Virtual Virtuoso: Violinist Jacqueline Wolborsky

This principal violinist at the North Carolina Symphony is a pandemic star on and off the stage
by Samantha Hatem / photography by Samantha Everett

Schools closed last March, just as our son was learning a piece for his upcoming violin audition for middle school orchestra. And no school meant no learning how to play Allegro by Benedetto Marcello.

The pandemic also shuttered the North Carolina Symphony, which meant that Jacqueline Wolborsky, the symphony’s principal second violinist, suddenly had more time on her hands. After hearing of our Allegro dilemma, a mutual friend connected us, and Wolborsky quickly became a weekly virtual voice in our living room. She not only worked with my son, George, to master his piece, but helped both kids keep their violins tuned, bows rosined, and practice minutes logged (and, eventually, a seat secured in the Philharmonic Orchestra at Ligon Magnet Middle School). We didn’t realize quite how lucky we were until January, during the Symphony’s virtual performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Wolborsky was commanding as the soloist, wowing us over our computer in our living room. While we watched in our pajamas, Wolborsky dazzled from the stage in a series of gowns and matching masks, each reflecting the spirit of Vivaldi’s seasons. This was our kids’ violin tutor? I knew I had to talk to her to find out how Raleigh got so fortunate. And how else in a pandemic? Over a Zoom call, of course.

How did you land this gig?

It was supposed to be another soloist from out of town, Simone Porter, but because of travel restrictions, it became difficult to pull off — so they asked me to do it. They scheduled the concert a year ahead, but I only had a month to prepare. I was thinking, Am I really going to be able to do this in this amount of time? Usually people get booked a year in advance so they can let the piece marinate. One month is a crazy amount of time to prepare, especially if you’ve never played that piece before.

The performance was flawless. At the end, you bowed to an empty hall. Was that yet another weird pandemic moment?

It was really funny at the end. The orchestra’s energy was so great and supportive. But there’s nothing like those performances where there’s the exchange between the performer and the audience. That’s the addiction for the performer. This was beautiful, too, because my family and friends who live all over the world were able to watch it. That’s something I’ve never been able
to do in the past.

Where did you get the gowns, especially in a pandemic?

I loved portraying the seasons with the dresses! I owned one of the dresses, the gray one I wore for Autumn. The others I got from Rent the Runway. One positive thing about the pandemic is that no one is going anywhere, so I had the pick of the litter! I seriously got lucky with the dresses.

How did you pull off changing between each season?

I had everything all set up backstage. The orchestra was just sitting there waiting for me. I had the dress and the matching shoes strategically placed so I could change quickly. It was so much fun.

When did you first start playing violin?

I started violin when I was four. I heard my cousin playing and that’s what turned me on to it. I always loved performing, but I didn’t love the hard work and the practice because not as many people were doing it back then.

You’re from Chicago. How did you end up in Raleigh?

I got a job with the symphony in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s such a great place to live, but it’s a hard life as a musician with such a small orchestra, it’s a hard salary to live on. A friend of mine knew there was an opening here. I never really thought I would end up staying in Raleigh, but I met my husband a month after moving here in 2003. I always thought I would end up in a bigger city, but his family business [The Wolborsky Group at Allen Tate Realtors] is here. I’ve loved being able to see Raleigh grow and the Symphony grow. 

How many violins do you have and which one is your favorite?

I have three violins. The violin I used to play Four Seasons is from 1650 and used to belong to my violin teacher. It’s from Cremona, Italy, a very beautiful, old Italian violin that has such a unique voice. It’s amazing how it carries. I feel extremely lucky to have it. It’s an extremely rare violin.

Is the tutoring a pandemic thing?

I have been teaching since I was 16. When I could drive, I would drive to my students’ houses. Because I was so young, my students liked working with me. I have always taught and always loved it. Kids inspire me and I love the perspective they have and the different ways they see music.

What’s next for the Symphony?

In May, we welcomed socially distanced audiences to full orchestra performances at Meymandi Concert Hall and in June we’re thrilled to return to our summer home at Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary for four outdoor concerts. We are so excited to have small, socially distanced audiences returning to our venues, all within health and safety guidelines. It’s all about connecting
with the live audience energy.