The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine talks about music education, her new projects, reaching new audiences, playing rock music and the Brahms Violin Concerto that she will perform Saturday night with the the UW-Madison Symphony Orchestra. | October 30, 2013

ALERT: Radio host Rich Samuels, whose show “Anything Goes” airs from 5-8 a.m. on Thursday mornings on WORT 89.9 FM (it can also be streamed live) sends the  following word: “I’ll be airing back-to-back recorded interviews on my Thursday (10/31) WORT show with violinist Rachel Barton Pine and conductor Kenneth Woods, in anticipation of their Mills Hall performance with the UW Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night. Tracks from their latest CDs with be included.”

By Jacob Stockinger

Both in recordings and in live concerts, the acclaimed Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine (below) has the gift of making the familiar seem new and unusual, unfamiliar and exciting.

Rachel Barton Pine

Pine will put that talent on display this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall when she performs Johannes Brahms’ justly famous and beautiful Violin Concerto with the University of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestra under the baton of returning native son conductor Kenneth Woods (below), who will also conduct Dmitri Shostakovich’s powerful Fifth Symphony and British composer Philip Sawyer’s “Gale of Life.” (For more about Woods, the The Ear’s Q&A with him that was posted Monday. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/classical-music-qa-native-son-and-uw-madison-alumnus-conductor-kenneth-woods-talks-about-returning-to-madison-to-open-the-wisconsin-union-theater-season-this-coming-saturday-night/

Kenneth_Woods

The concert is the season opener for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which is using Mills Hall while the regular historic and landmark hall is undergoing extensive renovations.

For more information here is a link to the Wisconsin Union Theater’s website:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Rachel-Barton-Pine.html

For information and tickets, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787) for more information. Tickets are: $25 General Public, $21 Union Members, UW-Madison Faculty & Staff, and non UW-Madison Students, $10 UW-Madison Students.  Buy online, call the Box Office at 608-265-ARTS (2787), or purchase in person at the Campus Arts Ticketing box office in Vilas Hall, 821 University Ave. 

Celebrated as a leading interpreter of great classical works, Rachel Barton Pine’s performances combine her gift for emotional communication and her scholarly fascination with historical research.  Audiences are thrilled by her dazzling technique, lustrous tone, and infectious joy in music-making.

Pine is a former violin prodigy who performed with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 10, and at numerous other important venues throughout her teens.  Her broad range includes classical and baroque music, but unexpectedly for a classical musician, Barton Pine also performs with a heavy metal band, Earthen Grave.

Along with her regular performance schedule, Barton Pine has also turned her attention to classical music advocacy. The Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation and Global HeartStrings are dedicated to promoting the study and appreciation of classical music. 

Barton Pine recently granted an email interview to The Ear:

Rachel Barton Pine portrait

Could you briefly introduce yourself, touching on some highlights include when you started violin lessons, honors and awards,

When I was three years old, I saw some older girls in beautiful dresses who were playing violin at church. I immediately stood up in the pew and announced, “I want to do that!”  That summer, my parents let me start lessons with a teacher in the neighborhood.

By age five, I knew this is what my life would be about.  I made my professional debut at age seven with the Chicago String Ensemble and my earliest appearances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra were at age 10 and 15.

Like many young violinist I took part in international competitions.  I was the youngest person (at age 17) and the first American to win a gold medal at the 1992 J.S. Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany, and I won top prizes in the Szigeti (Budapest), Paganini (Genoa), Queen Elisabeth (Brussels), Kreisler (Vienna), and Montreal international violin competitions.

Closer to home, I’ve been honored with the Great Performer of Illinois award and twice as a Chicagoan of the year. I had the pleasure of playing my own version of the Star-Spangled Banner for various events including Chicago Bulls playoff games. I’ve also received the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for my work in music education.

Stradivarius violin

What are your current and future projects?

For the last two seasons, my tour dates included performances of two demanding cycles, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s five Violin Concertos and the Paganini’s 24 solo Caprices (see the YouTube video below), each cycle in a single evening. Exploring a composer’s entire output in a single genre gives extra insight to both the interpreter and the listeners. In August, I recorded the complete Mozart concertos with Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields; the album will be released in the spring. This winter, I will record the Paganini caprices.

What things do you think make you special or unusual?

I like to think that every violin soloist is individual and unique; hearing my Brahms Concerto will be a little different from any other Brahms you’ve heard before because I’m a different person.

