Violinist Jennifer Koh has enjoyed a long and fruitful symbiotic relationship with our region and the presenting organization UCSB Arts & Lectures (A&L). On Tuesday, April 12, that story will continue with the world premiere of Everything Rises, her new collaboration with bass-baritone Davóne Tines. In 2018, Koh performed Shared Madness, a program of short pieces from an impressively varied group of composers, in the uniquely intimate and historic Santa Barbara space of St. Anthony’s Chapel.
One of the composers who contributed to Shared Madness was Vijay Iyer, whose enthralling Violin Concerto, Trouble, had proudly featured Koh’s exceptional mastery at 2017’s Iyer-directed Ojai Music Festival. That high-profile performance in Ojai affirmed Koh’s reputation as one of contemporary music’s more adventurous violinists and thinkers.
Locally, connections run especially deep through Koh’s ongoing relationship with UCSB’s Arts & Lectures. A&L has worked closely with Koh on several special projects for more than a decade now. For example, Koh made her Santa Barbara/A&L debut in 2011 with the first installment of Bach and Beyond. Last year, Koh released the latest chapter of that series on her Chicago-based label Cedille Records.
As Koh effused in an interview, “I am so happy and grateful to have a [musical] home in Santa Barbara. I love partnering with UCSB, and I love their audiences.” Koh added that she “met the commissioner of Shared Madness in Santa Barbara” at her first recital for Arts & Lectures.
Everything Rises promises to be the most personal and conceptual Koh venture yet. Co-commissioned by ARCO Collaborative and A&L — in sync with the organization’s emphasis on social and racial issues in the past two seasons — the staged piece, enhanced by projections and recorded interviews, brings to the fore the struggles of artists of color “reclaiming agency through ancient memory,” according to a statement.
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Koh is a Korean-American who grew up in Chicago. Her mother, Gertrude Soonja Lee Koh, experienced harsh treatment during the Korean War, and these memories make up part of the tracing of family lineage at the heart of the new piece. Tines is a Black, gay, and classically trained bass-baritone who has worked across genres. Tines will sing the role of Malcolm X in Detroit Opera’s production of Anthony Davis’s X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X this May. For Everything Rises, Tines has drawn on the painful memories of his grandmother, Alma Lee Gibbs, who experienced racist repression and violence. Together with an all-BIPOC creative team, Koh and Tines have interwoven music and theater for this project, which will start its journey at Campbell Hall.
In addition to her strength as a solo recitalist, collaboration has long been a hallmark of Koh’s musical path. She has commissioned dozens of composers in her Shared Madness and Limitless series. She addressed the pandemic’s constraints on everyday musical life by again extending commissions and funding to composers for her now Grammy-winning Alone Together series, 39 compact pieces that appear on a 2021 Cedille release.
“As a musician and a performer,” Koh said, “I often think about connections over time because classical music has such a long and rich history, but most of it is just about connectivity between human beings. In that sense, I don’t even think about genre. I think of music as great music and bad music, and I just want to bring great music to life. I love working with great musicians because it becomes a learning process of evolving and thinking in new ways.”
Jennifer Koh and Davóne Tines will perform Everything Rises at UCSB’s Campbell Hall on Tuesday, April 12, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu or call (805) 893-3535.