Jessica Mathaes may be the youngest concertmaster in the 99-year history of the Austin (Texas) Symphony Orchestra, but Orange City, Iowa was the site of some of her first performances.
Mathaes, the granddaughter of Orange City residents Paul and Pat Muyskens, will perform with the Northwest Iowa Symphony Orchestra on April 13 and at Northwestern College on April 16.
"My most cherished memories of Orange City are of Christmas spent at my grandparents' home, where my family would always come to celebrate," she said. "We would also sing hymns and my mom would play the piano. My sister and I would always give a little recital, too, for the family in the living room."
The family atmosphere enhanced the occasion for Mathaes.
"Christmas was a very special time with my great-grandmother Deane Oelrich, her sister Irene Dirks, and my great aunt Lorraine Oelrich also coming to celebrate," she reminisced. "My grandmother Pat cooked wonderful meals and prepared for months making the elaborate Christmas cookies. My sister and I were very excited about the gift exchange, of course, which lasted many hours."
Mathaes shared another poignant memory of her maternal grandfather.
"My grandfather Paul was the Grand Marshal for the Tulip Festival parade," she recalled. "My whole family came to enjoy tulip time that year and watch my grandparents ride in the convertible in their Dutch gear."
Today, she's an award-winning violinist, but Mathaes started out playing the piano and that was actually her main instrument for many years.
"I wanted to play the piano because I heard my mom playing it as I was growing up," she explained. "When I was 8, I won a scholarship to a Suzuki camp, and that's where I first heard violin students. I was enamored with the instrument right away and began violin lessons that fall."
Mathaes played several instruments growing up, but ultimately embraced the violin.
"I think what I enjoyed about the violin is the collaborative aspect of it," she said. "Practicing piano was a very solitary activity as a kid, but as a young violinist, I was part of the youth symphony and a quartet, and it really made it exciting being part of something larger than just myself."
The inaugural winner of the Classical Artists Development Foundation fellowship, Mathaes made her recital debut at age 6 and her orchestral solo debut in Omaha, Neb., when she was 16. Equally at home on the violin and the viola, she earned performance degrees in both instruments at Rice University.
Grandfather Paul Muyskens worked at Northwestern College from 1960 to 1990, including roles as director of facilities and vice president for financial affairs.
"I am so thrilled to be performing in Orange City," Mathaes said. "Northwestern has been a central part of my family's history, and it is wonderful for me to have the opportunity to perform there and for my grandparents who will hear the recital."
When Mathaes, 30, performs on a violin crafted in 1807 by Johannes Cuypers, who is known as the Dutch Stradivarius, her maternal grandparents will be present at the April 16 recital.
"I love many types of music," Mathaes said. "I sometimes listen to classical, but in my car I also enjoy listening to bands on our local radio station. They feature a lot of the bands that come through for the festivals, or that are Austin-based. And I am an oldies nut! All growing up I listened to KGOR (the oldies station in Omaha), and I still know all the words to the great tunes from the '60s and '70s."