There was more than a little method to Jennifer Koh’s Shared Madness 2, an exhilarating program of solo pieces for violin that she presented at St. Anthony’s Chapel on Friday, April 12. Koh has been an eminent friend of UCSB Arts & Lectures for a number of years now, and whether she’s playing the music of J. S. Bach, as she did in a memorable series of a few years ago called Bach and Beyond, or exploring the outer limits of contemporary composition, as in this concert, Koh always brings her best work to our city.
In her mirror-clad dress, Koh made a dazzling contrast to the intricately detailed monochrome of the chapel’s altarpiece. Taking full advantage of the venue’s unusually “live” acoustics, Koh delivered a stunning performance supercharged by the full range of her instrument’s extended techniques. Each of the nearly 20 pieces she performed was written expressly for her by an important or emerging contemporary composer, all of them operating under the instruction that this series would explore the meaning of virtuosity in the 21st century.
In addition to the immense pleasure of witnessing one of the world’s top solo performers in any genre on any instrument, we got to listen in on the global conversation that’s happening among composers who inhabit the highest rungs of modern music. Koh’s multigenerational approach to assembling her collaborators means that one can, in a single night, hear what Philip Glass is up to, along with music by such young upstarts as Matthew Aucoin and Chris Cerrone. One highlight that definitely deserves mentioning is “Sense,” the stunning contribution made to this set by Kaija Saariaho, who is also the subject of Koh’s most recent CD release, Saariaho X Koh, which came out in November 2018. We are extraordinarily fortunate to have this major figure of the contemporary music scene as such a regular visitor to Santa Barbara.