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Tiny Desk Premiere: Jennifer Koh and Missy Mazzoli

Thankfully, few no longer believe that playing classical music requires an evening gown or a tux. When composer Missy Mazzoli and violinist Jennifer Koh made their way into our Tiny Desk office space, we took note of the beautiful ink on Mazzoli's arm, her clunky black boots, and Koh's bright blue hair and sleeveless leather dress.

The two artists have been collaborating for 15 years and this ferocious and beautiful set traces that history. It also reveals an essential equation of how classical music works: Mazzoli, the composer, who is currently writing a work for the Metropolitan Opera, conjures up music in her head, and Koh, the performer, breathes life into it.

Koh opens with Hail, Horrors, Hail, a recent solo piece she included on Alone Together, a homespun album recorded during the height of the pandemic which earned her a Grammy. Mazzoli joins at the keyboard in a bespoke arrangement of the final movement from Procession, Mazzoli's sumptuous violin concerto, inspired by medieval healing rituals, which Koh premiered in 2022 with the National Symphony Orchestra.

Dissolve, O my Heart, the first piece Mazzoli wrote for Koh, spirals out into an emotional journey touched with spasms of joy and grief. It's rooted in late-night discussions fueled by Chinese food, cupcakes and Bach's revered Chaconne D minor that is quoted at the beginning. Koh closes with Kinski Paganini, unsettled music inspired by the German actor Klaus Kinski's volatile performances.

Hearing this set, in all its rugged delight, feels like we're eavesdropping on something personal — a fruitful, collaborative friendship between composer and performer that has yielded amazing music.

SET LIST

  • Mazzoli: Hail, Horrors, Hail
  • Mazzoli: Violin Concerto (Procession): "Procession Ascending" 
  • Mazzoli: Dissolve, O my Heart
  • Mazzoli: Kinski Paganini


MUSICIANS

  • Jennifer Koh: violin
  • Missy Mazzoli: keyboard


TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Tom Huizenga
  • Director/Editor: Kara Frame
  • Audio Technical Director: Neil Tevault
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Kara Frame, Joshua Bryant
  • Audio Engineer: Ted Mebane
  • Production Assistant: Elle Mannion
  • Photographer: Keren Carrión
  • Tiny Desk Team: Maia Stern, Ashley Pointer, Hazel Cills
  • Executive Producer: Suraya Mohamed
  • Series Creators: Bob Boilen, Stephen Thompson
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga
Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.