Jennifer Koh - Tchaikovsky: Complete works for violin and orchestra (Cedille)
The music of Tchaikovsky has been in the life of violinist Jennifer Koh for as long as she can remember. Koh was just 17 years old when she won top honors at the International Tchaikovsky competition in 1994, so you may find it surprising that she's recently released her first Tchaikovsky recording. "It almost felt like fate," Jennifer explains, "I hadn't seen Alexander Vedernikov for many, many years. Probably more than 20 years and then we did the Tchaikovsky concerto together with the NHK Symphony in Japan. And even though 20-plus years had passed, we still had that initial musical connection that we had had all those years ago when we had done the Tchaikovsky for the first time. And it felt right also because he's music director of Odense Symphony and that was an orchestra I'd played with when I was 15 years old. So it kind of felt like this organic, circular process."
Jennifer Koh decided to record Tchaikovsky's complete works for violin and orchestra in part because she loves these pieces, and because she performed all of these works at the International Tchaikovsky competition. She says it's music that allows her to be herself. "I think, with Tchaikovsky, one of the things that makes him unique, I think he's very vulnerable and he exposes himself fully, musically," she says. "And I think that that's incredibly difficult. And he does it also in a generous way to his performers. So there's a lot of space for us to be able to … at the same time be expressive ourselves."
Tchaikovsky's violin repertoire is the Violin Concerto in D major is an iconic work that technically is pretty tricky. "I don't really think about it that consciously when I'm playing it," Jennifer admits. "I think what I'm looking for, even when it's technically complicated or difficult, I'm just looking to find the musical meaning behind it."
"Souvenir of a Beloved Place" opens with a beautiful meditation that Tchaikovsky originally intended as the slow movement of his Violin Concerto. Jennifer says she set this movement aside, and later, revived it for a three-movement work for violin and piano. "Well, I think that's what it was originally for but I'm very glad he kept it for another set," she says. "And I think…of course I can't say exactly what was going on in his mind. But I would imagine, as a musician, that he decided to put in the Canzonetta instead of the Meditation because the Canzonetta is actually a bit lighter in character and not quite as dark as Meditation."
This collection of Tchaikovsky's complete works for violin and orchestra opens somewhat unconventionally, with a work that Jennifer says holds a special place in her heart. "I love the Sérénade Mélancholique. I feel like you see the essence of who Tchaikovksy is in that piece. And so I wanted to start with the Mélancholique because in a way, it's the most exposed of everything. It's not very heavily orchestrated. And Melodie is also relatively simple, so I wanted to open and close in that way.
"I think how my view of Tchaikovsky that's kind of evolved over time is that everything is about expression for him and it's not even about beauty. It's really about expressivity," Jennifer continues. "And I think there's a kind of truthfulness that can come through music … a kind of absolute truth of the essence of who you are. And I think Tchaikovsky does that and I think he gives the performer the space to be that and channel that in his music."
Channeling the essence of Tchaikovsky in a new complete collection of his works for violin and orchestra with Jennifer Koh, Alexander Vedernikov and the Odense Symphony Orchestra.
Jennifer Koh - official site
Love the music?
Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.
Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.
YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.