Résumé: Principal violist for the San Francisco Symphony; principal violist of the St. Louis Symphony from 2007 to 2009; founding member of ECCO, a chamber-music group based in New York; master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in 2003. Majored in chemistry at Princeton.
A CAREER CRESCENDO In 2009 Jonathan Vinocour ’01 landed the job of a lifetime when he was named principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony. He leads a section of 13 violists and performs at least one solo a year with the world-class orchestra. “An orchestra like San Francisco has the pick of the top orchestral musicians in the world,” says Princeton University Orchestra conductor Michael Pratt, “so this makes Jonathan one of the leading violists on the planet.” While some musicians live from gig to gig, orchestral positions are very secure — gaining one is similar to professorial tenure, says Vinocour.
TUNING UP Early on Vinocour was drawn to string instruments, and as a fifth-grader in Rochester, N.Y., he zeroed in on the viola, in part because he liked “the idea that it was unusual, since most people played the violin or the cello.” He describes the viola’s sound as “a little bit more warm and rich versus brilliant and bright,” the qualities of a violin. At Princeton, where he was section leader for violas in the orchestra, it wasn’t always easy balancing academics and music. During exam time he had to forgo practice. But summers and breaks were spent playing festivals and, by graduation, he had his sights set on making it as a violist.
PLAY ON Each week Vinocour must master new pieces so he effectively can guide the violists through rehearsals and performances. “I sometimes have to ask people to do things differently, so that the section sounds like a section and not like too many strong individuals,” says Vinocour. In addition to the orchestra, his itinerary in the upcoming months includes premiering a piece for viola and piano by a San Francisco composer, playing a recital at an international viola conference in Rochester, and touring with the chamber-music group ECCO. That’s a lot, but Vinocour appreciates it all because he’s living his dream. Performances are thrilling, he says, when “you’re able to create in reality something as you imagined it.”