Summer 2019 Artists
A mandolinist and fiddler raised on bluegrass and a professional clarinetist, Jeff Midkiff is an outstanding musician who feels comfortable in more than one setting—musically and personally. “I feel at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains playing fiddle tunes,” Jeff Midkiff says, “but then again, I feel at home in a professional orchestra as well.”
Jeff grew up where bluegrass and traditional string band music thrived. Given his first mandolin at the age of 7 by a neighbor (Sherman Poff, to whose memory Partners In Time is dedicated), he moved quickly into the world of fiddlers’ conventions and contests, winning his first mandolin competition before reaching his teens.
As he grew older, he added the fiddle to his instrumental arsenal and joined the New Grass Revue—yet at the same time, he took up the clarinet and began to perform with his high school’s symphonic band.
By the time he graduated he had his sights firmly set on a musical career, and in 1981 Midkiff began studies at Virginia Tech, eventually earning a degree in music education and performance. Yet even as he was immersing himself in the classical repertoire, he continued to gain attention as a mandolin and fiddle player with the McPeak Brothers, a widely respected bluegrass group with whom he made his first serious recording in 1982 (five selections from that album are included on Rebel Records’ McPeak Brothers: Classic Bluegrass CD).
In 1983 he joined the Lonesome River Band, which would eventually become one of bluegrass’s most acclaimed groups. For the next five years, as he completed his education and started working as a music instructor, he performed with the LRB, recording two albums with the group, including its self-titled Rebel Records debut in 1987. Shortly after that, he enrolled in graduate school at Northern Illinois University, earning his Master’s degree in clarinet at the end of the decade—but though the move meant leaving the LRB, he continued to perform with an Illinois bluegrass band, Bluegrass Express.
During the early part of the 1990s, Jeff lived in Florida and performed clarinet with the Naples Philharmonic and later moved to northern Virginia area to be an orchestra director in the Fairfax County schools. “I went a good five years without opening my mandolin case,” he notes, “and as a full-time teacher in northern Virginia, I wasn’t playing much clarinet, either.” An appearance with the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall reawakened his passion for the latter, and in 1995 he moved to the Chicago area to revive his performance career — on the clarinet only, he thought, but ultimately on the mandolin and fiddle, too. Busy as a clarinetist with area ensembles and as a youth orchestra conductor and educator, he was drafted in 1998 by The Schankman Twins, a California-based bluegrass duo now signed to Rounder Records.
He was writing a lot, too. “All of the sudden I was getting these ideas for tunes, and as soon as I started getting creative, I thought, I need to start recording.” He has appeared (several times) with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra on mandolin, and likewise in the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra’s clarinet section since 1980. In 2006, Jeff moved back to his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Jeff is an orchestra director in the Roanoke City Schools.
Jeff Midkiff’s concerto for mandolin and orchestra, “From the Blue Ridge,” was composed in 2011 in a commission from Music Director David Stewart Wiley and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra. The first performance was opening night of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra's Fall 2011 season, and the Concerto has subsequently been performed with the Rochester Philharmonic, Champaign-Urbana Symphony, Shreveport Symphony, Williamsburg Symphonia, Symphony of Southeast Texas, Northwest Florida Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, Ohio Northern Symphony, Knoxville Symphony, South Arkansas Symphony, Cal Poly Symphony and the Yale Concert Band.