Berkeley Symphony with Jennifer Koh-preview

A tale of two concertos

Two very different concertos will share the limelight in Berkeley Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert next Thursday, September 23 at 7:00. Renowned violinist Jennifer Koh will solo in both Beethoven’s and John Adams’ violin concerti, led by Joana Carneiro for the start of her second season as the BSO’s conductor and artistic director.

The early start will allow time for a gala dinner, which will follow the concert and honor a local hero, composer John Adams.

Beethoven’s violin concerto is one of the most enduring in the literature. Its careful architecture is typical of Beethoven, an anchor for his originality. But the uplifting D-Major character and lyricism are unusually sunny for that troubled genius. His soft timpani opening has thrilled audiences for two hundred years, and his translation of those thrums into orchestral theme was pure brilliance.

His second movement has a sublime sweetness, all in G Major, and the finale is joyous and triumphant.

Curiously, this standard of the repertoire had a mixed reception, and was only promoted and rediscovered after Beethoven’s death.

Adams’ concerto is more taxing, but, despite its constant motion, retains a lovely arc of intention. The slow movement, though not exactly melodic, has its own form of lyricism. Adams described that in his autobiography, Hallelujah Junction: “The orchestral music is by and large modal…The writing for solo violin, however, is free, spontaneous, improvisatory, referring harmonically to the underlying tutti music much as a jazz artist embellishes according to the chord structure of a song.”

The slow sweetness of the middle movement, a chaconne titled “Body through which the dream flows,” gives way to the explosive energy of the final “Toccare” movement. Though colored by Adams’ Minimalist past, this work finds a sturdy balance between density and line.

While written in 1993 for violinist Jorja Fleezanis and the Minnesota Orchestra, the Berkeley Symphony, under the baton of its former maestro, Kent Nagano, gave Adams’ concerto its first recording. Gidon Kremer was that soloist, and many prominent soloists have performed it since, including Midori and Leila Josefowicz.

Featured soloist Jennifer Koh has performed with the LA Philharmonic, the NY Philharmonic, and orchestras around the globe, playing on the 1727 Ex Grumiaux Stradivari. Equally at home in classical and contemporary genres (she performs both the Mendelssohn and Bruch violin concerti next month in Europe), and described by The Strad as “a risk taking high-octane player,” one might be very keen to hear Jennifer Koh’s interpretation of both Adams and Beethoven.

When—Thursday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.

Where—UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall. Information and tickets for the concert and dinner are available at 510-841-2800 or at

—Adam Broner

This article originally published by the Piedmont Post.