I grew up in a family of musicians. My parents met and fell in love over a Beethoven Violin Sonata while they were students at Juilliard. My father played second violin in the Concord String Quartet and traveled all over the world. In his studio he had a giant map of the world with colorful pins marking every city and country he had visited. That made a big impression on me and at a very young age I knew that was something I wanted to do too. Who would have known that some 35 years after beginning the violin I would do exactly that; travel around the world as second violinist of the Apple Hill String Quartet. Along the way my journey with the violin has taken me in directions I never imagined at a young age but all of it has shaped me into the musician I am today.
While my family was at the root of my deep connection to music it was my time playing chamber music at Greenwood Music Camp as a teenager that solidified my desire to be a musician. While listening for the first time to students perform the Schubert Cello Quintet in the old barn I fell in love with playing chamber music within a community founded on music. Similarly, my years as a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center bolstered my commitment to chamber music.
However, after completing my degrees in music performance at Oberlin Conservatory and Rice University I didn't feel compelled to do this work. Instead, I found myself living in Basel, Switzerland playing in an orchestra with the Kammerorchester Basel. Living in Europe for four years satisfied my travel bug and allowed me to gain a bigger perspective of the world. While playing with this group and the Verbier Festival Orchestras I traveled throughout Europe and Asia and worked with many renowned musicians and conductors; James Levine, Charles Dutoit, Joshua Bell, Giovanni Antonini and Christopher Hogwood to name a few.
Playing in an orchestra for some years helped me realize that I was missing the creative freedom to make my own artistic choices and create my own programming. I was also interested in connecting more directly with a diverse audience. This realization led me in two directions. First, I began to develop my interest in exploring other styles of music. I took some fiddle lessons with the fabulous Scottish fiddler, Laura Risk, and I started attending pub sessions and summer workshops. I got to work with such inspiring artists as Alasdair Fraser, Natalie Haas and Bruce Molsky among others. From there I took my first outreach trip with my violin to the Dominican Republic. I joined a team of nurses and bakers from Vermont traveling on a humanitarian relief trip and visited villages, schools, hospitals, and a women's cooperative. The land of salsa and meringue was light years away from the concert halls of Europe. Still, people really connected with music from Bach to Celtic fiddle and it brought renewed inspiration to me to be bringing this music to many people whom had never even heard a violin.
Secondly, together with the early music soprano, Ana Arnaz, I formed the chamber ensemble Ex Luce Color. The objective of the group is to bridge early and contemporary music and to bring these diverse sound worlds together in a single program which surprises and enchants the listener. The group's shared interest in music of different cultures and time periods creates programs that bring an evocative and exquisite palette of colors and sounds to audiences. To date the group has performed on concert series in France, Spain, Germany, and the USA as well as some more remote villages in Spain.
It seems both fortuitous and natural that I now find myself playing with the Apple Hill String Quartet. I feel so fortunate to have so many of the things I value represented in the work I do at the Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music. The job brings together all of the things that I love about being a musician; playing chamber music, traveling, reaching audiences of many varieties and teaching at a music camp that brings an incredibly diverse population of students from all of the world to live in a community founded on music.
Colleen Jennings © All rights reserved.