Video: Violinist Jennifer Koh on Creating a Diverse, Thriving Classical Music Future

By Keegan Morris |

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Violinist Jennifer Koh performing in WFMT's Levin Performance Studio

Violinist Jennifer Koh performs in WFMT's Levin Performance Studio

Violinist Jennifer Koh visited WFMT for a Facebook live broadcast. Koh shared two contrasting works — the "Sarabande" from Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor and "Kinski Paganini," by Missy Mazzoli, who was recently named the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's Mead Composer-in-Residence. Mazzoli's composition was a part of Koh's 2016 project, Shared Madness, a collection of original works commissioned by Koh and created by over 30 living composers "exploring the meaning of virtuosity."

Koh, who was born and raised in Chicago, also spoke with host Michael San Gabino about the importance of fostering the next generation of classical composers and ensuring that there is diversity in classical music. "One of the things that's important to me," Koh shared, "is to bring voice to people who didn't have that voice before. There's so much diversity and so many different perspectives that to me, it feels like a great loss."

An alumna of the Music Institute of Chicago, Koh emphasized the critical importance of fostering community, diversity and opportunity for future generations of classical artists. "If we don't engage with supporting composers, we are not going to have the next Bach, the next Beethoven, or the next Brahms."

Her project, Shared Madness, exemplifies this mission. The conceit of the project, to create new works to define 21st century virtuosity, mirrored Paganini's 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, which epitomized violin expertise and artistry in the 19th century. Earlier this year, Koh visited WFMT and shared excerpts of compositions written by Kaija Saariaho, Missy Mazzoli, Philip Glass, Zosha di Castri, Andrew Norman, and John Harbison. See video of these works from her previous visit below:

To conclude her live broadcast, Koh shared some of the challenges and joys of being a musician — "You go through this process of needing to face your greatest fears and weaknesses, but also your strengths. You have to recognize both."

"Music is an amazing form of human connection and communication. I think there's something really powerful in that."