Jennifer Koh and Shai Wosner invite Aspen across ‘Bridge to Beethoven’
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Bridge to Beethoven’ with violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Shai Wosner
Where: Harris Concert Hall
When: Thursday, Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m.
How much: $55
More info: The program includes Beethoven’s Violin Sonatas No. 6, 7 and 8 with three new “Bridging” pieces by Andrew Norman.
The violinist Jennifer Koh and the pianist Shai Wosner are moderating a conversation across the centuries between Beethoven and today’s composers.
Their four-part “Bridge to Beethoven” series links their interpretation of Beethoven’s 10 violin sonatas with new works by contemporary composers. The pair brings the series to Harris Concert Hall on Thursday night as part of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s winter series.
“It came from this idea of exploring the concept of Beethoven as this iconic figure and wanting to bring in composers from different backgrounds to explore what the figure of Beethoven meant to them,” Koh explained in a phone interview from New York. “In many ways he was a revolutionary musician. We often forget how shocking his music was at the time and how revolutionary he was.”
The pair in 2015 in Aspen performed their “Bridge” program pairing Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata with a newly commissioned piece by the jazz pianist Vijay Iyer. At Thursday’s recital they’ll perform new works by composer Andrew Norman, who connects the three violin sonatas in Beethoven’s Opus 30 with his three-part “Bridging.”
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Wosner calls Norman’s creation a “mega-sonata.”
Performed without intermission, Norman’s pieces link the three sonatas together, transitioning keys from one to the next and morphing Sonata No. 6 in A major into Sonata No. 8 in G major and ending with Sonata No. 7 in C minor. In Norman’s conception, the piece ends on the same note that begins it, bringing a unity to the three sonatas through these “Bridging” segments.
“In theory it’s one big circle,” Wosner said. “In theory you could actually start all over again ad infinitum forever. … They lead the audience from one sound-world to another because the three Beethovens are so different from one another.”
With commissions funded by Koh’s nonprofit Arco Collective, the project also includes programs with new works by Jörg Widmann and Anthony Cheung.
“It’s fascinating to come to an understanding of how these composers hear other composers and other works,” Koh said of the yearslong collaborative process.
The pair spent two years rehearsing and perfecting their interpretations of the Beethoven sonatas before they even started looking for composers to write accompanying pieces.
“We felt strongly as a duo going into ‘Bridge to Beethoven,’” Koh explained.
The project challenged Koh and Wosner as interpreters and pushed today’s composers — and audiences — to think about the meaning and resonance of Beethoven in the 21st century. It’s proved to be a conversation starter and an effective platform on which to raise the profile of living composers.
“When you see how this music can grip the audience, it’s the most wonderful, satisfying feeling,” Wosner said. “It’s the most gratifying thing you can get out of programming and being a performing artist. You are creating this conversation and creating a dynamic and drawing an audience into it.”
Koh is among the leading champions of contemporary composers, using her influence as a premier concert musician to spotlight living composers whose work might otherwise go unheard. A regular in Aspen, during the 2016 summer season she took to the Harris Hall stage with her monumental collaboration with the composer Kaija Saariaho, which the pair recently released as the album “Saariaho x Koh.”
New music may struggle to fill concert halls as readily as Beethoven still does nearly 200 years after his death. But Koh and Wosner believe that contemporary composers can find audiences if the work is excellent and is placed in the right context. Wosner noted that placing new music alongside Beethoven can open people’s minds to it, paraphrasing the pianist and author Charles Rosen saying “music is only difficult if you are listening for something that is not there.”
Koh added that she trusts if she likes a new piece of music, there are fellow listeners out there who will appreciate it: “I think if I find it incredibly compelling, statistically there’s got to be other people that find it interesting or compelling.”
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