• Born 1976
Jennifer Koh is one of those fearless violinists unafraid to take on the daunting challenge of performing the six J.S. Bach sonatas and partitas on the same recital program or to play difficult, and not necessarily audience-friendly, contemporary works like the Saariaho Graal Theatre violin concerto. Yet, her risk-taking usually elicits cheers and ovations from audiences and glowing reviews from critics. Koh performs a fairly equal number of concerts as a soloist, chamber player, and recitalist, and, not surprisingly, in a broad and eclectic range of repertory.
Jennifer Koh was born in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, to Korean parents on October 8, 1976. By age 11, she was a violin prodigy and debuted with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. She studied English literature at Oberlin College and music at Oberlin Conservatory. She had further studies in violin at the Curtis Institute, where her teachers included Jaime Laredo and Felix Galimir. While a student at Oberlin, Koh shared the silver medal at the 1994 Tchaikovsky International Competition, making her a de facto winner at age 17, of the prestigious Moscow-based contest, since no gold medal was awarded. That same year she won the Concert Artists Guild Competition, and in 1995 she was awarded an Avery Fisher Career Grant.
Koh debuted at Carnegie Hall to enthusiastic reviews in November 1995 in a program of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Ysaÿe, and Franck. By the new century, Koh was firmly established as one of the rising stars among violinists. She debuted with the Cleveland Orchestra in 2003 in an acclaimed performance of the Menotti violin concerto. Koh received lavish praise from overseas, specifically with her performance of the Nielsen violin concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in 2005. Koh regularly performs mainstream works by Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, among others, and lesser-known or contemporary fare by Reger, Szymanowski, Menotti, Ruggles, and Jennifer Higdon. She is active in promoting new music, too: Koh and husband Benjamin Hochman gave the premiere of the Double Concerto for violin and piano by Lera Auerbach with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra in 2010, and Koh premiered the John Zorn Passagen to great acclaim in 2011 at the Miller Theater in New York City. Koh has appeared as soloist with the major orchestras of New York, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and St. Louis, and with such ensembles abroad as the Czech Philharmonic and Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. She has collaborated with a number of musicians in concert, including violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Christian Poltéra, and pianist Reiko Uchida.
Koh has recorded for Cedille, Telarc, BIS, and other major labels. Among her first recordings were a 1997 BIS release of the Violin Concerto by Uuno Klami and a 2001 Cedille release of the Solo Chaconnes, with music by Bach, Reger, and Richard Barth. Koh's 2007 album of Schumann's three sonatas for violin and piano on Cedille was another critical triumph. In 2019, Koh is heard on the Cedille album Limitless, performing duos alongside the composers.