June 2007

Rachel's Musical Adventures: UCC 50th, Fiddle Camp, Boston trip

June 21, 2007 16:50

JUNE 23: Performance for the United Church of Christ’s 50th anniversary celebration – WATCH ONLINE LIVE!

On Saturday, June 23 at 12:30 pm, pianist Matt Hagle and I will perform a recital at “Synod In The City,” the gala celebration for the 50th anniversary of the United Church of Christ.

The concert will take place on the Main Stage at The Hartford Civic Center. Our program will comprise Bach’s Sonata in E Major, 1st and 4th movements; Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River, arranged by Maud Powell; Still’s Here's One; Bloch’s Simchas Torah, and Baker’s Deliver My Soul.

During the 8:00 hour that evening, I will give a short speech about my faith journey and perform my own virtuosic variations on “Happy Birthday.” This will also take place on the Main Stage.

Both performances will be streamed live across the internet at www.ucc.org. Concert times are in Eastern Standard Time.

The United Church of Christ is a blend of four principal traditions - Congregational, Christian, Evangelical, and Reformed. One of the most diverse Christian churches in the United States, the UCC has roots in the "covenantal" tradition - meaning there is no centralized authority or hierarchy that can impose any doctrine or form of worship on its members. Many “firsts” are part of our history, including:
1700 - Congregationalists are among the first Americans to take a stand against slavery
1785 - First ordained African American pastor
1840 - First united church in U.S. history
1846 - First integrated anti-slavery society
1853 - First woman pastor
1972 - Ordination of first openly gay minister

“Synod in the City” begins June 22 and runs through June 26. The five day conference will feature speakers, theologians, artists, performers, and multimedia events in a variety of venues throughout downtown Hartford, CT. For more information, please contact the United Church of Christ at (866) 822-8224 or visit www.ucc.org.

JUNE 24-30: Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp in Tennessee

Most summers, I travel to Montgomery Bell State Park, near Nashville, to teach and perform at Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp. The students range from ages 8 to 80, from beginners to professionals, and from fiddlers to classically-trained string players. It’s five days full of instruction, seminars, demonstrations, concerts and jamming for those who play violin and fiddle (and cello too!).

This year’s faculty will include: Gilles Apap and Darol Anger (World), Michael Cleveland and Aubrey Haynie (Bluegrass), Dr. M. Manjunath (Indian), Michael Doucet (Cajun), Daniel Bernard-Roumain (Hip-Hop), Buddy Spicher (Swing), Luke Bulla and Randy Elmore (Texas Style), Tracy Silverman (Electric Violin), Bruce Molsky (Old Time), Sara Caswell and Christian Howes (Jazz), and April Verch (Canadian).

Every evening, throughout the week, selected members of the faculty will collaborate and perform for the students. My turn on stage will be Thursday, June 28.

While the 2007 Tennessee Fiddle Camp is sold out, you contact them at (615)941-7426 or learn more at: www.markoconnor.com.

Rachel’s Musical Adventures
“Boston Early Music Festival”
June 21, 2007

Hi, everyone!

Last weekend, I spent a few days at the Boston Early Music Festival (www.bemf.org). This was my first time at BEMF, and it was a remarkable experience. I attended a number of performances and was exposed to an amazing world of often-overlooked instruments and performers.

The highlight for me was definitely the opera Psyche by Lully, featuring world-class singers and instrumentalists. I was surprised to see the orchestra members facing each other in a long oval configuration, led by the concertmaster with no conductor. It worked very well – their ensemble was excellent. The visual elements were particularly exceptional. The costumes were great and I was fascinated by the authentic dancing in a style that preceded ballet. BEMF presents a different Baroque opera every two years, drawing upon the latest information about period singing, orchestral performance, costuming, and staging. I strongly recommend attending if you possibly can!

There are a number of interesting instruments that were invented in response to gender biases of the Baroque period. I met and played two of these, instruments that have drifted into near-obscurity for a variety of reasons. At the Unprofitable Instruments booth, I tried a string instrument I had only read about in books – the tromba marina. Women weren’t allowed to play the trumpet, so this instrument was invented as an alternative, and it sounds surprisingly similar. Though it has been almost forgotten today, it inspired the use of harmonics by players of violin family instruments and the concept of thumb position on the cello. To learn more, please visit www.trombamarina.com/tm.htm and www.organicdesign.org/peterson/tromba/MFA_tromba_ref.html.

trying to play the tromba marina

I had the opportunity to hear another unusual instrument in performance – the pardessus de viole. It is basically a miniature viola da gamba (smaller even than the treble viol), with five instead of six or seven strings. This instrument was also invented because of gender taboos – women who weren’t allowed to play the violin under their chin could set the pardessus on their lap and play violin parts. Men also came to appreciate the instrument and to compose specifically for it. To learn more, please visit users.skynet.be/richardsutcliffe/pardessus.htm. Played by a virtuosa like Joanna Blendulf, it clearly has its own unique voice in the string instrument world.

