Jorgensen Patrons love Chamber Music, the Cello, and Each Other

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UConn Foundation

4 min read

He was born in Budapest and she in Bridgeport, Conn.

At age 9, she was drawn to classical music and began piano lessons. At age 9, he was finally deemed big enough by his parents to start cello lessons. An ocean apart, their passion for classical music, encouraged by their parents, began at the same age.

World War II and the turbulent Russian years in Budapest interrupted John’s cello training, but not his school years. He earned his degree in engineering from Budapest University of Technology and Economics. After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, he left Hungary and came to the United States.

They met in New Haven on a fall, New England day in the early 1960s. Jean was a graduate student at Yale University in biochemistry. John was an engineer in New Haven. A mutual friend, who emigrated at the same time, set them up on a blind date on Oct. 23, the anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

Even though sparks didn’t fly right away, their matchmaker friend knew they both loved music, especially chamber music, and would enjoy each other’s company. After that date, they would play music together in the dorm where Jean lived with Jean on the piano and John, the cello. The courtship continued even after Jean graduated from Yale and went to Paris as a postdoctoral fellow in 1963. John, ’61 MS, joined Jean in Paris in 1964 where they were married.

When they returned from Paris, they settled in New York City. Jean got an appointment at the Rockefeller University and John at an engineering consulting firm. Starting their careers, they did not have time to play music, but took advantage of the many concerts offered in the city.

After six years, they left New York and settled in Storrs. Jean joined the faculty at UConn, eventually becoming a professor of molecular and cell biology. John started his own engineering firm. As they settled into their new environment, their passion for music and live performances were more than satisfied thanks to the wonderful programs at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.

“When we came here, we immediately went to all of the concerts we could,” says Jean. “Jorgensen became a part of our lives: we love Jorgensen. It’s been fantastic for us.”

As they continued to enjoy concerts, the Lenards were pragmatic but optimistic in their thinking about chamber music concerts at Jorgensen.

“While the chamber music audience is small, as it relates to the general population, the number of conservatories and young people specializing in classical music has grown,” says John. “Classical music is not passé, but the economic structure of these events has changed. To stage these events, additional funds are needed. For this reason, Jean and I decided to give a donation to create a series and keep chamber music concerts at UConn for the foreseeable future. We hope others will join us and contribute to keep this type of music going.”

The benefits of their gift go beyond offering enjoyment to self-described chamber music fanatics like John and Jean. Because UConn students can attend the chamber music series for free, it gives them the opportunity to “get acquainted with the richness of classical music,” John says. Jean believes some students, especially those in the fine arts, might want to attend, but can’t afford it. It’s an incentive for them to go and hear very good chamber music.

John thoughtfully shares yet another way in which their gift will help chamber music thrive. The passion of talented students might dim if they don’t have venues to perform and show their talent. “Musicians have to make a living. If more schools do this, students who understand the fantastic beauty of chamber music will have a place to work.”

It’s easy for Jean and John to explain the specific allure of chamber music. “We like the individual artistry,” says John. “An orchestra is beautiful but is very different from chamber music. A conductor interprets and directs the music that is played by the members of the orchestra.”

From their introduction at Yale to today, the Lenards’ passion for chamber music and particularly the cello remains strong. It’s been enhanced by Jorgensen and their personal connection to the cello. John had played on and off since he was a child and Jean began taking lessons after she retired as a professor. “I grabbed John’s old cello, which had been sitting in my office for years and was in a state of disrepair, and had it fixed,” says Jean.

After she started taking lessons and was playing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ at home, John proclaimed, “I want my cello back! Get your own!”

So, Jean gave back his cello—the one she reminds John that she had had fixed up—and bought her own. And with that purchase, peace…and yes, harmony, were maintained

Reflecting on life, music, and their gift, John opines, “Music is an integral part of life, it is a form of communication, and there is a need to understand and enjoy the beauty of this language. We hope that the program we endowed will ensure that students are not deprived of this beautiful music. This University should provide classical music, particularly chamber music, as a necessity of a good education.”

Support the Lenard Chamber Music Endowment

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