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Meet Robyn Bollinger, the Next Early-Career Musician in Residence

Posted On April 11, 2019 | 10:25 am | by ostmannj01 | Permalink
Rising star violinist breaks down barriers to classical music

“I want to make classical music accessible to anyone and everyone,” says Robyn Bollinger, a groundbreaking violinist with national acclaim who will take up the Early-Career Musician Residency at Dumbarton Oaks this fall.

Bollinger rose to national attention through regular performances on Public Radio International and NPR. After winning a prestigious Leonore Annenberg Arts Fellowship, she created the multimedia recital program CIACCONA: The Bass of Time, which tells the story of one of the oldest musical ideas—the repeating bass line—through solo violin music, animation, short documentaries, and historical research.

“I’m really passionate about taking pieces that might be a little daunting for some people and trying to make classical music feel a bit more personal for a modern audience,” says Bollinger.

Bollinger garnered praise from critics in the New York Times and Boston Globe for CIACCONA, which traversed 300 years of music and featured works by Biber, Bach, Bartók, and Berio. She toured the program and released its CD and DVD (Crier Records) during the 2017–2018 season. Bollinger has also won top prizes at international violin competitions, recorded with a Grammy-nominated ensemble, and played Carnegie Hall’s Weill Hall.

Robyn Bollinger

In September, Bollinger becomes the fourth Early-Career Musician in Residence at Dumbarton Oaks, a Harvard research institute, museum, and historic garden in Washington, DC. Inaugurated in 2014, the residency provides time and resources to young composers and musicians who show promise in transmitting traditions of classical music to younger generations.

The residency builds on a long Dumbarton Oaks tradition of supporting music. Igor Stravinsky, Nadia Boulanger, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Benjamin Britten, Francis Poulenc (in his American debut), Aaron Copland, Lucrezia Bori, and many other musical luminaries composed and performed for Dumbarton Oaks. The institution’s cofounder Mildred Barnes Bliss even commissioned Stravinsky to compose Concerto in E-flat (Dumbarton Oaks) for her 30th wedding anniversary.

Bollinger plans to create a new multimedia recital project during her residency, this one about encores: short recital pieces often seen as indulgent. “Encores are kind of like bonbons,” says Bollinger. “I love this idea of musical dessert, especially coming after CIACCONA, which is such a serious project."

Yet what might seem a mere indulgence has a very complicated history. Bollinger plans to explore the controversies surrounding the practice of encores, which were at times so popular they were played mid-piece, and at other times considered totally taboo. Composers might include the 19th-century Austrian violinist Fritz Kreisler, Paganini, or Bach.

“My generation is always looking at screens. We’re so engaged with technology,” says Bollinger. “And my hope is that by including technology in the performance, it’s a way to draw people into classical music. My goal with these multimedia projects is to establish a personal connection for every single member of the audience.”


Julia Ostmann is Postgraduate Writing and Reporting Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks.