FAIRFAX, Va. — For a woman who worried that her music career might be finished after she quit a sweet gig with the National Symphony Orchestra, Jenny Oaks Baker has remained remarkably busy.
A Grammy-nominated, Juilliard-trained violinist from Utah, she performs 60 to 75 concerts a year. This year she will perform everywhere from Alexandria, Virginia, to Snowflake, Arizona, not to mention, Dallas, Baltimore, Phoenix, Birmingham, Madison, Seattle and Orem, where she will be a guest soloist with the Utah Symphony on June 23.
Musicians don’t quit the NSO at 31 any more than football players leave the New England Patriots at the height of their game. She had been with the NSO seven years when she left to be a full-time mother to her four children, all under the age of 5. She still wanted to perform on her terms, but she didn’t have a single concert scheduled. “It was scary,” she says. On the very day she quit, the calls began with offers of work.
“It was a miracle,” she says. “No one even knew I had quit, and I was getting calls to perform.”
They are still calling. Between carpooling to soccer practice and overseeing her children’s own music practices, she has managed to build a solo career, one that has become increasingly busier as her kids have gotten older. Besides the live concerts, she recently cut her 12th CD, completed a music video with Condoleezza Rice and — in the biggest surprise of all — landed an acting role.
In January she received a call from Mitch Davis, the director of “The Other Side of Heaven.” He asked her to play the soundtrack for his next movie, “Stuck.” Then he had another question: “Do you act?”
Her only acting experience, she told him, was playing Dorothy in a sixth-grade production of “The Wizard of Oz.” “I’m not an actress,” she explained, “but I like to be in front of people and I’m not afraid of the camera.” She auditioned and won a major role alongside veteran actors Patrick Stewart and Jon Heder. She spent five days in Bulgaria shooting the movie, which is scheduled to be released in November.
As always, she hurried home to her family after the job was completed. That’s her M.O. She flies out the same day as her shows and catches the first flight back. Her husband, Matt, vice president of sales for a software company, works from home to cover for her during concert performances. For local gigs, she takes the children with her and sometimes puts them on stage to perform with her. For summer jobs in Utah, the entire family travels with her.
“I need to be careful how much I do and be home as much as I can,” she says.
Baker, now 38, has quietly built an impressive resume — solos in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress, guest solos with the Jerusalem Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, San Diego Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir, collaborations with Gladys Knight, Kurt Bestor, Marvin Hamlisch and Condoleezza Rice, the sale of 250,000 CDs, charting on Billboard, a Grammy nomination.
Looking back on her nearly unprecedented decision to leave the National Symphony Orchestra, she says, “I loved performing the greatest music in the world, with the greatest soloists and conductors and in the greatest concert halls, ... but I was missing so many of the greatest good-night kisses by performing three evening concerts a week.”
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