With that being said, I believe I’m the only international violin soloist who also plays in a doom/thrash metal band! When I’m not off playing concertos and recitals, I love rocking out (below) with my band Earthen Grave, playing my electric six-string flying V violin.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love indulging in early music when I get a chance. In fact, in 2009, I performed on the rebec (an ancestor of the violin from the 1200s) for a concert of medieval music at the Madison Early Music Festival.

Rachel Barton Pine  goth nails

You have recorded the Brahms Violin Concerto along with a concerto by Brahms’ friend and mentor Joseph Joachim. Can you explain what makes the Brahms a special work for you?

I have been fascinated with the Brahms Concerto since my earliest violin lessons. I began studying it when I was 14, and it rapidly became a mainstay of my repertoire. It was with the Brahms Concerto that I won several of my international prizes and made many of my debuts in Europe and America. It remains one of the most fulfilling works I perform.

My teacher in Berlin, Werner Scholz, was a student of a student of Joachim. I feel fortunate to have gained knowledge about the Brahms Concerto from one so close to the original source. In my lessons, Professor Scholz would say, “My teacher said that Joachim said that Brahms said to play it like this!”

In addition, I have been playing a very special violin since 2002, the 1742 “ex-Soldat” Guarneri del Gesu (below), on loan from my generous patron. In the 19th century, it was chosen by Brahms for his protégé, Marie Soldat. She was one of the first champions of the Brahms Violin Concerto, which became her signature piece. Marie Soldat and Brahms frequently played chamber music together, with Brahms at the piano, which means that my violin actually got to jam with Brahms! It’s amazing to play the music of Brahms on an instrument whose voice he personally selected.

Rachel Barton Pine with violin

I will be performing my own cadenza for the Brahms. Playing my own cadenza is the most organic way I can express my feelings about the music. I’m very honored that my cadenzas to great violin concertos such as Mozart, Beethoven, Paganini and Brahms have been published in “The Rachel Barton Pine Collection” along with others of my compositions and arrangements and editions. This sheet music book is part of Carl Fischer’s Masters Collection series; I am the only living artist (other volumes are the collections of works by Kreisler, Heifetz, etc.)

In 2004, I had the great pleasure of releasing my recording of the Brahms Concerto with my “hometown” orchestra, the mighty Chicago Symphony. That was really a dream come true, to do one of my favorite concertos with one of my favorite orchestras! For that album, I recorded both my own cadenza as well as that by Brahms’s friend and collaborator Joachim.

What was the relationship between Brahms and Joachim?

When Joseph Joachim and Johannes Brahms met in 1853, the 21-year-old Joachim was already an established violin virtuoso and composer. The extremely gifted Brahms, two years younger, was virtually unknown. They quickly became close friends and began a musical interchange that lasted throughout their lives.

Brahms and Joachim challenged each other constantly, trading counterpoint exercises along with their correspondence. In 1853, they roomed together in Göttingen, and Brahms began to study orchestration with Joachim. Joachim served as a mentor to Brahms, introducing him to Schumann and other leading musicians of the day.

Throughout their friendship, Joachim was unwavering in his support of Brahms’s compositions. He performed Brahms’s chamber works, premiering many of them, and conducted Brahms’s symphonies. Joachim was particularly fond of the Brahms Violin Concerto. He described the work, which Brahms dedicated to him, as one of “high artistic value” that roused in him “a peculiarly strong feeling of interest” (Joseph Joachim and Andreas Moser, Violinschule, 1902-05).

Brahms (below) began composing his Violin Concerto in the summer of 1878, during a vacation on Lake Wörther in Pörtschach, Carinthia (Austria). On August 22, Brahms sent the manuscript of the violin part to Joachim with this note: “Naturally I wish to ask you to correct it. I thought you ought to have no excuse – neither respect for the music being too good nor the pretext that orchestrating it would not merit the effort. Now I shall be satisfied if you say a word and perhaps write in several: difficult, awkward, impossible, etc.” Thus began one of the most intriguing musical exchanges in history.

brahms-1

By the time Joachim (below) premiered the concerto in Leipzig on January 1, 1879, the piece had undergone considerable changes. Two middle movements had been removed and replaced by a newly written Adagio, resulting in the three-movement concerto we know today. (Both of the original middle movements are now lost. Many scholars think that the Scherzo may have been converted into the Allegro appassionato of the Second Piano Concerto.) The score was passed back and forth at least a half-dozen times before the premiere, and the two friends’ debate over revisions, which is clearly evident in the surviving manuscript, has been left for posterity. In the end, Brahms incorporated most of Joachim’s suggested orchestral changes but considerably fewer of his revisions to the solo violin part.

Joseph Joachim

How do you feel about performing with a student orchestra such as the UW Symphony? Do you see advantages or drawbacks?

There is nothing more energizing than youthful talent and enthusiasm, and I always welcome the opportunity to perform with young people. These student musicians may not be as experienced with the Brahms Violin Concerto as older artists, but I’m sure they’ll learn it quickly and play it with great spirit. (Below are the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Choral Union under the direction of conductor Beverly Taylor.)

Missa Choral Union and UW Symphony Orchestra

Do you have any experience with conductor Kenneth Woods or know his reputation?

I was not previously familiar with Maestro Woods. One of the great pleasures of being a touring soloist is performing in a different city or country every week, experiencing the wonderful variety of reuniting with musicians with whom I have previously worked and collaborating with new colleagues. Fresh perspectives are always inspiring, and I really look forward to exploring the Brahms with Maestro Woods in a few weeks.

Do you have an opinion of Madison and its audiences? Do you have any personal or professional history here? Or will this be your local debut?

I have performed in Madison a number of times over the last decade as soloist with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below top). Maestro Andrew Sewell (below bottom), his wife and children have become close family friends. In fact, his son (six years old at the time, now a teenager) was the ring bearer at my wedding. I always enjoy visiting Madison. I’m looking forward to returning this month, and coming back to the WCO again next season.

My daughter Sylvia has been touring with me since she was three weeks old; she just turned two. This will be her first trip to Madison, and I’m sure she’ll enjoy it, too.

WCO lobby

andrewsewell

Was there an Aha! Moment that told you – a piece or performance or performer – that let you know that you wanted to be a professional concertizing violinist?

I began violin lessons at age three, and by the time I was five, I was signing my kindergarten papers “Rachel, Violinist.” I didn’t consider myself to be someone who played the violin; rather, being a violinist was my entire identity. It was through playing in church that I had come to the belief that creating music and sharing it was others to uplift their spirits is my calling, and that’s what I still believe.

What advice would you give to young violinists?

Commit to a daily minimum amount of practice and stick to it; inconsistency will slow your progress. Be focused, observant and goal-oriented when practicing; merely logging in the hours won’t magically cause improvement. Structure your practice sessions to include a balance between technical work and expressive work … and don’t forget to include a little creative time too, such as writing your own music, jamming along to the radio, or trying out a fun non-classical style of playing.

violin practice

And how do you think classical music can attract bigger and younger audiences?

Much has been written about this important topic. Traveling around the U.S., I’ve observed many efforts that have been successful in different communities. Being creative with programming and concert presentation is important, while always preserving what makes classical special in the first place.

It’s also important to find creative ways to connect with others so we can express our passion for classical music and get them excited about it, too. I do this in a variety of ways: visiting schools, participating in pre-concert talks, being accessible through social media such as Twitter and my Violin Adventures podcast, and playing classical pieces on rock radio stations or in alternative venues such as bars and cafes.

It’s the best feeling in the world when someone comes up to me after a concert to say that it was the first time they ever attended an orchestra performance and they loved it!

What else would you like to say or add?

I’m very excited to have just released my latest album, the Mendelssohn and Schumann Violin Concertos along with both Beethoven Romances. My last album, Violin Lullabies (see the YouTube video at the bottom to hear Rachel Barton Pine play Brahms’ Lullaby) debuted at No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s classical chart, which was a thrill. With all of my recordings, I hope that they will be enjoyed by classical music connoisseurs as well as by those who might be newly discovering the joys of classical music.


2 Comments »

  1. Making Music part of one’s identity is THE essential part to a successful Life in Music. Do not go to music school, or dedicate yourself to music unless it is Who You Are, and not merely something you do.
    I used to think that Beethoven had a lot in common with rock music like the Who, but I have not heard enough “death-thrash metal” to know what the apt comparison might be. This wonderful violinist is of a younger age than me, and she’s “Talkin’ ‘Bout HER Generation”, not mine!
    The Brahms connection to her instrument and the Joachim tie to her teacher is about as close at it gets to the sources, eh?
    MBB

    Comment by Michael BB — October 30, 2013 @ 8:24 am


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