Violinist Francesca Anderegg follows her passion from Juilliard to St. Olaf

October 03, 2014
Francesca Anderegg
Francesca Anderegg on the St. Olaf campus
Jay Gabler/MPR

As we walked across the campus of St. Olaf College on a crisp September morning, violinist Francesca Anderegg mentioned a recital she'd recently played, an upcoming student orchestra performance, and the annual Christmas choral spectacular. Finally, I asked her just how many classical music performances take place at St. Olaf each year.

She paused and thought for a moment, then shook her head and said, "Uncountable."

That's one reason Anderegg, a Harvard- and Juilliard-trained musician who's less than a decade out from her own college graduation, chose to come to Minnesota to join the music faculty at St. Olaf. "There's a high degree of knowledge, of passion and appreciation for music in this community," she said. "The students are incredibly motivated to learn."

Anderegg was raised in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts. She laughed and nodded when I identified her as a "townie" amidst the massive community of classical musicians and listeners who descend each year on the nearby Tanglewood, summertime home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

That experience helped inspire her to become a classical musician, but most important was the influence of her music-loving parents. Deciding that playing piano was "too lonely," they gave a cello and a violin to Anderegg and her twin brother Peter when they were three. Anderegg picked up the violin and began sawing away on the wrong side of the bridge, and that decided it: she would be the violinist, while her brother became a cellist. Both excelled: Peter Anderegg is now acting principal cellist with the Phoenix Symphony.

Though Francesca Anderegg was already leaning towards a career in music when she graduated from high school, she chose Harvard rather than a conservatory in part because "it's not just about music." Her experience at Harvard, she says, "helps me now quite a lot here" at St. Olaf, where students are musically accomplished but are also interested in having diverse academic experiences.

After receiving her bachelor's degree in 2005, Anderegg went on to Juilliard, where she earned a doctorate in what she calls a "multifaceted experience" that involved both scholarship and performance — including performances in Juilliard's new-music ensemble and at the Lucerne Festival under the baton of Pierre Boulez.

"Everyone's always saying that as a musician you need to specialize," she said, "but I love variety." In her job as assistant professor of music at St. Olaf, she said, "I still get to have this variety. There are always new adventures."

Anderegg joined the St. Olaf faculty in fall 2012, moving to Minnesota with her husband Reinaldo Moya, a composer who also teaches at St. Olaf. In addition to her teaching, Anderegg frequently performs as a substitute with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and has also performed in South America — initially through a touring group of Latin American musicians she came to know in New York.

Moving from New York to Northfield has been a big change for Anderegg. The pace of life isn't quite what it is in the Big Apple — "I like to be busy at a maximum level, and that can be challenging" — but on balance, she said, "it's been incredibly positive." She's been impressed, she says, by the high degree of interest in classical music among people in Northfield, and in Minnesota generally.

Sitting in her Christiansen Hall office, the door temporarily closed to the quiet cacophony sounding from the building's dozens of rehearsal rooms, Anderegg reflected that "we don't know what we're going to have opportunities to do. You don't have that much choice about where your path will lead."

As a teacher, Anderegg aims to prepare her students for all aspects of a potential career in music. "One of the challenges is helping students figure out what to do after St. Olaf." It can be hard, she said, "to see talented young people while having my own understanding of how difficult it is to make a living as a classical musician. I try to focus on preparing them for that."

She was once asked, said Anderegg, whether it's hard to teach so many students knowing they can't all become professional musicians. "I said, there's a value in this beyond professional training. There's a passion for learning, for being part of a community, that's self-generating."

There was a moment in grad school, said Anderegg, where she realized her life was at a crossroads — that she was about to begin a life as a professional musician and music teacher. She asked herself, she said, "Is this what I want to do?" The answer: yes.

"I love playing violin," said Anderegg. "I am so lucky to have a job doing what I trained to do. Being a violinist profoundly connects you with other people, and leads you on adventures. I couldn't have imagined the things I would do and see."