Gillian Bell on falling in love with violinist Janine Jansen

Dutch violinist Janine Jansen

Dutch violinist Janine Jansen


by Gillian Bell

It's circa 1973. I’ve stuck my favourite poem on my bedroom wall and my goal is to learn it off by heart.  George Meredith’s The Lark Ascending. I hear the larks in the meadow near our house in its lines. Its language soars.

Fast forward to London, 2003. It’s the second night of the proms and I’m in the audience. On the program is Dutch violinist Janine Jansen, described by BBC radio 3 as one of its new generation artists. She’s to play the 1914 classical composition The Lark Ascending by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams which is based on the poem.

A beautiful young woman clutching a 300 year old Stradivarius to her breast steps forward and nods to the conductor. And there it is, my poem, soaring out from under her fingertips. I see in her face what I feel in my heart. I hang on every note.

“…with fountain ardor, fountain play,

To reach the shining tops of day,   

And drink in everything discern’d.”          

An ecstasy to music turn’d.

I become her lifelong fan. She’s with me in my kitchen on Sunday mornings; she’s with me on a stormy afternoon, peering out through the rain; she’s with me in my car as we speed through the night.

It’s now 2018, and I’m listening to a podcast. The interviewer is replaying a 2007 interview with the late John O’Donohoe, Irish philosopher, author and poet about his insistence on beauty as a human calling. He recalls an evening in New York. He has just arrived on a flight, settles into his hotel and takes last minute tickets to a Tchaikovsky concert at the Lincoln Centre.  Concerto for Violin in D major, Op. 35. Lorin Maazel is conducting. In John’s words:

then this beautiful violinist, Janine Jansen, a Dutch violinist, it was her debut in New York. And she played this, it was just unbelievable. I cried. Like, after the first movement, people spontaneously stood up and went to give her a standing ovation, and she just held it. And we all went back again into our seats. And then at the end, people were just blown away, because an event, an aesthetic event had happened.
It is a complicated piece of music everywhere she went on this violin she got exactly what she was looking for. And there was this woman, and you could almost see the music hurting her even when she wasn't playing.

And I think that is the magnificence of beauty, is that even in landscapes of controlled, corrugated categories, you can be swept off your feet by just beauty.”


Janine Jansen BBC Proms 2003 performing The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Conductor Barry Wordsworth with the BBC Concert Ochestra.

Janine Jansen performing Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35, performed and broadcast on April 19th, 2013. With Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra 

Janine Jansen's website 

Podcast- On Being with Krista Tippett with John O’Donohue ‘The Inner Landscape of Beauty’.