November Gager Concert features classical pieces by renowned local pianist

Posted on November 03, 2016 by Janika Carey

Jeanne Backofen Jeanne Backofen Craig

Sweet Briar College’s Janet Lowrey Gager Community Concert Series will present “A Return to the Stage” with local pianist Jeanne Backofen Craig at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6, in Memorial Chapel. The event is sponsored by Sweet Briar’s Division of the Arts and is free and open to the public.

A trained classical pianist who has been performing since the age of 7, Craig will play a selection of pieces from famous European composers, including Bach, Mozart, Debussy, Brahms, Chopin, Haydn and Liszt.

Craig made her orchestral debut with the Cincinnati Symphony at the age of 12. That same year, she represented the United States along with 14-year-old violinist Joshua Bell in “Music, Joy of Youth,” broadcast on public radio in the U.S. and Europe. She has appeared as soloist with the Columbus Symphony, Northern Virginia Symphony, Northern Virginia Community and New River Valley Symphony Orchestras and, until the age of 14, performed in solo recitals on flute and string bass.

As a child, Craig studied with Lucy Chu and Barbara Wasson, with Marilyn Neeley for two summers at Brevard Music Center in North Carolina, and with Suzanne Guy. After graduating from Herndon High School in 1987, Craig turned down conservatory scholarships and chose to attend Virginia Tech on a full scholarship, studying with Mary Louise Hallauer. She earned her B.A. in piano performance from Virginia Tech in 1991 and a Master of Elementary Education from Marymount University in 1992.

After 25 years away from performing a virtuoso-level repertoire, Craig began practicing again and was accepted as one of 72 contestants from 20 countries to the 2016 Cliburn International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs. She spent a week in Fort Worth, Texas, where she performed for a jury of world-class pianists, including former Cliburn professional gold medalists Olga Kern and André-Michel Schub. Craig performed three times, advancing to the semifinal round of 12, and was a favorite of local and online viewers.

Craig during her semifinals performance at the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer Craig during her semifinals performance at the Seventh Cliburn International Amateur Piano Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer

She followed her success in Fort Worth six weeks later with a trip to the Washington International Piano Artists Competition, where she was awarded second prize and won special awards by capturing the hearts of the audience and press jury.

Craig serves as director of music and liturgy at Holy Name of Mary Catholic Church in Bedford, and has performed locally in two-piano, eight-hand concerts with Gustavo Romero, Richard Wroncy, Naomi Amos, Noémi Szigeti Lee and Sweet Briar College assistant professor of music Anna Billias, sponsored by Forte Chamber Music.

The Gager Community Concert series is made possible by the generous support of Forrest Gager, in memory of his wife Janet, who served as Sweet Briar’s director of public relations.

For more information, email Billias at