Born into a family of musicians, Dreyfus began studying the violin with her father, a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, before pursuing the career of a concert violist under the tutelage of the longtime master, Leonard Mogill. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Michael Tree and Karen Tuttle, Dreyfus was subsequently a prizewinner of such prestigious musical competitions as the Washington International Competition, the Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, and the Naumburg Viola Competition.
Karen Dreyfus soon moved to New York City, and to the world stage, concertizing extensively in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and South America. She has performed in such ensembles as the New York Philharmonic and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, with Musicians From Marlboro, the Theater Chamber Players of the Kennedy Center and Philomusica, and she has collaborated with such legendary artists as Yehudi Menuhin, Alexander Schneider, Leon Fleisher, jazz great Chick Corea, and her husband, Glenn Dicterow as well as performed chamber music with members of the Budapest, Galimir, Guarneri, Tokyo and Emerson quartets.
Her wide discography includes traversals of such classics of the literature as the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante (alongside violinist Glenn Dicterow) and Walton’s Viola Concerto, beside her collaborations in the chamber music of Dvorak, Strauss and Turina. Dreyfus’s first recording as a recitalist, entitled Romanze (Bridge Records), essaying a program of Hindemith, Schumann, Debussy, Falla and Bruch, won considerable acclaim, the American Record Guide citing her as “a terrific player with impeccable technique and intonation, beautiful tone, and real musicianship. Her playing is highly expressive and responsive to the many moods elicited by this varied program.”
When the classically schooled jazz pianist Chick Corea composed his Lyric Suite for Sextet, he engaged his longtime colleague, vibraphonist Gary Burton, and a quartet of the finest chamber players, including Karen Dreyfus. The resultant recording, for the ever-searching ECM label, was subsequently nominated for a Grammy Award as Best Chamber Music Performance. Many equally searching, equally lyrically focused composers have subsequently written scores specifically for Dreyfus. She has recorded two CDs of contemporary viola concertos for the MMC label, American Journeys and Karen Dreyfus Viola Concertos Volume II. She and the composer William Thomas McKinley have had a special connection, he writing several concertos for her, plus the gloriously nimble Concert Variations for Dreyfus and Glenn Dicterow.
In recent decades, Dreyfus has found a particular niche as a teacher. She joined the faculty of the Juilliard School, leading a sonata class for violists and pianists, among other duties. She has also taught at New York’s Third Street Music School Settlement, SUNY Purchase and Queens College. Currently Karen Dreyfus is a member of the viola faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, where she also participates in the Graduate Program in Orchestral Performance and teaches viola and chamber music at the USC Thornton School of Music in Los Angeles.
During the summer season she is on the faculty of Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West, while performing and teaching in a variety of music festivals and academies around the nation, and beyond.
Recently Karen Dreyfus and Glenn Dicterow performed as a soloist with the Shanghai Symphony and Guangzhou Symphony Orchestras along with coaching members of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra.
Dreyfus is a founding member of the Lyric Piano Quartet – whose initial recording for Black Box Records was nominated as an “Editor’s Choice” by Gramophone Magazine – and the Amerigo Trio, touring with both groups. And in her spare time, she has often been a “first call” session player on numerous movie soundtracks, and pop, jazz and rock recordings.