To commemorate my visit, I purchased a rebec, one of the medieval ancestors of the violin. For more information about rebecs, you can check out this great web page: crab.rutgers.edu/~pbutler/rebec.html. I’m hoping to find some time to learn to play it this summer, and I look forward to jamming on it with David Douglass who generously helped me pick it out.

my new rebec and its maker, Kate McWilliams

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Rachel's Musical Adventures: house concert thoughts and Boston debut

June 13, 2007 23:17

“Up close and personal”

Hi, everyone!

A couple weeks ago, I played a small private unaccompanied recital in a friend’s living room. Playing in an intimate setting like this can be really refreshing. At such close quarters, sitting in the middle of a living room, I’m very aware of the personal moment that the listeners and I are sharing. The atmosphere is more casual than the concert stage, and the dynamic contrasts and musical expressions necessary for a large concert hall would seem ridiculously over-blown in this setting. It’s just me and my violin, in our private relationship, and these few friends have been invited in.

But, isn’t that the goal of every concert, even in a large hall? A successful performance strives to transcend the psychological barrier of the stage to bring all of those in attendance into the same intimate world they would experience up close. Playing concerts like the one in my friend’s living room reminds me that even a large crowd is made up of individuals, for each of whom I am personally playing. It is this sense of intimacy that I strive to create for each audience member at every concert.

performing Bach's G Minor Adagio

performing Bach's G Minor Fugue

my hair flying!

To read all of my blog entries from 2000-2007, please visit www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php.

My debut at the Boston Early Music Festival

On Friday, June 15, I will perform with John Mark Rozendaal (viola da gamba) and David Schrader (harpsichord) as Trio Settecento. Our performance of the works of François Couperin's Royal Concert in A, Marin Marais's Tombeau de Lully, Jean-Phillipe Rameau's Concert IV and Jean-Marie Leclair's Sonata No. 12 in G marks our debut at the Boston Early Music Festival.

John Mark Rozendaal, who plays the baroque' cello as well as the viola da gamba, specializes in teaching and performing stringed instrument music from the Baroque and Renaissance eras. David Schrader performs on numerous keyboard instruments including the harpsichord, organ, piano and fortepiano, and has performed and taught throughout the U.S. and internationally. For more information about these two artists, please visit www.jmrozendaal.com and www.davidschrader.com.

The Festival, which began June 11 and runs through June 17, features “an international array of preeminent soloists and ensembles.” The theme of the 14th biennial Festival—inspired by the 2007 operatic centerpiece, the North American premiere of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s spectacular 1678 opera Psyché—is “Feast of the Gods.”

Trio Settecento’s performance will take place at 11 a.m. in the Lindsey Chapel at Emmanuel Church, Boston. Tickets are available at: www.bemf.org or by calling: 617-868-BEMF (2363).

For more information about Trio Settecento, please visit www.myspace.com/triosettecento.

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Rachel's Musical Adventures: My new Maud Powell tribute album

June 8, 2007 22:09

Hi, everyone!

I’m frequently asked to name my favorite violinist. It’s virtually impossible — each of us has strengths and weaknesses. I admire certain performances and certain aspects of many players, and I draw inspiration from many violinists past and present. However, the violinist I most admire is definitely Maud Powell.

Despite being an avid researcher of violin music and history, I had never heard of Maud Powell until Karen Shaffer sent me a copy of Maud’s biography in 1995. I was fascinated to read about her remarkable and inspirational life. Reading on planes and in hotel rooms, I learned how she became the greatest American violinist in the late 1800s and early 1900s while also breaking so many social stereotypes: choosing to dedicate her life to her career; leading a string quartet of men; championing music by contemporary composers, American composers, women composers, and Black composers; and introducing classical music to numerous new listeners. She is often in the back of my mind today as I perform works by contemporary, women, and Black composers; as I perform rock and classical music in non-traditional venues; and as I give benefit concerts, support young string players, and strive for improvement and greater understanding in all of my interpretations.

