emerge connects: jennifer koh + matthew ariaratnam

2019 Emerge on Main artist Matthew Ariaratnam asked Jennifer Koh six questions for Koh’s april 9, 2019 concert.

MA: Who are some of your favourite female musicians, composers, artists, dancers, or writers? Can you list a piece/work of theirs you admire?

JK: Some of the composers I have long and close collaborations with include Kaija Saariaho and Missy Mazzoli. From a purely violinistic point of view, I would recommend listening to Kaija’s “Graal Theatre” and Missy’s “Dissolve, O My Heart”. Other works I LOVE by them are their operas. For Kaija, there are “L’Amour de Loin” and “Only The Sound Remains” as well as Missy’s “Breaking The Waves” and “Proving Up”.

MA: You have collaborated with Kaija Saariaho on your latest release, Saariaho x Koh. What was the collaboration process like? What does her music inspire in you as a musician/person? And do you have a favourite piece from this release?

JK: After playing her music and working with her for over a decade, the collaboration process with Kaija Saariaho feels very organic and natural. I believe her music expresses the core of who we are as human beings, revealing the intimate and inner emotional life contained within each of us. I also find that I always learn a lot from observing how she works with other musicians because she has a great deal of sensitivity and sympathy towards other people. She is able to bring out the best performances from musicians because she has this empathy. I truly love every work on the Saariaho x Koh CD so I don’t think I can choose a single track!

MA: What are some of your first steps to approaching/learning/performing a new work? Are there differences between preparing to perform a piece of classical repertoire as opposed to preparing a new piece of music?

JK: My approach to, and preparation of all music is exactly the same. I believe in the composer becoming part of myself and the first step of that process is a kind of deep dive, or immersion in all of the compositions written by the composers I perform. I study all of Bach’s cello suites, Masses, and keyboard works, etc. as part of my preparation in learning and performing his work written for violin; and I studied all of Kaija Saariaho’s works – operas, orchestral works and chamber music – in order to perform her works for violin. The only difference between learning “older” composers and “newer” is to never make decisions based on habit or previous performance practices because I want to truly make interpretive decisions based on the music and notation from the written score.

MA: What does it mean to promote diversity/inclusivity in classical music?

JK: I’ve always been curious to know people and hear their experiences and stories. I like learning about how people perceive and express those individual perceptions through art. Unfortunately, there are many voices that have not been heard, and that includes women and people of colour. I believe in advocating for these voices to be heard – it is a loss to all of us if we do not hear their stories.

I believe that as an artist, my mission in life is to serve the community I live in, the community of artists that I am a part of, and my art form of classical music. In order to do this, I believe in advocating for voices from members from EVERY part of our community; I believe in using creativity as an inspiration point for all members of my artistic community; and I believe in advocating for new music that will keep this art form a living, breathing organism in our time.

Therefore, I’ve created projects like “Limitless” and “The New American Concerto Project” and created a non-profit organization, ARCO, in order to support these projects and the mission to bring these creative voices to all of us.

Composers that I have close collaborative relationships with include Lisa Bielawa, Courtney Bryan, Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorey, and Nina Young.

MA: How do you feel about music streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play? How do you see this effecting the music industry for emerging artists and established artists? Do you think streaming services change the value of music?

JK: I am such a tech luddite that I have actually never subscribed to a music streaming platform. I believe in live performance so I attend a lot of concerts and shows. On a personal level, when I record, I look at it as a snapshot or an archive of how I believed the music had to be played on that particular day, which again emphasizes the fluidity in performance from night to night and the effect that an audience and the day’s experiences have on shaping each performance. I do end up using composers’ websites to access scores and recordings of their works, but I never make decisions to perform or commission works unless I see their work live.

MA: What is your ideal way to relax after a performance?

JK: FOOD. Eating is a way to celebrate an evening of music, whether I’ve been in the audience or I’ve just walked off stage. And it’s always best to celebrate with friends!

Use the links below to purchase tickets for Jennifer or Matthew’s upcoming concerts at Music on Main: