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She's No Longer the Reluctant Talent

Jennifer Frautschi took violin lessons only because her big sister did. But one Aspen summer changed all that.

March 11, 2001|JOHN HENKEN | John Henken is a frequent contributor to Calendar

In the violin world, this story is becoming a familiar one. A Los Angeles-area talent is nurtured at the Colburn School by master teacher Robert Lipsett, wins just about every prize and position open locally, then heads East for wider opportunity and validation.

From this line--which includes Sheryl Staples, Leila Josefowicz and many others--comes Pasadena native Jennifer Frautschi. Winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1999 and fresh from a hot debut CD, the 27-year-old violinist returns to the Colburn School this afternoon with a recital in the institute's alumni series.

"My friends and I talk about this a lot," says Frautschi by phone from her Manhattan apartment. "I've always felt that it is really not necessary to live in New York to get a career in music. But with something like that [the Avery Fisher grant], yes, it probably helps. Particularly for somebody like me, who has never been an insider in the music business."

Not an insider, perhaps, but one with an impeccable institutional pedigree: Colburn School, USC, Harvard, New England Conservatory, Juilliard. And it was a summer at the Aspen Festival that committed a somewhat reluctant violinist to this arc.

"To be perfectly honest, I don't have any conscious memory of starting the violin, because it happened when I was 2. My sister Laura, who is four years older, was taking lessons, and from the earliest time that I can remember, I always wanted to do what she was doing," Frautschi recalls.

"For a long time it was just something that I did, but [I was] pretty disinterested and not terribly good. I was just treading water musically. I can remember working on one piece for three years, which is a really long time when you are 8 to 11 years old!"

Frautschi's family often visited Aspen in the summer because her father is a physicist and there is a physics institute there. The summer she turned 12, her family returned to Aspen and enrolled the sisters in the prestigious Aspen Music Festival and School.

"I resisted, because I didn't want to leave my friends for a whole summer. But it was really an eye-opener, this environment where people were very serious about music. Aspen is kind of a Juilliard summer camp, with lessons and master classes and concerts every week. That summer, working hard, practicing consistently, was my first immersion in the professional music world."

Upon her return, Frautschi began her studies with Lipsett, a teacher renowned for his patience and care in developing young musicians. She credits him as the first to see her full potential and the one who most influenced her decision to seek a musical career.

Her decision to go East, however, was not so much a conscious career move as, again following in her older sister's footsteps. Laura attended Harvard, and during her freshman year, Jennifer visited for a week. She was impressed by the "really charged intellectual atmosphere and varying interests."

When Jennifer's turn came to enter college, she was accepted into Harvard. She deferred that, however, to attend USC and continue working with Lipsett on building her musical potential. A year later, though, she followed her heart to Harvard, studying first in the music department but then in linguistics.

In her junior year, Frautschi also started in the artist diploma program at the New England Conservatory. There she became a member of a string quartet that traveled to New York regularly for coaching sessions with Robert Mann, legendary founder of the Juilliard String Quartet.

"It was just logical to go to New York after that," Frautschi says. "All my friends were there, and my sister. I came to Juilliard to study with Robert Mann, who was the other big influence on my music. This was what I always meant to do, I just went about it in an around-about way."


Finally completely committed to a music career, Frautschi went at it in a very direct way. She racked up wins from 1994 to 1997: the Washington International Competition, the Irving Klein International, the Juilliard Concerto Competition, the GM/Seventeen Magazine National Concerto Competition, and the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Brussels.

"What was important about competitions for me, especially after Harvard, was that competing was a way to focus purely on violin playing. It was also an opportunity to perform, though in a strange and restricted environment," Frautschi says. "If you do competitions for the right reasons, to be put under that kind of scrutiny can be a valuable experience."

Now out of school for three years, Frautschi has seen her career blossom in the three areas where she wants it concentrated: recitals, concerto performances and chamber music. She follows her own interests, which include jazz and alternative rock--she worked with singer Lisa Loeb on the albums "Tails" and "Firecracker."

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