Why is Maud Powell not better known today? I believe there are several contributing factors. Unlike Leopold Auer, she didn’t leave a pedagogical legacy. While Maud was committed to music education and encouraged every young violinist who came to her for advice, her touring schedule was too intense to maintain a teaching studio. Unlike Heifetz, she didn’t live into the electric recording era. And, unlike Wieniawski or Kreisler, she never wrote any original compositions.

After finishing her biography, I began learning some of her repertoire — works that she premiered, arranged, or recorded, and works written for her. Many of these gems have become staples of my recital programs. At the end of my recent performance in Washington, DC, Leonard Slatkin commented, “This music is wonderful! Maud Powell really was the female Fritz Kreisler.” Had I thought more quickly, I should have responded, “Actually, Kreisler was the male Maud Powell.” After all, Maud came first and was admired by Kreisler and all of his generation.

This album represents a slice of late Nineteenth–early Twentieth Century repertoire rarely heard these days. Miniature jewels like Humoreske, May Night, or Minute Waltz have an individual character that must be defined and demand a significant investment of the performer’s personality. Slower melodic works, such as those by Venth, Huss, and Johnson, call for indulgence in expressive shifts and creative rubato. The tone-painting of Burleigh and Bauer still sounds fresh a century later, and the Sousa Airs and Caprice on Dixie are brilliant American alternatives to the usual Carmen Fantasies and Paganini Caprices.

I hope this recording will open your ears to some masterful compositions, beautiful arrangements, and the art of one of the greatest violinists ever. I also hope that through this CD, the forthcoming printed collection of Maud’s music, the second edition of her biography, the reissues of her own recordings, and information posted on http://www.maudpowell.org, Maud Powell will finally receive the recognition she deserves as an artist and role model.

My 12th CD is now available!
"American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell" with pianist Matthew Hagle on Cedille Records
Click here to purchase it for $15.
Click here to listen to sound clips.
Click here to read the complete liner notes and the booklet essay by Karen Shaffer.
Click here to read the press release.

To read all of my blog entries from 2000-2007, please visit http://www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php

10 replies | Archive link

Rachel's Musical Adventures: Nigerian string players

June 8, 2007 21:15

Hi, everyone!

Some reflections on an inspiring story ...

Classical music is a centuries old Western art form that boasts names like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven (recognized regularly as among the 30 most influential people of the past millennium). In the United States, we can hear it on the radio, buy CDs and MP3s, buy sheet music, take lessons, and attend concerts. Yet despite the availability of classical music, many best-selling books, major media outlets, and symphony orchestras with multi-million dollar budgets are questioning the relevance and future of classical music. Will classical music be part of our future or is it dying out? Does the great art music of the past having meaning for our 21st Century lives?

A unique and unexpected answer to these questions was provided to me by Titus Oladimeji, a 27 year old engineering student living in Lagos, Nigeria. In October 2005, Titus contacted me to request assistance from my Foundation in obtaining basic supplies not available in his country, such as strings, shoulder bars, and rosin. He explained that classical musicians in Nigeria also have no access to sheet music and recordings.

Titus, it turns out, performs as a violist with small and large ensembles in his area. In the face of many challenges, he and his colleagues are passionate about classical music and committed to expanding their knowledge and sharing it with others. Titus recently formed the Nigerian chapter of the International Viola Society, and he and his peers now teach violin to children in their community as young as four years old. Yet he and his colleagues play on worn-out strings on instruments held together with tape. They are often forced to gather at their church in the middle of the night to practice, rehearse, and learn from each other because of busy work schedules and thin walls at their homes.

Amazed by the sacrifices that Titus and his friends are making because of their burning desire to play classical music, I enlisted the help of instrument supply companies and put together a box of materials. On receiving the package, Titus wrote: “Thanks for those wonderful materials…You have already put a big smile on the faces of so many classical instrumentalists here in Nigeria.”

Later, Titus mentioned that he and his friends yearned to play Mozart. We promptly sent some sheet music. A few months afterwards, Titus joyfully reported that his chamber group, the Golden String Quartet, had given its first public performance of Mozart. It’s hard to image more disparate environments than 1770s Austria and modern day Nigeria, yet Mozart’s music clearly speaks deeply to these young Africans who struggle against great odds just to have the chance to play it. What does this say about the relevance and future of classical music?

The story of these passionate musicians should be told and I hope that a documentary can be made about their remarkable efforts.

This August, I will spend two weeks in Ghana and Nigeria where I have been invited to teach and perform. While there, I look forward to meeting Titus and his colleagues and to sharing our love of string instruments and their music.

In response to our contact with Titus, my Foundation has started a new program, