Nothing can stop Rachel Barton Pine from making music with her violin. She started lessons at age 3, soloed with the Chicago Symphony at age 10, and won the International Johann Sebastian Bach Competition in 1992 a few months before turning 18. Her concerts have taken her around the world, and her playing has been featured in 39 albums.
Now that the pandemic has released its grip a bit, Pine is back on the road again, and this weekend, she will be in town to play Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
I caught up with her over the phone recently while she was on her way to a solo recital in Lincoln, Neb.
“I started the year with a recording of the Shostakovich First Violin Concert,” said Pine. “And it’s paired with a new concerto by Earl Maneein that is inspired by heavy metal music. In March, I played the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Violins with my daughter Sylvia. That was extra special! Right after the concert in Vancouver, I will fly to Vienna to record with the Vienna Symphony and Marin Alsop, and in September I will be back in Vienna to be part of the jury for the Fritz Kreisler International Violin Competition.”
Those are a few of the highlights that she has underway this season. She is noted for being able to play a different violin concerto every week, and although she has not kept count, she thinks that she has performed about 100 different concertos during her career.
Korngold’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra is one of Pine’s favorites. He wrote it in 1946 in a style that has lovely, expansive melodies. Because he made a big name for himself writing music for the movies, including an Oscar for the score to “Anthony Adverse” (1936) and another for “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938), many people assumed that his film music filtered into the concerto.
“I love this concerto,” Pine said. “A lot of composers like Korngold came from Europe to America and wrote film scores to pay the bills. It’s a fun way to express yourself artistically. Some people have been dismissive of Korngold’s music, saying that it sounds like Hollywood, but they have it backwards. Hollywood sounds like Korngold. People have argued that Korngold took bits from his movie scores and recycled them into his Violin Concerto. I think that he wrote the concerto first, but it didn’t get much traction. So, he took some of the good bits from the concerto and used them in the film scores.”
The Korngold Violin Concerto has been steadily gaining in popularity and is now considered to be a standard in the orchestral repertoire. To get more connected with the music, Pine encourages her students to watch movies that have Korngold’s music.
“It is illuminating to understand the scene or moment in a plot where Korngold used these melodies,” Pine explained. “It gives you an idea about the character and meaning of the melodies. I love the secondary theme of the first movement, which is a tender scene between spouses in one of the films. There’s an intimacy, a deep love that they have shared for so many years. It’s a gorgeous theme.”
Pine will be seated when she plays because of a serious accident that she suffered many years ago.
“I’ve been nonambulatory since 2019,” Pine said. “I was supposed to have some operations that would have gotten me back on my feet. That was scheduled for the spring of 2020, but the hospitals were hit with the pandemic. That was disappointing and difficult, but I prefer to look at the positive side. My family is healthy, and we are doing well.”
She said Itzhak Perlman, a renown violinist who contracted polio at age 4 and has used crutches since, has given her “plenty of advice about what to do and how to manage.”
“I am very grateful to him,” she said.
For this weekend’s performances, Salvador Brotons will lead all the pieces on the program, which includes Alexander Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony. It ends with a flourish that has helped to make it one of Glazunov’s most popular works.
The concert will begin with the “Rip Van Winkle Overture” by George Whitefield Chadwick. This piece was inspired by Washington Irving’s story and a popular play version. It won a composition contest when Chadwick studied at the Leipzig Conservatory. That helped to solidify his career after he returned stateside. He taught at the New England Conservatory and became its director in 1897. Since his music is rarely played today, it will be a treat to hear this short, one-movement work. Just don’t fall asleep!