Dylana Jenson really Superman? Most days, the wildly talented violinist is disguised as a typical middle-aged mom of four grown children. But when the concert hall calls, Jenson slips into a phone booth and emerges with a new concerto in her fingers, dressed and ready to solo with the orchestra!Is
Okay, maybe it doesn't happen in a phone booth. But let's just say that Dylana Jenson has never been the "typical" concert artist, and as an adult her creative output has come in bursts, with long periods in between.
"Sometimes I forget: do I even know how to play the violin?" Jenson said, speaking to me over the phone from Grand Rapids, Mich. where she lives with her husband, conductor David Lockington. "I had a friend once, we were friends for two years, and she never even knew I was a violinist!"
Of course, the world has known about her artistry from the time she began concertizing at age eight. By age 13 she was playing with major orchestras. At 17, she won a silver medal in the International Tchaikovsky competition in Moscow. She studied with Manuel Compinsky, Nathan Milstein and Josef Gingold. At the age of 19, she made a definitive recording of the Sibelius Concerto with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. She married conductor David Lockington when she was 21, and the mad pace slowed down; even coming to a halt for a long while, after she lost the use of the 1743 Guarnerius del Gesu she'd been borrowing.
In 2009, armed anew with a violin by the well-respected modern luthier Samuel Zygmuntowicz, she emerged to give us a fantastic recording of the Shostakovich Violin Concerto - a piece she said she learned in about three weeks, owing to a habit of procrastination.
On Saturday, Jenson will play Prokofiev Concerto No. 2 with the Pasadena Symphony, with Lockington conducting. (Come see it, I'll be there too: click here for more information.)
What is it like, to perform with your husband conducting?
"Thirty-five years ago, when we first played together, I would just look up and start laughing, 'What is this? This is so bizarre!' I just thought it was hilarious," she said.
Back then, Lockington was just starting out as a 25-year-old conductor, while Jenson had already performed hundreds of concerts. "I knew what made for a great conductor, working with a soloist," Jenson said, "so I really started to impart my knowledge and help him -- He is an amazing accompanist, I've obviously watched him over the years. So I don't even give it a thought. With some conductors, you have to watch out, you have to be aware of what they're doing -- with him, I just do my thing."
Last January, Jenson took a two-week retreat to her sister's house in California to learn the Prokofiev. Like the Shostakovich, Prokofiev's second violin concerto is a piece she hadn't previously performed.
"The Prokofiev is a very interesting piece to learn. On first approach, it didn't seem to me like it was going to be the same kind of massive work as the Shostakovich, in terms of length and technical difficulty," Jenson said. "But in the end, it's an incredibly exposed piece, which is quite delicate in its singing. It doesn't have a strong, bombastic kind of technicality to it, and I have found it to be profoundly challenging - and wonderful!"
But learning the Prokofiev was not the only obstacle that Jenson faced. In June, her mother fell ill from something doctors had trouble diagnosing. When they finally named the disease -- full-blown, metastasized bone cancer -- she had only a week to live.
"The day before she died, I told her that I would play her the Prokofiev," she said. Caring for her mother, she had not touched her violin. "But I called my pianist friend, and we rolled my mother's Spinnet into this three- or four-foot area in front of her bedroom. I stood in the doorway, and while she was still very lucid, I played it for her.
"I just pulled myself together. I just said to myself, I can't be emotional, I have to be in this piece, to give it to her, in these last hours. I have to tell you, I played it so well for her, I don't know how. I pulled it together and I really went for it."
Just like a Superman.
* * *
If you are in the Los Angeles area, come see Jenson play with the Pasadena Symphony at either 2 p.m. or 8 p.m. this Saturday. Click here for more information. On a personal note, find me in the second violins for this concert. I'm looking forward to performing Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony for the second time with David Lockington conducting - the first time I was a 15-year-old member of the Denver Young Artists Orchestra, and Lockington was our new conductor!
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