Jennifer Koh Releases Bach & Beyond Part II

By Stephanie Powell

Two-thirds of the way complete, the second installment of violinist Jennifer Koh’s three-part series, Bach & Beyond, Part II, will be released May 12.

The album series, which features solo violin “firsts” by J.S. Bach, Bela Bartok and Kaija Saariaho, stemmed from an introspective yearning to examine Bach’s influence on contemporary repertoire.

“For me, most of these ideas for programs come out of my own questions,” Jennifer Koh says of her three-part series’ origin. “I was absolutely terrified of performing solo Bach in public and—in fact I’m still terrified—it led me to question why.

“There’s such a weight to those works and that also led me to ask a larger question: How is it possible that works that have been written over 30 years ago are still considered somewhat the pinnacle of solo violin-writing? Then, there was the question of how that has influenced composition throughout history for solo violin.”


Bach & Beyond, Part 2 includes Bach’s first work for solo violin, Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, BWV 1001, Partita No. 1 in B Minor, BWV 1002; Bartók’s first and only work for solo violin, Sonata for Solo Violin Sz. 117, BB 124; and the world-premiere recording of Kaija Saariaho’s Frises, her first large-scale work for solo violin and electronics.

“The emphasis is really about exploring beginnings,” says Koh, over the phone while enjoying a seemingly seldom sunny day in New York. “It’s about the kernel of who we become in the end.”

It’s also about linking contemporary works to the classics. Bach and Beyond, Part II is bookeneded by Bach, which was a very conscious decision on Koh’s part. It creates a compelling juxtaposition, she says, listening to contemporary music can change the way a listener perceives Bach.

“It’s about opening with Bach, going through this journey throughout time, and returning to Bach—returning home to this classical work.”

Saariaho’s Frises, which Koh had the honor or giving its US premiere in February, includes compositional elements of Bach, she notes, but also incorporates electronics, which adds another dimension to the sonic capabilities. An admitted “Luddite,” working with electronics stretched Koh and changed the way she perceived sound, she says.

“I was used to my tactile relationship with the violin,” she says, “and that shifted because I really had to listen to how it was being processed through the electronics, which I thought was really fascinating. I found it really inspiring.”

Watch a video interview with Koh discussing the project.