[ Interviews ]

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi

August 8, 2017

By Janet Reynolds

Violinist Jennifer Frautschi Performs at Norfolk Chamber Music FestivalThis summer may mark violinist Jennifer Frautschi’s first visit to Norfolk, but it’s also is a reunion with her long-time friend, Norfolk Chamber Music Festival Director Melvin Chen.“I’ve known Melvin since he was a teen from the Aspen Music Festival,” she says. “I started attending when I was 12, and Melvin and his brother were there.”

Frautschi has led a busy professional life since those teen years. She’s a two-time GRAMMY®- Award nominee and Avery Fisher Career Grant recipient who performs with orchestras around the world. And she is a regular at music festivals as well, including Ojai, La Jolla, Santa Fe, Moab, Bridgehampton, and Salt Bay. Today, when she’s not performing, Frautschi teaches at Stonybrook University.

When Frautschi comes to Norfolk  she will be performing — with Chen on piano —Debussy’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in g minor on August 11 . It’s a piece, she says, that fits well with the Festival’s overall look at Dvořák and his influence on music in general and on American music in particular. “It’s the last piece he wrote,” she says. “I love that sonata. It’s very concise. In that quarter of an hour there’s a tremendous amount of color and texture that’s packed in.”

Frautschi loves the Debussy even though she says she’s not entirely sure the piano and violin always work well together musically. “I’ve never been a huge fan of the combination of violin and piano,” she says. “It’s a problematic combination. The two don’t really mesh that well.

“Given that, I think Debussy handles it brilliantly,” she says. “He’s able to pull off a wide array of colors. I particularly love in the first movement the way the violin ends up sounding like a wind instrument. It’s like a wooden flute. When it’s done well, it’s extremely startling. There’s a lot of possibility if you use your imagination.”

Frautschi started playing violin when she was not quite three. Her sister Laura Frautschi, who is also a professional violinist, was one reason, she says. “My sister and I are very close. I apparently even as a baby looked up to her and wanted to do everything she was doing,” Frautschi says. “It’s something we grew up doing together.” That included playing chamber music and attending summer programs. Because they are four years apart, however, Frautschi says sibling rivalry wasn’t an issue. “She was always a mentor,” she says. “It would have been tougher if we were closer in age, but four years is a pretty significant gap in development.”

Surprisingly, given her obvious accomplishments, Frautschi says she wasn’t initially sure violin was the right instrument for her. “When I was growing up I loved playing music, but I was not always firmly convinced violin was the right instrument for me,” she says. In junior high she fell in love with the oboe. The band director suggested she start, though, with the clarinet, a single rather than double reed instrument. “I loved playing and toyed with switching,” she says.

In high school Frautschi picked up the viola so she could play in more string quartets. Violas are often the toughest quartet slot to fill because there are fewer players. (Cue viola jokes, well known in musical circles.) “Both clarinet and viola are alto voices and I’ve actually always been more drawn to that kind of timbre,” Frautschi says, noting she contemplated officially switching to viola as well.

And yet, ultimately Frautschi stayed with violin. “I find it easier to get around the violin,” she says. She also loves the violin’s versatility. “It can be virtuosic and lyrical,” she says, noting that the instrument’s lower register still pulls her most. “But what I love on the instrument is more the alto darker register. I’m not playing the violin because I like playing really high. The violin doesn’t have as wide a register as a cello, but it can go high and low, and I enjoy the darker registers.”

Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.