Classical violin star Jennifer Koh uses her rising fame to advocate for new music and reaching new listeners | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Classical violin star Jennifer Koh uses her rising fame to advocate for new music and reaching new listeners


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Violinist Jennifer Koh, who was born and raised in the Chicago area, is that rare rising classical music star with fluency in both standard repertoire and new music. Her most recent album, Tchaikovsky: Complete Works for Violin and Orchestra (Cedille), follows on the heels of her eclectically curated recordings with bracing readings of work by living composers such as Kaija Saariaho, Anna Clyne, and John Zorn. She’s an artist with an abiding sense of community and has worked diligently to break down the barriers that often separate composers from performers by designing programs and commissioning music with a heightened awareness of those roles. In her upcoming “Limitless” duo performances in New York, she’ll tear down the walls completely, playing with composers including synth player Missy Mazzoli and percussionist Nina Young. As much as Koh wants to push contemporary music forward, she also thinks about how to serve and expand audiences—not just by getting more bodies in seats but by engaging potential listeners without lecturing them. The two solo concerts she gives this weekend reflect her commitment to advocating new work: she’ll perform pieces from Shared Madness, which includes 34 new commissions from respected voices like Philip Glass, Augusta Read Thomas, and Frederic Rzewski; exciting younger voices like Andrew Norman, Daníel Bjarnason, and Zosha Di Castri; and composers working across genres like Vijay Iyer, Gabriel Kahane, and Bryce Dessner. Usually Koh comes to town to perform programs of standard rep, and it’s exciting that she’s visiting to introduce local listeners to a raft of music that’s never been performed in the area.   v

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