cynthia Weber said Koh’s performance surpassed their expectations. They were especially impressed by the marriage of old and new music throughout the show.

“It gave a good insight on how artists today are being influenced by artists that were creating music in the 18th century,” Weber said.

Koh’s performance has been two centuries in the making and the audience loved it.

Through Koh’s blending of baroque and contemporary music in “Bach and Beyond,” it became clear the works of earlier composers and musicians are alive today, as long as an innovator like Koh is around to play them.