Violinist Jennifer Koh Traverses Kaija Saariaho's Distinctive Sound World On New Cedille Records Album
American violinist Jennifer Koh showcases chamber works and a violin concerto by the visionary and much-honored contemporary Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho on her new album Saariaho X Koh from Cedille Records.
Kindred spirits and close friends, the violinist and composer share the distinction of having received top honors from Musical America: Saariaho as 2008 Composer of the Year, Koh as 2016 Instrumentalist of the Year.
World-premiere recordings on Saariaho X Koh, available November 9, 2018, are Light and Matter for violin, cello, and piano and the violin-and-cello version of Aure. The program also includes Tocar for violin and piano; Cloud Trio for violin, viola, and cello; and the violin concerto Graal théâtre, performed in its chamber-orchestra version (Cedille Records CDR 90000 183).
Koh's collaborators on the album include pianist Nicolas Hodges, violist Hsin-Yun Huang, cellists Anssi Karttunen and Wilhelmina Smith, and, for Graal théâtre, the Curtis 2021 Ensemble, conducted by Conner Gray Covington.
While Saariaho is renowned for her digitally enhanced, operatic soundscapes, the works on Saariaho X Koh contain no electronic effects. All, however, reflect her longstanding collaborations with string players, such as Koh and Karttunen, her intimate knowledge of string technique - the violin was her first instrument - and a compositional voice "marked by its timbral colors," as Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti writes in the album's liner notes.
Opera and theater director Peter Sellars, in an interview excerpted in the album notes, says Saariaho's music "takes you into this other world of visual art which is not about things as they appear but their secret existence shimmering in the dark."
The album's opening track, Tocar (2010), Spanish for "to touch," explores the playful and tactile aspects of the word. Cloud Trio (2009) was prompted by shape-shifting clouds in the French Alps. Light and Matter (2014) was inspired by sunlit colors and shadows in a city park outside the composer's window. The violin-and-cello version of Aure (2011), meaning a gentle breeze, was created for and dedicated to Koh and cellist Karttunen. The album's largest work, Graal théâtre (1994) is the piece that first attracted Koh to the composer and one she has performed many times. Grove Music Online says the work illustrates "Saariaho's rich and expansive string style, but places a greater emphasis on melody than earlier works."
Saariaho X Koh was produced by multiple Grammy winner Judith Sherman, with recording engineers Drew Schlegel and Guillaume Dujardin. The album was recorded October 31, 2016, in the Miriam and Robert Gould Rehearsal Hall, Curtis School of Music, Philadelphia; December 11, 2016, at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York; and November 25-26, 2017, at Studios Ferber, Paris.
Jennifer Koh is a "brilliant violinist" (The New Yorker) who performs with "conviction, ferocity, and an irresistible sense of play" (Washington Post). Saariaho X Koh is the violinist's twelfth Cedille Records album in a discography that includes the Grammy-nominated String Poetic. In reviewing her album Bach & Beyond Part 2, ClassicsToday.com proclaimed, "When Jennifer Koh plays, people listen. Or they should." Koh has expanded the contemporary violin repertoire through a wide range of commissioning projects and has premiered more than 70 works written specially for her. Her website is jenniferkoh.com.
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