Violinist Jennifer Koh & Pianist Shai Wosner Collaborate on 'Bridge to Beethoven'
Violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner have come together to combine their personal and musical experiences in a collaborative project titled Bridge to Beethoven that explores the impact and significance Beethoven has had on a culturally diverse group of composers and musicians. The recital series pairs Beethoven's Complete Violin Sonatas with works by composers of different ethnic lineage in four distinct programs featuring three works commissioned for the series by Vijay Iyer, Andrew Norman, and Anthony Cheung which serve as companion pieces to select sonatas, and Jörg Widmann's Sommersonate.
"Shai and I created this project in order to integrate our personal interpretations of Beethoven alongside the unique perspectives of contemporary and diverse composers. We hope that the synthesis all of these different voices will lead to compelling recitals and performances" said Ms. Koh. For Mr. Wosner, the development of the series examines the music of Beethoven and the evolution of classical music through the present. "Beethoven was the first composer to write music in which the struggle of creativity is part of the piece," he said. "And Beethoven was the first composer to do that consistently, the idea of the creative process is very much in the forefront of a lot of today's music and these new composers are all wildly different and exciting examples of that."
Ms. Koh's approach to the project focuses on the cultural and social effect of classical music. "I wanted to create a project that explores diversity in a compelling way, where people can engage with different cultural voices in a musical conversation," she said. This project is about including a wide range of voices that takes all of us on a journey that illustrates the evolving nature of classical music."
To develop new works that propelled the vision of Bridge to Beethoven, Ms. Koh asked Mr. Norman, Mr. Iyer, and Mr. Cheung, all of whom she has worked with previously, to compose new works to act as companion pieces to the existing Beethoven violin sonatas. Mr. Wosner, who has previously worked with Mr. Widmann, introduced Sommersonate to the project.
Videos, including a project overview with Mr. Wosner and Ms. Koh, and composer portraits with Mr. Iyer, Mr. Norman, and Mr. Cheung can be viewed here.
During the 2015-16 season, the Ms. Koh and Mr. Wosner will perform all four Bridge to Beethoven recitals at the 92nd Street Y in New York (Oct. 26, Dec. 7, Mar. 21 and Apr. 7) and at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco presented by SF Performances (Nov. 4, 7, Mar. 30 and Apr. 2). They also perform individual recitals from the series at the Ravinia Festival (Sep. 6), in Cambridge, MA presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston (Nov. 18), at Duke University (Jan. 30), Laguna Playhouse (Feb. 14), Kreeger Auditorium in Rockville, MD (Mar. 13), Bram Goldsmith Theater in Beverly Hills, CA (Mar. 26) and Hahn Hall in Santa Barbara, CA (Apr. 5).
Program I is comprised of two sonatas: Op. 12, No. 1 in D Major and Op. 47, Kreutzer in A Major, and Vijay Iyer's Bridgetower Fantasy, a work influenced by the Kreutzer Sonata. The Kreutzer Sonata was originally dedicated to George Bridgetower, a famous 18th-century Afro-European violinist who performed the premiere of the sonata with Beethoven. However, after an argument over what Beethoven construed as Bridgetower's insult of a female acquaintance, Beethoven rededicated the sonata to Rudolphe Kreutzer. "My piece is a collection of imaginings about George Bridgetower," Mr. Iyer said. "It is not programmatic, but it takes on an episodic character, assembled from contrasting fragments. I am grateful to Jenny and Shai for involving me in their beautiful, virtuosic music making."
Program II includes three sonatas: Op. 12, No. 2 in A Major, Op. 23 in A minor, Op. 24 Spring in F Major, and Jörg Widmann's Sommersonate. Mr. Widmann's work was premiered in the U.S. by Ms. Koh and Mr. Wosner in 2014. Mr. Wosner said, "Widmann likes to re-examine canonical works in his music, using their musical content and symbolic meaning as cultural references. Sommersonate ("Summer Sonata") poses a question: is the idea of the sonata itself - for centuries one of the most durable models of classical music - still relevant for our own century? Does it still last? As a consequence, the piece goes back and forth between quasi-Romantic fervor and abstract fragmentation."
Program III includes sonatas Op. 30, No. 1 in A Major, Op. 30, No. 3 in G Major, Op. 30, No. 2 in C minor, and two short works composed by Andrew Norman to be interspersed with the three Op. 30 sonatas. "Jennifer and Shai are really thinking about what Beethoven means - not only in his own time, but what his work might mean for us today and I am interested in all of those questions myself," Mr. Norman said. "This project is a perfect uniting of those things and it's a chance for me to really think about a specific idea about a certain kind of music making and how I relate to that."
Program IV, the final recital in the series, is comprised of sonatas Op. 12, No. 3 in E-flat Major and Op. 96 in G Major, and a new work by Anthony Cheung influence by the tenth sonata, Op. 96. "As a composer very much under the influence of Beethoven, I thought it was a great idea to create contemporary responses his music," Mr. Cheung said.
"The future of classical music lies in expanding our community by including the voices of artists from a vast array of backgrounds," Ms. Koh said. "Classical music might have originated in Western Europe but it remains a vital art form because of its ability to evolve and I believe the next chapter of this art form will be enriched by embracing people from diverse traditions and cultures who bring their own rich histories to the art form and offer us a a renewed energy and imagination."
Commissions for Bridge to Beethoven are funded by SF Performances and MusicBridge, Inc. For further information and background on the artists visit www.jenniferkoh.com and www.shaiwosner.com.