I am thrilled to perform in Portland for the third summer at the Bach festival. Johann Sebastian Bach is one of my favorite composers, and I am delighted to play his music with so many talented musicians each summer. The audiences that we play for every year are kind, respectful and cultured; it’s clear that Portland attracts passionate people, who are eager to support a world-renowned Bach Festival.
Bach Virtuosi Festival: How long have you been playing violin? What sparked your love of classical music, particularly Bach?
Renee Jolles: I started the violin when I was almost 8 years old. I had been studying piano since the age of 4, however, and my earliest studies of Bach included several of his Inventions, which I loved to practice. An even bigger influence, however, was listening as a child to my mother warm up and practice the harp with transcriptions by Grandjany of Bach’s Solo Violin Partitas and Solo Cello Suites. They sounded so rich and beautiful. I had no idea at that time that these were transcriptions and not original Bach pieces for harp. Imagine my surprise when, at the age of 12, Lewis Kaplan invited me for the first time to listen to his studio class and I heard some of these movements on the violin! Thoroughly confused, I returned home that evening and asked my mother why violinists were playing pieces written for the harp!
BVF: What is it about baroque music, specifically Bach, that you love the most? What is a piece that is among the more challenging for you to perform?
RJ: I love playing all music, not only Baroque music, but Bach is undoubtedly one of the greatest composers of all time. His music never ceases to challenge and amaze me no matter how many times I have played one of his pieces. The solo sonatas and partitas are particularly challenging from both technical and musical perspectives. Although these great works lend themselves to many styles of interpretation, over the years I have been profoundly influenced by working with many great harpsichord players. Learning about the nature of original instruments and styles of performance, as well as performing with them a large variety of Baroque composers, has greatly informed my interpretations. In addition, learning from them how to ornament and improvise has changed the way I look at almost all music of various periods.
BVF: Tell us about a few of your performances and/or tours this past year and about upcoming performances that you will have in the fall?
RJ: Sometimes I cannot believe how fortunate I am to play and teach violin for my career. One of the highlights of this past season was performing Janacek’s Violin Sonata and Dvorak’s Dumky Trio with cellist Truls Mørk and pianist Roman Rabinovich in New York City as part of an Orpheus chamber music series.
I am excited to perform this summer with my friends and colleagues as a member of Bach Virtuosi in Portland and at the Bowdoin International Music Festival, as well as with Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Poland in August. In addition to our regular Carnegie Hall series and some domestic touring, Orpheus has tours next season to Europe and Asia. During the year, I also play regularly in the New York area with harpsichordist Anthony Newman and on a chamber music series called Intimate Voices. I am especially looking forward to the New York City premieres in October of two pieces written for me recently, Three Impromptus by David Liptak and Barcarole Variations by Louis Karchin. Other projects which keep me busy are curating the annual Holocaust Remembrance concert at the Eastman School of Music, where I teach violin, and co-directing the faculty chamber music series, Eastman Virtuosi. If not on tour, my time is divided between Rochester, NY and New York City.
BVF: Are you looking forward to being back in Portland in June? You spent many summers in Maine. Do you have any favorite places that you visit when you return? Do you have any activities that are particularly meaningful to you when you return?
RJ: I spent eight summers in Maine as a child studying with Lewis Kaplan, who was my teacher also in NYC for fourteen years! I have so many wonderful memories of those summers in Maine, from seeing fireworks in Bath and Boothbay Harbor for Independence Day to learning how to swim in Curtis pool on the Bowdoin campus, not to mention hearing numerous concerts with fabulous faculty and guest artists. Since then, for several years I have returned to Maine to teach and perform at the festival Lewis founded and directed, Bowdoin International Music Festival. It has also been a pleasure for me to return to Maine occasionally to perform during the winter season in Portland and at Bowdoin, Colby, and Bates colleges. Each summer, I love to visit Popham Beach and have enjoyed sightseeing up and down the Maine Coast. Special memories in Portland include time with my children at the Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine and the Portland Museum of Art. While we will be too busy rehearsing and performing with Bach Virtuosi to do much sightseeing, I am looking forward to eating with my colleagues at many of Portland’s fabulous restaurants.