Jolan Friedhoff OLLI Orchestra
Jolán Friedhoff will perform with OLLI Orchestra

OLLI Orchestra’s concert “Melody Takes Flight” features classical music inspired by birds. The 90-minute concert takes place at Sierra College, Grass Valley, on Sunday, December 4 at 2 p.m.

The orchestra’s guest soloist, Jolán Friedhoff, has been friends with OLLI Conductor Wayland Whitney for many years. “We’re so fortunate to benefit from Jolán’s connection to Nevada County,” says Whitney. “Most of her professional career was spent in Germany. She’s doing us a massive favor by playing with us.”

Friedhoff was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. Three of four of her siblings have become, like her, professional concert musicians. Friedhoff and her sister learned the violin. Two brothers studied cello and viola. Friedhoff excelled in ballet as well as violin. After encountering “the best violin teacher,” she chose violin over ballet.

After completing graduate school, Friedhoff joined her siblings in Germany. She stayed for 25 years, enjoying a remarkably successful musical career. “Most European governments pay for orchestras. Playing violin is full time job in Germany. I get a pension; it’s safe and secure.”

Making a living in the states as a professional musician can get “pretty desperate sometimes.” Having experienced the respect European audiences have for classical music, it’s difficult to “go scrounging for money here,” she says. “Makes me sad sometimes.”

But working abroad has its drawbacks. Before she became fluent in German, other musicians “made fun of me to my face and I didn’t even know it.” Friedhoff learned to “speak, read and write in German, got a German boyfriend and got tougher.”

Once, an esteemed brain surgeon hired her string quartet to perform for his mother’s birthday. “After the performance, he heard my accent and asked what I did with my chewing gum while I was playing. Did I stick it underneath my violin?

 “I freaked out! My German wasn’t that good but I said something like I wouldn’t expect an educated person to say something as low as that! He apologized. They thought Americans were stupid cowboys.

“After I was fluent, I countered every one of their snide remarks. It’s not my personality, but I had to fight back,” Friedhoff says. “I trained myself to stop smiling…now my smile is back.”

“I really love being fluent! The nasty talk ended then. Speaking another language is like opening a door and stepping into another world. I really treasure that,” Friedhoff says.

She relocated to Davis in 2008. Friedhoff married Don Roth, Executive Director of the Mondavi Center. Since then, she has performed leadership roles in several orchestras in Northern California.  After playing with InConcert Sierra Orchestra for many years, she now serves as ICS’s Concert Master.

She’s on the faculty at UC Davis and teaches privately. “My UC Davis students are so smart. Most of them are pursuing highly advanced science degrees. They still take the time to better themselves on the instruments they’ve played all their lives. I’m in awe of my students.”

“This OLLI performance will be just the second time I’ve played ‘Lark Ascending’ before an audience. I’m Concert Master for the Bear Valley Music Festival and they asked me to solo the work. I’m very grateful. The piece suits me,” she says.

“Lark Ascending” is a short, single-movement work by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, inspired by the 1881 poem of the same name. “The piece is written to portray the lark’s song, movement and ‘lift us with him as he goes.’ Larks nest on the ground and then fly up. The poem helps me make more sense of the piece,” explains Friedhoff. The 12-line poem will be included in the concert program.

Other works scheduled to be performed include “The Birds” by Ottorino Respighi, “Symphony No. 83 in G minor” (The Hen) composed by Joseph Haydn and “Chicken Reel” by American Leroy Anderson.

OLLI Orchestra free concert “Melody Takes Flight” takes place Sunday, Dec. 4, 2-3:30 p.m. at Sierra College, 250 Sierra College Dr., Grass Valley 94545. Free parking. Follow signs at entrance. Info and access to free tickets,