He was born in Budapest and she, in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
An ocean apart, their passion for classical music began at the same young age of 9, when she started piano lessons and he was finally deemed big enough by his parents to play the cello.
John and Jean Lenard are hoping to share their passion through a donation that will support a series of chamber music concerts at UConn. Jean, a former associate professor of molecular and cell biology at UConn, and John, are regular patrons of the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.
Music brought them together.
They met on a fall New England day in the early 60s at Yale University. After a blind date, they began practicing together in the residence halls, and attending concerts. “We were constantly going to concerts together,” says Jean.
The courtship continued after they graduated and, in 1964, they married. John’s engineering career took them to New York and Dallas, before they settled in Storrs in 1970.
“When we came here, we immediately went to all of the concerts we could,” says Jean. “Jorgensen became a part of our lives.”
Jean believes some students, especially those in fine arts, may want to go to chamber music concerts but can’t afford it. The gift of free concerts is an incentive for them to go and hear very good chamber music, she says.
“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 this type of event, additional funds are needed.”
It’s easy for Jean and John to explain their attraction to chamber music. “We like the individual artistry,” says John. “An orchestra is a different thing. It’s beautiful, but this is very different. It’s an individual interpretation more than the orchestra, which plays the music according to the conductor.”
The benefits of their gift go beyond offering enjoyment to other “chamber music fanatics,” as the Lenards describe themselves. Because UConn students can attend the chamber music series for free, it gives them the opportunity to, as John puts it, “get acquainted with the richness of classical music.”
From their introduction at Yale until today, the Lenards’ passion for chamber music – and particularly the cello – remains strong. Jean began taking lessons after she retired in 2000, a step that caught her husband’s attention.
“I was so busy establishing myself in engineering that I didn’t play again for a long time, until Jean discovered my cello,” says John. In the first few weeks, she was playing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” John proclaimed, “I want my cello back! Get your own!”
So Jean gave back his cello – the one she reminds John that she fixed up – and bought her own.
Their gift to UConn, says John, will ensure that “students aren’t deprived of the benefit of beautiful music.”