Photo by Vanessa Briceno-Scherzer

Photo by Vanessa Briceno-Scherzer

Rachel Henderson Freivogel is the founding cellist of the Jasper String Quartet. She began her studies with her mother in her hometown of Ann Arbor, MI, at the age of four and completed her undergraduate studies in cello performance at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she also received a Master’s Degree in historical performance. She received a Master’s Degree in String Quartet from Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and an Artist's Diploma in String Quartet from Yale School of Music. Her principal teachers include Norman Fischer, Clive Greensmith and Catharina Meints. Rachel is married to violinist J Freivogel and they live in Philadelphia, PA with their children, Leon and Evy.


by Rachel Henderson Freivogel
cellist of the Jasper String Quartet

My parents gave me a cello for my 4th birthday; I had been asking for a year. My mom, a cellist and now orchestra director, had me when she was only 21 years old and I grew up listening to her practice. I even attended her Oberlin Conservatory senior recital as a baby.

Performance and the arts have always been a huge part of my life. In middle school, I would act out all the parts from old MGM musicals in my bedroom and, for a while, I wanted to be just like Judy Garland in musicals.  That didn't materialize, but that sense of conveying emotion through music transferred itself to my cello playing.

Rachel at her 4th birthday

Rachel at her 4th birthday

The moment I knew I wanted to be a cellist for my career was at my first rehearsal for the Detroit Symphony Civic Orchestra in 1997.  I remember starting Sibelius' Second Symphony and, with the playing level so much higher than I had experienced previously, the music making was magical. I knew then that I needed to play music more seriously.  

While still in high school, my dream was to play in a great orchestra. I have always loved the feeling of being a part of something bigger than just myself. I played in as many orchestras as I could growing up and attended Interlochen in the summers for further training. There weren't a lot of other serious string players at my school in Ann Arbor so, for my senior project, I recorded each part of the Vivaldi 4 violin concerto by myself, creating my own ensemble.  

Early on at Oberlin Conservatory though, my teacher suggested that I might be better suited to chamber music as I had a more individualistic cello streak. Around the same time, J Freivogel, an acquaintance who played the violin, invited me to be part of a more serious student quartet. Before that moment, I had never really considered being in a string quartet. Little did I know that 5 years later J and I would be married and our Jasper String Quartet would still be playing today. 

I quickly realized how playing in a quartet was the best of all worlds. While still maintaining a strong individual voice, I was part of something exponentially greater than the four of us simply added together. I clearly remember listening to the fifth movement of Beethoven Op. 132 at an Oberlin Library listening station. The final minutes, where the first violin and cello come together in octaves, struck me and still strikes me today as one of the most glorious expressions in the world.

On a couple of occasions I have been moved to tears while performing. It has always been at the moment where great music inspires a group of people as one. The first time I experienced this was playing the Messiah with Apollo's Fire, the Cleveland Baroque Orchestra. When we arrived at the Hallelujah Chorus, and everyone in the audience stood up as is tradition, I was so moved at the hugeness of the gesture and the power of the music's meaning.  

In quartet, even though we have had the opportunity to perform in some of the great venues in the world, the moment that is lastingly memorable for me came the first time our quartet came to Japan. Before the concert, we performed two movements of Haydn Op. 76 No. 1 for Sae’s family in a small room upstairs. Sae, our second violinist, grew up in Tokyo and her family still lives there. They traveled to Hokkaido to meet us for the first time after Sae had been playing with us for over a year.

When we finished the slow movement, it was one of those occasions where, to hold it together, you couldn’t look anyone straight in the eye. They had sacrificed much by sending Sae to the United States to be a violinist and now we were all together realizing that dream. They were so proud and it was a very happy moment, a “smiling through the tears" moment, as a coach of ours once described. 

I am fortunate to play with the Jasper String Quartet for my living, with great friends, alongside my husband, and with our children in tow. It is a difficult and demanding occupation, but it is the occupation for me.