Janine Jansen brings tears to the eyes of audiences across the globe with her gentle lyricism and poignant performances. Born in 1978 in the Dutch province of Utrecht, she has gone on to become one of the world’s greatest violin players, praised not just for her musical prowess; but for the sincerity and feeling with which she plays. On 28 June, she will play in the opening concert of the prestigious Utrecht International Chamber Music Festival; an event that Jansen herself founded back in 2003.
This year will be the first edition of the Utrecht International Chamber Music Festival not to be curated by Jansen who, after a very successful 13 years at the helm, decided to pass on her role as creative director to 25-year-old Harriet Krijgh. “It was a very big part of my life and it will always stay very close to my heart,” explains the artist. “But it takes a lot of energy and I felt it was time to pass it to the next generation – the new creative director is a wonderful young cellist.”
The five-day-long festival is world renowned and welcomes both international stars and young ensembles. According to Jansen, it was always just as important to invite rising stars as well as big names. “It should be about letting young talent play and giving them a stage, such as when I gave hundreds of young violinists the chance to play together with me and my friends. That was a really nice experience,” she recalls. “It’s definitely important to inspire young people. It’s important to give everybody a chance to be in contact with music. “During the festival we always made sure to also do concerts especially for very young kids. I mean, even my two-yearold niece would go just to get contact with music and to play the instruments for a little bit.”
A musical dynasty
Music has always been in Jansen’s life: her father is an organist and harpsichord player, while her mother is a singer. Both her brothers are also musicians. “There was just always music at home. There were so many instruments in the house; a piano, two harpsichords, even an organ,” she recalls. “It’s funny how, of course, kids pick up everything that their parents and the family around them do,” she smiles, revealing that her niece is already following the family tradition. “My oldest brother has two daughters and I love being an auntie; it’s so wonderful. The oldest one is nearly four and just started to have violin lessons.” She has a head start on Jansen, who was six when she first began playing the violin. Her natural gift soon became apparent, but success would not come without a huge amount of hard work and determination. “When I started to play, it was not more than half an hour a day, but that increased very quickly,” she remembers. “I always enjoyed it. Well, I mean, of course there were times when I would have rather gone outside to play, but it never felt like ‘oh I have to practise’.“I was just a normal child, but I knew I wanted to play the violin so I knew I had to practise. That was part of it.”
At what age did the young Jansen realise she could make a career out of her talent? “I can never really find an answer to that question because it just kind of gradually happened. I loved to play, it was just part of my life.”
Was there anything else that Jansen could have ended up doing? Another impossible question. “I cannot imagine my life without music,” she admits. Fortunately, one does not have to imagine such a scenario. As she approaches her 40th birthday, Jansen’s career seems to be one triumph after another. This season she is artist-in-residence at both the Philharmonie Luxembourg and the London Symphony Orchestra, in addition to her residency at leading recital venue Wigmore Hall, not to mention performing with the likes of the Vienna Philharmonic and the Orchestre National de Belgique.
There is also a visit to Asia with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to fit in. “It’s very interesting to see how different audiences are throughout the world,” she explains, pointing out that Eastern concert-goers are often “very focused”. “But I feel like I’m generalising too much,” she muses. “It’s not about how people show what they are feeling. For me, the most important thing is how people receive the music. They don’t have to show that in any way.
“The music is for the heart and soul. It’s very beautiful and music is powerful – if it connects people in a hall with energy and the focus – but that can happen in many different ways. This sounds extremely corny to say, but I just feel very lucky to be to be involved in something so special and powerful.”
Jansen was born in Soest, a town in the centre of the Netherlands, with the city of Utrecht playing an important role in her formative years. “My father was the organist of the Dom Church. My grandfather was the choir conductor. I went there from an early age and I feel very strongly connected to that place – to that city and also church music.”
Heart strings Nowadays, Jansen is married to Swedish conductor Daniel Blendulf, and spends her time between touring in either Utrecht or Stockholm. Does she have a favourite place to perform? “There are so many wonderful places. I mean, there are certain places that I come back to very regularly like London, that feels really special. I feel very welcome here. And whenever you play in places where you have family and friends it feels very special.”
Last year, Jansen officially received the 1707 Stradivarius ‘Rivaz–Baron Gutmann’ violin on loan from Dextra Musica, an Oslo-based foundation that normally only lends instruments to Norwegian musicians.
“That was a big thing for me,” she grins. “I’m so lucky that they gave me the chance to play this for many years. It’s a big opportunity and so inspiring to play.”
What adventures await the artist and her beloved new golden period ‘Strad’? Having already worked with the world’s most eminent orchestras, released a number of successful albums, and has been bestowed prizes including the Dutch Music Prize (2003) and the Royal Philharmonic Society Instrumentalist Award (2009), does Jansen have anything left on her to-do list? “I have so many dreams, thank God!” she laughs. “The main wish is just to continue this very exciting and inspiring journey, to meet different musicians and experience wonderful things that will change my view on things or develop my ideas about things – not only as a musician, but also in life. “Of course, there are some pieces I haven’t played yet, musicians I haven’t played with yet, concert halls that I have not played. But it is more a general feeling of just staying open and being inspired. That’s the wish!” Looking to the future, could Jansen ever see herself retiring? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. “I really do not want to stop and I cannot think of a reason why I would,” she concludes. “Music is in my veins.”
TEXT: ANNA VILLELEGER – PHOTOS: © DECCA/MARCO BORGGREVE