New England’s musical community, especially composers, violinists, and lovers of new music, has lost a valued friend. Janet Packer, outstanding violinist and promoter of new music for the instrument, died on June 20th, from complications of treatment for cancer, age 64. A 1970 graduate of Wellesley College, she won awards for her playing. After earning a master’s degree in history from Brandeis, Packer spent some years as a freelance violinist in the Boston area, performing with the Pops, Banchetto Musicale, and Dinosaur Annex, of which she was a founding member. She then decided to concentrate on a career as a soloist with particular interest in promoting new works. She established the Pro Violino Foundation and began to commission works, which she premiered, from such composers as Gardner Read, Juan Orrego-Salas, William Thomas McKinley, and Edwin London. She recorded McKinley’s Violin Concerto No. 1 for MMC Records and a Serenata for violin and small orchestra by Vittorio Rieti for CRI; she also made inaugural recordings of older music, for example works for violin and piano by Charles-Marie Widor (Centaur Records), which was widely admired. Among her recent commissions were a sonata for unaccompanied violin by Andrew Imbrie and, in 2011, Imaginary Variations for violin and piano by Krzysztof Meyer, which she performed more than 20 times. And this writer won’t forget her vivid playing of Debussy’s Fêtes in an arrangement for violin and piano which I had made at her suggestion.
A beloved teacher in her private studio, at the Rivers School Conservatory, Packer for 12 years chaired the violin department at Longy, and was named Studio Teacher of the Year by the Massachusetts chapter of the American String Teachers Association. Three years ago she was a founder of Rethinking Bach, at Queens College, an annual workshop in historical performance. In a tireless schedule of solo performing, she played all over the world, including appearances with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, the National Symphony of Panama, and a tour in 2006 in China with a master class at the Beijing National Conservatory.
A full account of her recent achievements may be had at www.janetpacker.com, a site overseen by her husband of 30 years, Sam Rechtoris. Composers everywhere have lost one of their most loyal defenders; all of us will miss her fine playing, fearless energy, and especially her friendly warmth.
17 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]
My heart is deeply saddened by the news of Janet’s untimely death. She was our daughter Sarah’s violin teacher at the Longy School throughout her formative years, and oversaw her transformation to violist after recognizing her passion for the instrument. A brilliant violinist and a genius at taking incipient musicians through the process of becoming true performers with depth and imagination, she was also one of the kindest and most generous people I ever knew. She never pushed – she didn’t have to. She simply spread the feast before one budding musician after another, and invited them to partake, and showed them how. She will be deeply missed by the many whose lives she touched.
Comment by Margaret Darling — June 26, 2014 at 10:54 am
I am so sorry to hear this sad news about Janet. This is a great loss for the Boston musical community, and for musicians everywhere. Deep condolences to Sam and to all who knew Janet personally.
Comment by David Witten — June 26, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Janet, you took the road less traveled and made beautiful music every step of the way. You enriched our lives with your musicianship, dedication, and grace. It was an honor to be your colleague at Longy for over 20 years. I will miss you, be at peace.
Comment by Melissa Tucker — June 26, 2014 at 4:06 pm
Janet was one of the most thoughtful and reasoned voices of my many colleagues at Longy, and I am shocked and regretful that she is gone and no longer the teacher that we admired. As Melissa writes musicanship, dedication and grace were only among the few things she brought to us. I admired Janet and it was an honor to be considered her peer. She was a beautiful person in all ways. Peace to you and yours, my friend.
Comment by Thomas Enman — June 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm
Wow, I’m still in shock from hearing this news. I just spoke with Janet a few months ago and was hoping to sending my daughter to her to study when she was old enough. I was Janet’s private student for ten years, from the age of seven until I graduated from high school, and then under her tutelage again when I attended Longy for a graduate diploma. Throughout my studies with her, I was always learning something new and growing as a musician. As I matured, she found me all sorts of incredible opportunities to play to my strengths and test my boundaries, and even when I insisted upon playing a piece I wasn’t ready for, and came to her with it half-learned, instead of yelling at me she helped me learn it the rest of the way and then polish it to the point where I could win competitions with it. She was a friend and a mentor to my whole family, and even played for me at my wedding. She will be dearly missed.
Comment by Dawn Perlner — June 26, 2014 at 9:40 pm
A kindred spirit! Friend, colleague and mentor; you touched so many young lives. We will miss you, Janet. Love, Scott.
Comment by Scott Woolweaver — June 26, 2014 at 11:08 pm
I am stunned by this sad news. Janet was utterly unique – a wonderful teacher whose students played with such joy and confidence – I’ll never forget how three of them contributed to our Bartok show with performances of several of the Bartok duos for violins, especially “Mosquitos” while the cast sat around an imaginary camp fire and swatted the bugs away. I will miss your lovely way of telling the truth no matter what the situation. Tactful, smart, full of grace, courageous. And as a violinist you were all of these things! What a great loss. You will always live in the memories of the many people who loved and admired you and were honored to be your colleagues.
