Joan Jeanrenaud: A Fourth Approach to Performing Music

A Fourth Approach to Performing Music: Excerpt #01

FRANK J. OTERI: I was snooping around while you were making tea, and I must say I am very, very envious of your collection of Source magazines.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Somebody loaned those to me. They are not mine. But they’ve left them here for a very long time.

FRANK J. OTERI: I noticed Source, and I noticed the Schubert Quintet on the chair, and then I noticed Haydn, then all these contemporary discs, like the Annie Gosfield CD on Tzadik that I love.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: She’s great.

FRANK J. OTERI: As a performer who for years has been in the public eye as a chamber musician in one of the most important American string quartets, and now establishing a significant career as a soloist, what do you feel the role of the performer is towards contemporary music, what should the role of the performer be?

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Well I can only speak for what my role I think should be as a performer in relation to contemporary music, and of course for me it’s very tied up with my history. Spending 20 years in the Kronos Quartet had a huge influence, and I would not be doing what I do now for sure had it not been for that experience. On the other hand, before I joined the Kronos I was also involved in contemporary music.

FRANK J. OTERI: You were part of the Contemporary Music Ensemble at Indiana University…

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Well, I was one of the founding members of it. I was studying composition with Fred Fox and he started the ensemble specifically to play Peter Maxwell Davies‘s Eight Songs for a Mad King.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh that’s a great piece.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: It is a great piece. I think that was one of the first pieces we played on that concert with some other compositions, which were very interesting because at that time I was fairly new to notation that was not conventional notation. I was certainly exposed to a lot of things early on. Even growing up in Memphis I did pieces by composer who were at Memphis State University which is where I went to take my cello lessons. So early on people realized that I was very open to new experiences and trying things, so of course you get all these composers coming up to you saying, “Oh, play my piece.” It’s hard for them to find performers sometimes.

FRANK J. OTERI: I find it interesting that you say you studied composition. That already puts you in a different place than a lot of performers.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Well I studied composition, I wasn’t very good at it I don’t think, and it’s interesting now because I’m starting compose only for myself really at this point, but I do play in this group with Larry Ochs and Miya Masaoka and so hopefully at some point I’ll be brave enough to compose something for the three of us.

FRANK J. OTERI: And is there a lot of improvisation in this group?

JOAN JEANRENAUD: There is. I also studied improvisation when I moved to Indiana University – David Baker was there…

FRANK J. OTERI: He’s amazing.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: He is and that was a terrific experience. And I was very involved with the whole classical approach of learning how to play the cello at that time. So even though I took improvisation from David, at the same time I realized what a huge world that was and I felt like I didn’t have time to completely devote myself to learn.

FRANK J. OTERI: And the cello is only now starting to really be seen as an improvisatory instrument. I know that in the 50s Ron Carter played jazz on the cello and that was one of the first times it had been done. Well, before that Oscar Pettiford did a jazz cello thing, but he played pizzicato so he was really treating the cello like a high bass. It wasn’t really a cello. But Ron Carter sounds like a saxophone and it really showed that the instrument had a lot more versatility than people might have thought before that.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: I do think the cello does have a lot of versatility and part of it is because the range is really pretty extreme. Because you can play low, you can play like a bass, at the same time you can play really beautiful melodies up high.

FRANK J. OTERI: The high G is wonderful, and it’s got such a unique tone because the string is so taut up there, so it’s a really, really nice sound.

JOAN JEANRENAUD: Yeah, I agree. (both laugh)

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