Beethoven's 'Fate' symphony meets Mendelssohn and super-violinist Jennifer Koh

Christina Walker
Jennifer Koh will perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic.

Photo by christiana walker

Christina Walker Jennifer Koh will perform the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with the Naples Philharmonic.

It’s Beethoven’s Fifth. And Jennifer Koh’s first.

The head-turning violinist has to vie with one of the best known works in the world when she debuts at Artis—Naples (formerly the Philharmonic Center for the Arts) with the Naples Philharmonic.

But if fate knocks at the door, Koh is ready to answer. She is playing a formidable work herself, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, arguably the best written for the instrument. (What are the others among the top five? See the list on Page 3D.)

It is also in competition for the title of the toughest concerto. But Koh is a tough player. She is currently performing a series of solo concerts around the country, all violin and all Koh — 1 hour and 40 minutes — for her own project, “Bach and Beyond.”

But she took time to honor a Naples student’s request for a master class here, offering a select group of young violinists her time in Daniels Pavilion Wednesday afternoon.

Koh answered questions on her upcoming performance here:

Naples Daily News: At Artis—Naples (formerly the Philharmonic Center for the Arts) you’re performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, which is certainly considered one of the most inspired ever written. The person performing, however, probably sees moments within the concerto they relish as the composer’s most inspired. Where do those moments come for you in this concerto?

Jennifer Koh: I don’t see one particular moment as most inspired — I think the Mendelssohn Concerto in general is in a way the perfect concerto. It’s the perfect length. It’s perfectly constructed, (Regarding some of the innovations Mendelssohn brought, including a second to third movement without pause.) I wouldn’t say that was to deter the audience from applauding between the movements. That custom is one that only developed during the 20th century. It’s just the way he was thinking about the pieces.

If you go

What: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, with solo artist Jennifer Koh, guest conductor Gilbert Varga and the Naples Philharmonic

When: 8 p.m. today, May 2, through Saturday, May 4

Where: Artis—Naples (formerly Philharmonic Center for the Arts), 5833 Pelican Bay Blvd., North Naples

Tickets: $35 to $70

To buy: 239-597-1900 or thephil.org

NDN: Your multi-media project “Bach and Beyond” has possibly inspired a dialogue from music lovers and other violinists as to whose music might best be included as the “beyond.” Have there been a couple of suggestions that have made you want to add another piece or two to your first recording? And have you chosen pieces for another recording?

Koh: “Bach and Beyond” is three parts. Part Two has been happening this season. And Part Three will be happening next season. Its idea is to explore how a composer 300 years ago can still be influencing music today. There has been a new commission for each part, and there’s still a new commission that will be coming in for Part Three by John Harbison.

There are other composers who came to the first “Bach and Beyond” who then wrote their own works based on the music and sent them to me.

It was kind of nice. I got presents!

It’s been friends composers who have gifted me. I might have to continue “Bach and Beyond” even more.

But I haven’t received suggestions (of music that models Bach’s influence) from people in general, no.

NDN: You’ve talked about your solo recitals of “Bach and Beyond” being terrifying before you started them. Are they not also exhausting? By the time you come back to Bach, you have to be physically heading for the wall. How do you keep your energy and enthusiasm at a high plateau for the last work of the recital?

Koh: It’s a very intense process and a solo one. But what’s rewarding to me is that — it’s amazingly touching to see people’s responses to these recitals. When people have spoken to me after recitals, I’ve really been touched by what they’ve said. We have a shared community during these.

(As to whether they’re exhausting) No, not really. The tough part is the work before the recitals. I’m playing the Bach from memory but using music with the new compositions.

NDN: We like to ask guest artists what they’re listening to. What’s in your iPod, or should we now say iPad mini?

Koh: Actually, I haven’t been doing a lot of that lately. I’ve been going to live performances for my music. One I really think is great is the jazz pianist (and composer) Vijay Iyer. He’s being commissioned to write a piece for me and I’m really excited about that.

So I do have his music. The other thing I’m listening to is actually theater: The Royal Shakespeare Co. has a performance of “Julius Caesar” that I’ve been listening to.

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