The following is a guest post by virtual artist-in-residence, violinist Jennifer Koh.
I am honored to be a virtual artist-in-residence at the Library of Congress.
For the program that was streamed on November 19, 2020, I included works that engage with the question of who we are during this time of COVID. Beethoven Sonata No. 8 which opens the program is not only a musical work that I love, but also a piece that was part of my project Bridge to Beethoven which was to be performed extensively this fall before COVID cancelled nearly all live performances.
This work was chosen as a nostalgic reminder of the musical world that I would have been engaging. The Mangle of Practice, a dramatic, innovative work by George Lewis, asks the musicians to learn and use extended techniques that expand the color palette and the standard world of sound of our instruments, a work that engages with my own efforts to expand my creative world within the constraints of COVID. Mink Stole by Julia Wolfe is a wild ride, careening between turmoil and stillness, a reflection of the present day.
This concert also contains new works from Alone Together, a project that I created at the beginning of the pandemic in an effort to help fellow freelance artists through micro-commissions of 30-second works written for solo violin and premiered online. I was able to fund this project through ARCO Collaborative, a non-profit I started 6 years ago to advocate for inclusivity in classical music, as well as creating a space for artist-led projects. I approached twenty composers with salaried positions or institutional support and asked them to recommend a freelance composer whom they musically felt connected to. They generously donated their own compositions to help launch this project and support their mentees.
Composed within the first weeks of the shelter-in-place order in New York City, these pieces directly engage with the emotional and aural experiences of that time. Now, months later, I have realized that these works are a musical archive of that painful time. The musical works presented on this program include the sounds of ambulance sirens; works written in memoriam to musical mentors who died from COVID; to newfound relationships to the fragility of our physical bodies, as well as the life force of blood running through our veins; and finally, there are works that grapple with the restrictions of this time and the creative actions we take to expand our lives during this time of contraction.
I hope you will find comfort and solace in this program during these difficult days.