Interviews by Lily O’Brien
Jeremy Constant, Concertmaster
Chair Endowment: The Catherine Munson Chair
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After winning the Grand Prize in the 1979 Du Maurier competition in Canada, Jeremy studied in New York with Ivan Galamian and then with the great violinist Itzhak Perlman before making the San Francisco Bay Area his home. He became a member of the San Francisco Symphony in 1984, with whom he continues to perform as Assistant Concertmaster. He has been Concertmaster of the Marin Symphony since 1994 and in 2000 was named Concertmaster of the Sun Valley Summer Symphony. He is a frequent soloist with the orchestra and participant in the Edgar M. Bronfman Chamber Series.
As an active soloist and chamber musician both here and abroad, Jeremy has performed on radio and television around the world. He was violinist in the San Francisco Piano Trio, and a founding member of the Navarro Trio and Navarro Quartet. He can be heard as Assistant Concertmaster on Grammy Award winning releases such as the continuing Mahler cycle by the San Francisco Symphony and can been seen on their ongoing television project Keeping Score.
Jeremy plays the ex-Heberlein Stradivarius, from the year 1700. This Stradivarius was donated to the San Francisco Symphony for his exclusive use. Residing in Oakland with his wife Sharon, Jeremy is a pilot who took over 7 years to build a plane which he currently enjoys flying.
Interview: With Principal Violist, Jenny Douglass, for Masterworks 2, 2020
How did you get started with your instrument?
Jeremy: According to my parents, when I was six, I asked for violin lessons. They found a local violin teacher who said, “Six is too young—get him piano lessons for the first year.” I played both piano and violin all through school until I went to Juilliard. By that time, I had played violin in orchestras and I knew that was what I wanted to do. I was just astonished that I could be part of this huge sound, with that great repertoire.
Jenny: I started violin when I was four in a Suzuki program. I kept going with violin and started playing in youth orchestras, and it became more and more fun. I switched to viola the summer before 9th grade at a summer music camp. There were no violas there that year. It was raining, and my violin teacher said, “I will give you a violin lesson outside, or a viola lesson inside.” Basically, they needed someone to play viola that summer and I got picked. I never looked back. The viola is way better than the violin! We get all the juicy harmonies.
What do you like about playing with the Marin Symphony?
Jeremy: My first orchestra was mixed professionals and non-professionals. It served the community and had room for a young violinist, just starting out on a potential career. When I started with the Marin Symphony, it was very much like that. Over the years it has progressed and improved and become part of the fabric of professional Bay Area musical life. It has elevated itself to where it’s just about the enjoyment of playing great music with great players.
Jenny: For one thing, the longevity of the people here. I think the average tenure of a Marin Symphony musician is about 25-30 years. The orchestra has had so many of the same people for so long that it’s incredibly familiar. Alasdair has taken the orchestra to completely new levels since I joined it in 1999, and the concerts just get better and better. Jeremy and Alasdair and I joined the orchestra one year apart. You can’t measure what that means for the trust and unspoken communications that happen onstage.
You will be playing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante together. Do you think your personal friendship will enhance the performance?
Jeremy: It is helpful if you both have the same approach to the music, and Jenny and I work well together. The piece is very joyful. We have fun when we’re playing together, and I think that translates into the body of the music.
Jenny: It’s definitely to our benefit that we are friends. There is an automatic agreement, because we know each other’s playing so well. The whole piece is a dialogue, so to play this piece with Jeremy, a dear long-term friend, is so comfortable. It will feel like we’re having a conversation onstage.
Do you have any unusual hobbies?
Jeremy: I spent seven years building Stella, an experimental Vans RV7A two-seater airplane. I finished it in 2010, and have been flying it ever since.
Jenny: I cannot beat building an airplane, but my hobby is also unusual—attending baseball games that my two sons are playing in. I go to approximately 100 baseball games a year.
If your instrument could talk to you, what would it say?
Jeremy: In a way, it already has. I play on a San Francisco-owned Stradivarius, and as I was first learning how to play it, it was learning how I wanted it to respond. They have their own personalities. There are occasions when it basically says, “Nope, not today.”
Jenny: I think it would say, “I’m glad you appreciate me.” Jeremy and I both play on very old instruments. They were both made in Cremona [Italy] around the same time, so we have had fun thinking that these instruments might have played together before.
Jeremy, what kind of superhero power do you think would suit Jenny?
Jeremy: A character in one of the Harry Potter books is given a little magical watch that makes her able to dial back and control time. I think Jenny would like that.
Jenny, what kind of super power do you think would suit Jeremy?
Jenny: Jeremy would fly for sure. He would be a flying superhero.
What kind of music do you like to listen to in your off time?
Jeremy: I built the airplane to classic rock—Santana, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles. That’s the music I go to when I don’t have to learn or review something.
Jenny: I listen to the kind of stuff I have listened to since college—Joni Mitchell, Ricki Lee Jones, and Ella Fitzgerald. I don’t listen to current radio.
Do you have a favorite composer?
Jeremy: My favorite composer would be anyone I haven’t played too much of recently. I will always go back to Bach, but if I listen to too much Bach, I need a break and have to listen to somebody else. It’s always going to be someone who has stood the test of time.
Jenny: It depends on the day. Last night I heard Yo-Yo Ma play all of Bach’s cello suites, so today I am thinking about Bach nonstop. And Mozart is just amazing. I think I would rotate my favorite composer between Bach, Mozart, and Brahms.
Why do you think music is so important?
Jeremy: Music has the ability to catch you completely off guard, because it bypasses all of the rational parts of the brain. It’s a bit like a smell that can take you immediately back to a certain place. There is absolutely something universal about music.
Jenny: Music brings people together. It communicates outside of language and transcends all the daily stuff. It’s bigger than talking and writing and reading—it creates feelings.