April 15, 2024

Violin pedagogue Jessica Lee appointed full-time chair of CIM violin department

A portrait of Jessica Lee with her violin at CIM.

For some, especially in music, teaching isn’t just a profession. It’s a calling.

Count among that group violinist Jessica Lee

On Monday, CIM announced that Lee will leave The Cleveland Orchestra to assume an expanded and full-time leadership role as chair of its violin department. 

In this capacity, starting this fall, Lee will take up a new and high-profile mantle as a member of the CIM faculty and participate more broadly in CIM’s chamber music program and special initiatives outside the academic calendar. 

“After years of teaching while playing in the great Cleveland Orchestra, I am so excited to devote myself full-time to the students I love and admire,” Lee said.

“Alongside my wonderful colleagues, I will work tirelessly to provide the greatest music education and support for our passionate young musicians for many years to come.”

Lee has been assistant concertmaster of The Cleveland Orchestra since 2016. The ensemble is widely regarded as one of the finest orchestras in the world. 

Before that, she was a member of the esteemed Johannes String Quartet and Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. She was grand prize winner of the 2005 Concert Artists Guild International Competition and has appeared with other major orchestras and summer festivals across the U.S. and worldwide. 

With performances that have been described as “breathtaking,” “flawless,” and able to “enchant anyone within hearing distance,” it is no surprise that Lee has been hailed as “a soloist which one should make a special effort to hear, whenever she plays.”

Lee has taught at CIM since 2016, when she was named a visiting member of the violin and chamber music faculty. Prior to joining the CIM faculty, she taught at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and served for five years as adjunct professor of violin at Vassar College. 

A native of Virginia, Lee began playing the violin at age three and quickly captured national attention with a feature article in LIFE magazine. Following studies with Weigang Li of the Shanghai Quartet, she entered the studios of Robert Mann and Ida Kavafian at the Curtis Institute of Music at age 14. She later completed a master’s degree with Mann at the Juilliard School.

In her new role at CIM, Lee will extend a long legacy of acclaimed violin pedagogues, including David and Linda Cerone, Donald Weilerstein, David Updegraff, Jan Sloman, and Paul Kantor. She also will lead one of the nation’s most illustrious violin departments, a group that includes such luminaries as Ilya Kaler, Jaime Laredo, Malcolm Lowe, Olga Dubossarskaya Kaler, Stephen Rose, and Philip Setzer

Lee is one of several high-profile artists to join or expand their roles on the CIM faculty of late. In recent months, CIM has celebrated the appointments of pianists Gabriela Montero, Ilya Itin, and Dr. Daria Rabotkina, saxophonist Steven Banks, and cellist Wei Yu

First to formally welcome Lee to her new role is Setzer, a founding member of the renowned Emerson String Quartet and artistic director of CIM’s string and piano chamber music program. He praised Lee’s artistry and devotion to teaching and said the CIM violin department embraces Lee as chair. 

Lee is “not only a great violinist and musician, but also a very gifted teacher and wonderful colleague and friend,” he said. “We are all so fortunate to have her now full-time at CIM.” 

Scott Harrison, CIM’s Executive Vice President & Provost, noted how special and valuable it will be for CIM’s violin department to be chaired by someone with the combined performance and pedagogical credentials that Jessica Lee has amassed over her career on the world’s great stages and in teaching studios. 

He described Lee as a “beacon of positivity, curiosity, and musicianship” and predicted her impact at CIM will be even more profound as she takes up a leadership role and applies her vast performing experience and community-building talents across CIM’s academic divisions. 

“Jessica Lee has had an outsized impact on CIM since her first days as a visiting faculty member” Harrison said. “Her newly expanded role is an enormous win for the violin department, for CIM and its students, and for the future of classical music. We look forward to the fall, when she’ll be a daily presence at the school.” 

(Photo by Timothy Bates)