Comment by Lisa Parker — June 27, 2014 at 10:20 am
My son was one of the three who performed in the Bartok show mentioned above. Janet was his teacher for several years, and working with and knowing her was a privilege for us both. Janet once showed me a book her brother had written about politeness, and, as I recall, it contained a dedication to her as the most polite person he knew. She was certainly that, as well as the epitome of patience, kindness, and generosity. I have not seen her for several years, but I feel deeply sad at the thought that she is no longer part of our world.
Comment by Rob Leith — June 27, 2014 at 8:43 pm
Janet was the first chamber music coach I had at Longy, and we worked on the Brahms trio for piano, violin, and horn together. I was fourteen and had never played Brahms before, and what a piece to start with! I learned far more than just a trio that summer, and wish that I had had more chances to work with her over the years.
Comment by Thomas Dawkins — June 27, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Janet and I were stand partners in the MIT/Wellesley Symphony Orchestra under David Epstein in the 1968-1970 period. I was concertmaster at first, but she (appropriately) replaced me. We had many enjoyable experiences. I remember a concert in Chicago, where Janet had an 8 bar solo in a Schonberg composition, I don’t remember which one. I “harmonized” with her. Janet was always upbeat and respectful of my musicianship, even though she was clearly better trained than I. I saw her occasionally in later years, as we lived in the same town. I am very saddened by this news, and will greatly miss her.
Comment by Stuart Schulman — June 27, 2014 at 11:16 pm
When I first arrived to teach at Longy more than 25 years ago, Janet, you stood out with a kind of radiance that seemed to be generated by passionate engagement with your teaching and administrative activities there. Your wisdom, your musicianship, and your kindness showed through in everything you did, and I have looked up to you fondly ever since. After the painful closing of Longy’s highly-respected Community Programs less than a year ago, the Rivers School Conservatory provided me with a wonderful environment to continue some of my teaching. It was a gift to find you at Rivers as well this past year. I had looked forward to continuing my longstanding relationship with you in this fine and friendly musical community for years to come. I will miss you greatly!
Comment by Deborah Yardley Beers — June 28, 2014 at 8:14 am
This is a very deep loss. Janet was my daughter’s violin teacher, her musical guide and inspiration. She was gifted and beautiful, she taught with compassion and wisdom, she had an open and loving heart. It is difficult to comprehend that we will not see her again.
Comment by Susan Nitkin — June 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm
My friend Heidi Hendricks passed along this sad news. As a former college of Janet’s at Longy, I remember her sweet voice as she navigated between all the strong artistic personalities. She was always performing great new works. I am so sad to hear this.
Comment by Heather McCowen — June 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm
Janet was a wonderful human being as well as a consummate artist and pedagogue. We met many years ago when she performed at BargeMusic in New York. Her lively intelligence and native charm suffesed her playing as well. What a sad loss to our world. May choirs of angels sing her to her rest.
Comment by Charles Rufino — June 30, 2014 at 12:51 pm
Janet was a very dear friend and close musical colleague. Such a wonderful violinist, sensitive musician, sympathetic and empathic collaborator, and an always generous, warm spirit. I had the great honor and pleasure of playing many duo recitals with her, wherein she always made it ridiculously easy for me to maintain a deep and unwavering connection with her on every musical level. I was looking forward to working on a new duo program with Janet, of Ravel, Franz Schreker and Peter Mennin, and to many upcoming performances we had already scheduled. I know she indelibly touched and enriched so many musical lives, through her students and listeners. Deeply saddened and still trying to process this–she has left us way, way too soon.
Comment by Geoffrey Burleson — June 30, 2014 at 2:50 pm
(A correction regarding my above comment: Janet and I had planned to program a work by Hans Pfitzner, not Franz Schreker. Mark, if you like, you can simply correct my above comment. I know it may not be much of a relevant detail, but I think Janet would approve of such accuracy!)
Comment by Geoffrey Burleson — June 30, 2014 at 5:23 pm
Janet was an impecable and wonderful violinist…I remember her as the soloist for a recording of the Serenata by Vittorio Rieti for a CD, I was part of the orchestra, and felt an honor to be with her as member of the chamber orchestra…She had a great technical comand of the piece and a beautiful warm sound…As a person and teacher she was unique, and will be much missed in the community by her students, colegues and musicians every were…Very sad news…
Luis A. Ibanez R.
Comment by Luis A. Ibanez R. — July 1, 2014 at 3:05 am
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