Janet Packer, 64; concert violinist, inspiring teacher

<a href="http://www.janetpacker.com/" target="_blank">Janet Packer led the strings department at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge for 12 years.</a>
<a href="http://www.janetpacker.com/" target="_blank">Janet Packer led the strings department at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge for 12 years.</a>

Raymond Erickson, a pianist who often performed with violinist and teacher Janet Packer, was struck by her precise approach to performing the first time they met to rehearse a program.

“I realized that Janet didn’t have a music stand, so I said, ‘Oh, let’s find you one,’ ” he recalled, “but she said, ‘No thanks,’ and it was true, she didn’t need one. She’d memorized all the music.”

Her husband, Sam Rechtoris, who helped manage Ms. Packer’s career as a concert violinist and recording artist, said that was the way she handled every rehearsal and performance.

“She always performed all her work from memory,” he said. “She never put a music stand onstage. She worked tirelessly and internalized the music. She was committed to an understanding of the music she was playing and to capturing the composer’s style.”


Ms. Packer, a longtime violin teacher who formerly taught privately and led the strings department at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge for 12 years, died of liposarcoma June 20 at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. She was 64 and had lived in Groton for many years.

While well known in the Boston music community as a promoter of new works, Ms. Packer was also devoted to studying baroque music and preserving older performance styles.

“As a concert violinist, my approach to learning music is always to study a composer’s work in historical context — to research the musical style of the period, and the development of the composer’s individual style — to create a convincing and moving performance,” she said in an interview with Wellesley College, her alma mater, that is posted online. “My historical approach led to using authentic bows of the period to perform repertoire.”

Belgian pianist Jozef De Beenhouwer, who began performing with Ms. Packer in the early 1990s, called her “warm and generous” and credited her for exposing him and her audiences to music that might otherwise have been overlooked.


Ms. Packer was “keen to discover new music,” he said, “playing and indeed premiering, with utter commitment, works by contemporary American composers.”

In a 1997 review a recital she played with De Beenhouwer at Boston University, Globe critic Richard Buell called Ms. Packer “an accomplished and satisfying player” and said her “stylistic concentration and austerely beautiful sound had you wishing it would go on longer.”

Her interpretation of Bach’s Partita for unaccompanied violin, he wrote, was “among other things, blessedly instructive.”

“Goodness,” Buell wrote, “how do you energize those long chains of equal-value notes that look so intimidating in score and are so often numbingly mishandled in performance? And be subtle about it? She’ll tell you.”

Teaching was no less important to Ms. Packer than keeping a rigorous and varied performance schedule, her husband said.

Named the 2012 Studio Teacher of the Year by the Massachusetts chapter of the American String Teachers Association, Ms. Packer was beloved and revered by her students, said Victor Rosenbaum, former director and president of Longy.

“Janet was one of the most dedicated teachers I’ve ever known,” he said. “She was so involved with her students, so caring.” Never just a violin teacher, he said, she saw her role as that of “a teacher of music and culture.”

Even with very young students, he said, “she was absolutely wonderful in giving them a strong, technical foundation, and she always did it with affection and warmth.”


Jenae Starikov, who began studying with Ms. Packer a decade ago while an undergraduate at Longy, said she was “always so present, in the moment, and so aware.”

Ms. Packer “always had a number of practical and helpful exercises up her sleeve,” Starikov said, and was “always very thoughtful in her comments and observations.”

“Janet was very inspirational and very upbeat in each lesson,” said Starikov, who plays and teaches violin professionally. “Whether I’m teaching, practicing, or performing, I’m often thinking, ‘What would Janet do in this situation?’ I strive every day to be as great a teacher as she was.”

In addition to teaching at Longy, Ms. Packer taught at the Rivers School Conservatory in Weston. She also taught master classes at universities and music schools, as well as a variety of workshops. Throughout her career, her husband said, she maintained a private teaching studio in Cambridge.

Ms. Packer taught music from “a historical perspective, a theoretical perspective, and a performance perspective,” Rosenbaum said, and “she loved discovering neglected works that were not often played and bringing them to life.”

Her work is featured on many studio recordings. She toured as a soloist and with orchestras, including the Boston Pops, the Warsaw Philharmonic, and the Rochester Philharmonic. In 2006 she toured China and taught at conservatories in Beijing and Shanghai.

In 1996, Ms. Packer was a founder of the Pro Violino Foundation, a Cambridge nonprofit that commissions original violin pieces by contemporary composers.


She collaborated with Erickson to create a summer workshop at Queens College in New York City called “Rethinking Bach.” Ms. Packer was “an immensely intelligent person, always looking and always seeking,” he said, adding that “she was very interested in the practices of historical performance” and how they compared with today’s style of playing.

For example, he said, contemporary musicians tend to play in “long lines while the baroque tradition involves small segments: a ribbon, as opposed to a pearl necklace.”

Born in New York City, Ms. Packer grew up in Buffalo and Rochester, and was strongly influenced by her mother, Dorothy, a musicologist who played violin and piano, her husband said.

She graduated from Wellesley College in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in history and from Brandeis University in 1972 with a master’s in history. Soon after she began working as a music teacher and freelance violinist.

In the mid 1980s, she met Rechtoris, a physicist, when he attended a performance of Dinosaur Annex, a chamber music ensemble Ms. Packer helped form. They married in 1995.

He described her as someone who “was deeply caring” and “a giving kind of person. And she was continually improving herself, musically and personally.”

He said she was “an ideal person to live with,” adding that “we were together 30 years, and each year was better.”

A service is being planned for Ms. Packer who, in addition to her husband, leaves her father, Leo; and her brother, Alex, both of Cambridge.


News of Ms. Packer’s death “was a great shock,” said De Beenhouwer, who added that he and Ms. Packer were planning to perform Hans Pfitzner’s violin sonata, “that unjustly forgotten masterpiece,” in 2015.

“I still have trouble accepting the loss of a great friend, with whom making music was so deeply satisfactory,” he said.

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@verizon.net.