Even though Joan Jeanrenaud's name may not sound all that familiar, she is a world-renowned cellist, surely the best known in the avant-garde classical field. But for many music lovers, she remains "the girl in Kronos Quartet." Jeanrenaud spent 20 years with the groundbreaking string quartet, recording with it over 30 albums and performing more than 2,000 concerts. In 1999, she left the group for a solo career that has encompassed performance art, composition, and free improvisation.
Jeanrenaud grew up on a small farm outside Memphis, TN. The third child of a family not particularly inclined to music, she began playing cello at age 11. A year later she was studying with Peter Spurbeck. Quickly she developed a special interest in contemporary music. She went to Indiana University, where she worked with Fritz Magg and co-founded the IU Contemporary Music Ensemble. She completed her Bachelor of Music degree and spent 1977 in Geneva, Switzerland, to take private lessons from famous cellist Pierre Fournier.
Upon her return home in 1978, her friend and Indiana University alumnus Hank Dutt encouraged her to audition for the cello spot in Kronos Quartet. David Harrington's group, founded in 1973, had just moved its headquarters from Seattle to San Francisco, and violist Dutt had become their newest member. Jeanrenaud was asked to join and stayed with the quartet for two decades. During this period, the group changed its demeanor from that of a classical string quartet to an avant-garde outfit performing in casual settings with something of a maverick attitude on the side.
In 1998, Jeanrenaud took a one-year leave of absence from the group. She announced her official departure the next summer (her replacement was Jennifer Culp). Remaining in the field of avant-garde and experimental music, she has explored about every possible field her busy schedule with Kronos had kept her from. Her first solo concerts included works by Fluxus composers (Christian Wolff, Charlotte Moorman), and collaborations with dancers (Molissa Fenley, Anna Halprin). Her first non-Kronos recording was Lou Harrison's Rhymes With Silver (New Albion, 2000).
A residency at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center for the Arts during the 2000/2001 season allowed her to try new things, like duetting with a computer (Mark Grey's "Blood Red"), multimedia performance (a cello arrangement of Philip Glass' "Metamorphosis" with video projections), and even composition. In 2001, she entered the free improvisation scene under the wing of guitarist Fred Frith. She performed and recorded with his trio Maybe Monday. ~ François Couture