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Bonnaroo 2013: Thursday Pics

Jennifer Koh and Ensemble LPR at (le) Poisson Rouge

by Robert Leeper
Jennifer Koh
Photo credit: Chad Batka

Trailblazing violinist Jennifer Koh joined Ensemble LPR Friday night as part of (le) Poisson Rouge's LPR X5 festival, presenting music by John Zorn, Charles Wuorinen, and Ludwig van Beethoven. All of the pieces brought a sense of wild abandon that perfectly complemented the youth and excitement of both Koh and Ensemble LPR.

Koh brought a fiery passion to Zorn’s Passagen for solo violin, which—like Wuorinen’s contribution—was written for Ms. Koh. The piece is rife with rapid shifts from tight, intense tremolos and harsh pizzicato to tender ghostly harmonics. Sometimes, just sometimes, Koh coaxed out a pure, ethereal note or phrase that sang out from the chaos before it was swallowed up again. The uneven, rhythmic chords and pizzicato playing gave a distinctly Bartókian flavor, one that was enhanced by Koh’s savage bowing.   

After a brief break for set changes, Ensemble LPR and their conductor/music director Tito Muñoz joined Koh for Wuorinen’s Spin 5 For Violin and 18 Players. The piece provided a forum for each orchestral section, and even individuals within the section, to converse with Koh. The ensemble rarely played as a whole, instead engaging in an avant-garde series of calls and responses. The second movement had the feeling of a nocturne, as beautiful doublings in the harp and flute wound their way around deep, resonant basses. Much of this piece could be described as recalling Charles Ives's Fourth Symphony in its nature, as the jazzy sounds of each individual instrument might have sounded reasonable on their own, but created a beautiful madness when combined.       

The night closed with a magnificent presentation of what Richard Wagner called "the apotheosis of the dance," Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. While LPR is definitely one of the smaller venues in which a Beethoven symphony has been performed, there was no lack of balance, and the proximity of the audience to the performers only added to the celebratory feel. The almost frenzied sense of celebration present in this piece stems mainly from its rhythms, and Ensemble LPR certainly had the audience's feet tapping throughout. Mr. Muñoz especially offered a riot of energy and excitement in the final movement, embracing the inherent brightness and beauty of this crown jewel of symphonic writing.

Check out the remaining LPR X5 shows here .