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Review: Big week for violins, Saariaho at the music festival

Stefan Jackiw, Jennifer Koh
The Aspen Times

On Wednesday evening, Stefan Jackie showed a rapt audience in the music tent how Mendelssohn’s popular violin concerto should be done. He favored quick tempos in the outer movements just short of breakneck, and took the audience on a luxurious spin that seemed intent on pointing out elements of the scenery only the great ones can bring out. It made the overly familiar music fresh and vital.

The capper was a gloriously silky, long-breathed and sigh-worthy slow movement that sang with deceptive simplicity. Nuances were there, but he did not call extra attention to them. Conductor Stephen Mulligan melded beautifully with the soloist, although not all the musicians in the all-student Aspen Philharmonic kept up in the fleet finale.

Jennifer Koh offered violin playing of a different stripe in her recital later that evening in Harris Hall, part of the festival’s current residence of composer Kaija Saariaho. The Finnish-French composer creates unique sound worlds that seem to flit in and out of reality, weaving into the texture dissonances from subtle ambience to crushingly powerful punches.

In “Frises,” a series of fantastic duets written in 2011 for violin and electronics (managed here by sound designer Mark Grey), the player initiates prerecorded ambient sounds and computerized transformations of the violin’s own voice to create an endless soundscape. Fascinating and remarkably expressive, it is inspired by, if not quite variations upon, J.S. Bach’s D minor Partita. That’s the one that concludes with the chaconne, one of the pinnacles of violin literature.

Koh played the entire Bach work first, with engaging simplicity and restraint, her feet planted, her body hardly moving. In “Frises” she removed her blue heels to access the foot switch that activates the electronics. 

Read the rest of the review here