Jean Rife, prize-winning French horn soloist and chamber musician, has an impressive list of accomplishments since her professional debut in 1970. She served as principal natural hornist with Boston Baroque for over 25 years. During that time, she performed solo concertos, chamber music, and recorded several works with this prestigious orchestra, including Grammy-nominated Bach’s B Minor Mass, the Brandenburg Concertos, and Handel’s Water Music.
Ms. Rife also performed as a soloist and ensemble player with early music groups in Germany, South America, Canada, and numerous cities in the United States. Her solo recording on Titanic Records gained attention from the horn world and led to invitations to perform at both international and regional horn workshops. She has also recorded for the BBC in London, WGBH, Radio Suisse Romande, Smithsonian Records, and with the Leonhardt Consort on Teldec.
As a modern horn player, Jean Rife, one of Boston’s champions of new music, is well known for her interpretation of contemporary music. She has commissioned and premiered works featuring horn by Yehudi Wyner and Luna Pearl Woolf, and has premiered works by several Boston area composers, including Martin Pearlman and Tim Melbinger. Her last commission as a horn player was the Suite for Four Horns by John Harbison, premiered in April of 2009.
Early in her career she played principal horn in the Rhode Island Philharmonic for several years, and free-lanced throughout New England. After the birth of her daughter in 1987, she changed her focus to teaching, and limited her performances to chamber and solo works and an occasional free-lance concert.
Ms. Rife serves part-time on three faculties in the Boston area. As a lecturer at MIT, she coaches chamber music, orchestra sectionals, and private lessons. At New England Conservatory, where she teaches horn and chamber music, she is assistant chair of chamber music and also served as acting chair of the percussion and brass department in the Fall of 2004. She is on the horn and early music faculty at the Longy School of Music, where she also teaches a yoga class for musicians. Ms. Rife has also been on the faculties of University of New Hampshire, Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music, the Chamber Music Conference and Composers’ Forum of the East, the Kendall Betts Horn Camp, and the Barry Tuckwell Institute, of which she was a founding member. Master classes have included presentations at University of Michigan, Indiana University, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Prague Conservatory, University of Wisconsin, University of Northern Iowa, and Southern Methodist University. She teaches lessons and classes at her home in Brookline.
Jean Rife became a strong proponent of incorporating yoga with music practice after discovering the benefits in her own playing. “I started yoga in 1992 to improve my horn performance. At the time, I was working towards a master’s degree at Harvard, and with all the intellectual work, the horn became increasingly difficult to play. It was clear to me that I needed to make myself more at home in my body again, and I chose yoga as a way to do this.
“There were noticeable benefits after the first class, such as more ease in my breathing and playing, a renewed sense of fun, increased mental clarity, and a significant reduction in stress. Subsequent classes served to reinforce these benefits and to integrate the new mind-body ease into my daily life without conscious effort.
“Around the time I earned my Harvard degree in 1995, I began to use yoga in my teaching. Since yoga was not yet popular, I proceeded gingerly until I saw how quickly students responded. Soon after this, I inaugurated yoga classes at New England Conservatory for professional, student, and amateur musicians. The participants in these classes experienced much the same results as my own.” As a result of the dramatic benefits observed, this mind-and-body approach to teaching and performing has become a hallmark of her classes and teaching for the two decades.
In 2004, Jean Rife guided her passion for keyboard playing into serious harpsichord study with her colleague and friend Peter Sykes. Shortly after this, she presented her first full-length recital at the First Church in Cambridge in September of 2004, followed by a second performance at the MIT Chapel in October. She has performed several solo harpsichord recitals since then, played chamber music with colleagues such as Marcus Thompson and Peggy Pearson, and served as continuo player with several groups, including the MIT Chorus under the direction of Bill Cutter.