About

Jessica Blackwell

Jessica Blackwell

Violin

Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2009

 

What inspired you to pursue the violin? Was there a point at which you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?
I decided I wanted to be an orchestral musician during my undergraduate studies. I was fortunate to attend a school with an exceptional orchestra program, led by Maestro Larry Rachleff. The combination of being a part of that ensemble and working with Mr. Rachleff, one of the most interesting musicians I know, inspired me towards this orchestral career.
 
If you had the chance to meet any composer, living or dead, who would it be?
I would love to meet Robert and Clara Schumann; I would like to ask them how their marriage survived all the trials they faced. I think Robert Schumann’s music is very poignant and intricate, due to how complex his personal life was, and I would love the opportunity to chat with him about that.
 
You’re leading a free OnStage program at the Schermerhorn on April 29, 2015. Can you share more about that?
I absolutely love the OnStage program because it gives musicians an opportunity to interact with our audience in a very special way. I love that the audience is onstage with us and can ask questions or share their thoughts. Hearing what the audience has to say about the music is the best part, and I always learn a remarkable amount from them, plus it is really fun meeting new people!
 
I am very excited about the April 29 program for several reasons: it involves about 16 musicians, a very big number for an OnStage performance. The audience will have the chance to meet and interact with more Nashville Symphony musicians than usual, but in a more personal way than they would at a regular symphony concert. I have programmed two incredible string octets by Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, and I think the audience will find both works, though very different in style, extremely thrilling.
 
A string octet is a special group, because it is double the size of a string quartet, but not quite as large as a string orchestra. Just as in a string quartet, the amount of personal responsibility each musician has is great — and perhaps even more so in an octet because there are twice as many people playing together and no conductor. Therefore, the musical awareness, flexibility and sensitivity one must possess in an octet is quite significant. I think the audience will find this program quite special! 
 
If you were given the chance to program an orchestra concert, which works would you select for the performance?
That is a difficult question because there is so much great music out there! I am always excited when the Nashville Symphony does Brahms Symphonies, because these symphonies are so satisfying, both to listen to and to play, and I feel like I can really sink my teeth into that material. I think it is important to feature 21st century composers, and I think that works best in small doses. Whatever the program is, I would keep it under two hours. Great music is like great food — too much and your stomach starts to hurt :)
 
Where do you teach, and how does teaching influence your experience as a member of the orchestra?
I have the honor of teaching at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and this is an invaluable part of my career as a musician. I learn an incredible amount from my students; my teaching balances the performance aspect of being a musician — I really couldn’t do one without the other.
 
What do you enjoy about performing with the Nashville Symphony?
The thing I enjoy most is how kind our audience is. I love looking out into the audience after we play and seeing genuine appreciation and happiness in people’s faces — this is extremely gratifying for me.
 
What would you most like people in the audience to know about the Nashville Symphony?
I would love for the audience to know how much the musicians appreciate them — we do not underestimate how vital our supporters are to what we do. 
 
What is the most unusual thing that’s happened to you while performing onstage?
Well, this didn’t happen to me, but one time I watched a YouTube video in which a dachshund puppy somehow ended up onstage during a performance of Handel’s Messiah. I secretly wish that would happen here — that my dachshund, Lollipop, would mysteriously wander onstage during a Nashville Symphony performance!
 
Do you enjoy listening to music? And if so, what have you been listening to lately?
I absolutely love non-classical music. Before big performances or auditions, I listen to hip-hop, because it pumps me up. I find country music very relaxing, so I tend to listen to that after work or on the weekends. I’ve recently been introduced to the indie music genre and I’m loving that right now — artists like First Aid Kit, Natalie Prass and Sufjan Stevens.