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Violinist Koh brings her bold bow to BSO

Courtesy photo | BDN
Courtesy photo | BDN
Jennifer Koh
By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff

The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s season kickoff concert is special for many reasons — and not just that it’s a rare evening concert, set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Collins Center for the Arts. Not just that it’s paired with a free Sunday afternoon pops concert at Husson University. It’s extraspecial because the BSO, led by Maestro Lucas Richman, will feature the brilliant, risk-taking violinist Jennifer Koh.

Koh is acclaimed by critics worldwide for her wide-ranging repertoire, such as her series of solo recitals titled “Bach and Beyond,” in which she pairs Bach’s sonatas and partitas with pieces from much newer composers — which she’ll perform in May 2012 in Portland. She’s as comfortable performing with a full orchestra as she is taking on daring challenges, such as her upcoming role as the first female to perform the solo violin role of Einstein in a new production of Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s “Einstein on the Beach.” With the BSO, she’ll perform Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto, the expansively melodic favorite of the violin canon. The BDN interviewed her by phone earlier in the week.

BDN: You play a Stradivari. How does one come to possess such a great instrument?

Koh: Everyone’s story is a little different. I think, suffice to say, everyone comes to it in their own way. These are really great instruments that are completely out of the price range of any normal musician, unless you’re really, really lucky. I was very fortunate to have a long-term loan. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to play it.

BDN: What are your thoughts on the piece you’ll be playing Saturday, the Bruch Violin Concerto?

Koh: I think the Bruch Concerto is one of the most beautiful pieces for violin, ever. It’s become part of the canon because of how well Bruch fuses all these beautiful, mellifluous lines. It has all the elements and uses the instrument very well. It plays to all its strengths. It’s a treat to be able to play it in Bangor.

BDN: Have you been to Maine before?

Koh: I spent part of a couple summers at the Salt Bay Chamber Festival [in Damariscotta]. We went to Bangor to play on a radio show [with Suzanne Nance of Maine Public Broadcasting]. When I was a little kid, we went to the Bowdoin Music Festival. There was an ice cream shop down the street that I visited every day. I love Maine.

BDN: You make a point of playing a very large repertoire of both standard works and new works. How do you decide what to play?

Koh: I think it’s all about finding a connectedness. I think music creates a huge, centuries-spanning dialogue. It’s difficult, in our society, to even fathom what life was like in the 18th century, but music has this very human, very visceral way of speaking to us that makes that distance in time feel less huge. Choosing programming for my recitals is an organic process. The pieces that intrigue me are what I want to share with people … I like to create a journey with my programming. It’s wonderfully satisfying.

BDN: Your schedule is almost dizzying. What are some of your upcoming performances you are most excited about? And tell us about your role in “Einstein on the Beach.”

Koh: Well, I’m excited about playing the Bruch with both the BSO and in Philadelphia. I’m doing my Bach and Beyond program, as well. As for “Einstein,” it’s incredibly exciting because it’s totally out of my comfort zone. I’m playing Einstein, and it’s the first time a woman has played it. It’s thrilling to be able to work with Phillip Glass and Robert Wilson. I had my first wig fitting. I’m going to transform from an Asian female into an Eastern European older male. It’s really interesting.

Tickets for Saturday’s concert range from $19-$43 and are available at the Collins Center for the Arts box office.

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