Meet the Musician: Violinist Karen Lowry-Tucker


When did you join the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra?

I was the first hire of our former Music Director, Heinz Fricke in 1992. He had been the Music Director of the Berlin State Opera (Staatsoper) for 30 years prior, and our orchestra greatly benefited from his experience. At the beginning of his tenure the orchestra held auditions to fill 2 violin openings, 2 cello openings and a harp opening. Having won one of the violin openings, I welcomed a chance to try my German on the Maestro and it was a disaster! I had been a member of the Munich Chamber Orchestra from 1979-1981 and the 15 of us hailed from all over the world. I am from Louisville, KY, my stand partner was from Turkey, the concertmistress was from Texas, our principal second violinist was from Japan, the principal bassist was from Austria and the other musicians were German born. In his broken English Maestro Fricke told me my German accent was "all over the place".

                                          Go figure...

When did you begin playing the violin?

I began studying the piano at age 5 and at the beginning of the 6th grade, a member of the Louisville Orchestra came to my elementary school to give us a demonstation on the violin. I loved music and hated math so when I was told violin lessons would be once a week during our math hour, I SIGNED UP. I didn't escape math because music depends on math; however, little did I know that at age 12 I had just chosen my career path.

Because of my beginnings, I have for many years now chosen to perform fun, educational children's shows in the elementary schools of Washington, DC with my colleague Elizabeth Pulju-Owen and her husband Drew Owen. Our objective is to help expose young people to the joys of classical music. It is so rewarding when I detect that we have caused a young student to catch that same spark I had in the 6th grade.

Did you play in any ensembles previous to KCOHO?

I played with the Louisville Orchestra while working toward my Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Louisville. Subsequently, I decided I wanted to perform more than I wanted to teach, so I pursued a Master's Degree in Performance from the University of Texas at Austin under the tutelage of Stephen Clapp. I traveled to Europe to spend a year exploring before wanting to start the grind of auditioning for an orchestra job in the U.S. in that I traveled nowhere without my violin, I heard of an opening in Munich, Germany with the Munich Chamber Orchestra and decided to test my auditioning skills. I thought I had nothing to lose for no one knew me there and I wouldn't be embarrassed if I got nervous and played poorly.  I GOT THE JOB. I was elated because I love to travel and they were a touring orchestra. We were in Munich less than 10 days a month so the rest of the time I was able to travel the world with this fantastic ensemble. When I was hired they had just returned from Japan to my dismay. I had always wanted to travel there because my early violin studies were based on the Japanese Suzuki method. Instead, the orchestra's next tour was 5 weeks in AMERICA! 

Upon returning permanently to the U.S., I was an apprentice with the Atlanta Symphony under Robert Shaw and the National Symphony Orchestra under Mstislav Rostropovitch. Both afforded me invaluable experiences which prepared me for an appointment as Associate Concertmaster of the Knoxville Symphony and 2 years with the North Carolina Symphony. My summer studies and summer orchestral experiences have been at the Meadowmount School of Music, the Aspen Music Festival, the Eastern Music Festival and the Grant Park Music Festival. 

What do you enjoy doing when you are not playing the violin?

I LOVE to travel. Growing up my dad drove the family to a different part of the country for vacation every summer and I enjoyed it immensely. My dear husband, Del, is an avid swimmer and we have enjoyed traveling extensively throughout the Carribean. He has twice participated in the 4.4 mile Chesapeake Bay Swim, swimming across the bay in under 3 hours. He also loves to drive so we now take long, well planned road trips in the summers. We enjoyed staying in the French Quarter of New Orleans last summer and witnessing the sights and sounds of that vibrant city. One year was a road trip to the Santa Fe Opera Festival and the Grand Canyon. Several years ago we drove to the one state I had never visited-Maine. We had a glorious time with my colleague Meg Thomas and her dear husband at their beautiful summer home in Camden.

Karen's husband and support system,                              Del.

I also like to occasionally take the train to NYC to the Metropolitan Opera and be an audience member for a change. I usually choose to attend an opera we have just performed or one we are about to perform. I get quite emotional and silently cry inside because I know every note and can finally see how it all fits together. I always meet an audience member who sees how emotional I am and is very impressed that I would go to such lengths to see an opera.

               In NYC at the Met.

What is one of your most memorable moments during your tenure here at KCOHO?

My fondest memory is a staged concert we had honoring operatic legends such as the great Ms. Leontyne Price. As Ms. Price graced the stage to receive her honor, she said a few words in her ever so eloquent and elegant way and then she surprised us all. She began to sing "America the Beautiful" a cappella and we were in awe! What an unexpected treat.

What are you most looking forward to this season?

I look forward to playing Handel's Alcina for I love the era.  It's a new opera for me and I've already begun to do my muscle exercises to prepare myself for holding the violin up for this very long opera. I was actually in line to be one of the musicians on stage who gets to wear period clothing, play a short memorized part and then go home. I declined because I really want to play the entire opera - besides, the thought of wearing a wig over my signature avant-garde hairdo is not an option. Sorry George Fredrich...

As a first violinist, you have a lot of notes to play. How do you handle your preparation?

Playing first violin in an opera orchestra is exciting and taxing at the same time. It has proven to be quite athletic for me personally because we seem to be playing constantly. My upper arms look like Popeye's! I am grateful for my sensitive and caring physical therapist who was a marvelous pianist and therefore understands the demands of being a musician. She keeps me motivated to stretch my muscles correctly so as to prevent injury and helps me with ways to continually promote good posture. I am always anxious to receive my music so I can pace myself and not let it pile up.

I am in my 25th year with the KCOHO and I am grateful to the late Maestro Fricke, the audition committee in 1992 and for the prayers of my mommy for the chance to play at the Kennedy Center for a quarter of a century and counting. Thank you dear Del for your undying support, for your patience and for honestly enjoying listening to hours of scales and passages I repeat over and over and over again until it's finally to my liking. I am also grateful to perform on a beautiful 1783 Italian violin by Antonius Gragnani.