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 regularly 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, taking in mainstream works by Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Ravel, and Prokofiev, and lesser known or contemporary fare by Reger, Szymanowski, Menotti, Ruggles, Carter, Lou Harrison, and Jennifer Higdon. Koh has appeared as soloist with the major orchestras of New York, Cleveland, 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 pianists Reiko Uchida and Benjamin Hochman, who is her husband. Koh has recorded for Cedille, Telarc, BIS, and other major labels.
Jennifer Koh was born in Glen Ellyn, IL, 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 enthusiatic reviews in November 1995 in a program of J.S. Bach, Mozart, Ysaÿe, and Franck. Among her first recordings were a 1995 BIS CD of the Violin Concerto by Uuno Klami and a 2001 Cedille disc of the Bach Partita No. 2 for solo violin (BWV 1004) and works by Reger and Richard Barth.
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 regularly received lavish praise from overseas, as well as with her performance of the Nielsen violin concerto with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra in February 2005.
Koh's 2007 disc of Schumann's three sonatas for violin and piano on Cedille was another critical triumph. She was active 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 February 2010, and Koh premiered the John Zorn Passagen to great acclaim in December 2011 at the Miller Theater in New York City.