Jennifer Orchard

“I can’t remember a time when I was not playing the violin,” says PSO violinist Jennifer Orchard. The statement reflects on her earliest memories of music, but it speaks to a larger truth about this gifted artist: Life and music have always been joined as she lives out her life passion every day. Orchard’s biography spans all of the rites of passage that come with attaining the status of a world-class musician – the childhood successes, the rigors of conservatory training, and the progress of a professional career. Yet the conventional narrative does not capture the more complete picture of Orchard, who has a heartfelt love for the beauty of music and a sense of purpose as she brings it to life.

Orchard came to the violin as a young child and grew rapidly. Her early success led to admission into the Curtis Institute of Music and Juilliard, where she honed the skills that would lead to a professional career. Her conservatory studies presented the great challenge of any superior musician, the balance between technical excellence and artistic expression. She speaks with reverence of her teachers, including famed violinists Szymon Goldberg, Robert Mann and Lorand Fenyves, who helped her achieve both virtuosity and artistry. “They made me think about what I wanted to say musically,” says Orchard, and in the process she felt her artistic spirit emerge.

From her conservatory studies, Orchard entered her first professional position as a member of the Lark Quartet. She played with Lark for eight years, from 1993 to 2001, and while there began a recording career that continues to this day. While she has always loved the chamber repertoire and greatly enjoyed her time with the quartet, she eventually wanted to move into orchestral music – and specifically to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, then led by Mariss Janssons. She won a seat in the PSO and has remained ever since.

“Our orchestra sounds amazing,” observes Orchard as she considers her career now. She holds deep admiration for the artistic excellence of her fellow members and expresses great pride in being a part of the PSO, “We have such stars in our orchestra, and every time I hear one of the solo instruments, it just grabs you.” Her time with the orchestra has had ample fulfillment for this member of the First Violin section, and her greatest joy comes with live performance as the orchestra cultivates a relationship with the audience. “I play so differently when people are there. I need to express, and I love to play for audiences!”

Orchard commitment to chamber music has endured during her time with the PSO, and she has focused it specifically on composers who have been unduly neglected.  She and three other PSO musicians formed the Clarion Quartet in 2015, and the quartet has committed itself to performance and awareness of composers who have been subject to oppression. Clarion has been performing the works of composers suppressed, and often killed, during the Holocaust and recently entered the studio to make a recording of their work. Orchard describes playing the work as “haunting” because “their lives and careers were ruined, but she adds, “Their music escaped, and that is the beautiful thing.” Her chamber and recording work also includes partnering with pianist Igor Kraevsky on the music of Paul Juon, a Russian composer whose works are being recorded for the first time in Orchard’s work. “The music is beautiful, and it doesn’t take any time to fall in love with it.”

Orchard expresses a sincere and humble gratitude for having these opportunities – the opportunity to play with an ensemble of extraordinarily gifted musicians and for appreciative audiences – which is the fulfillment of a life mission. As for how she articulates that personal mission, she says without hesitation: “To always have passion about the music, and to never stop playing.”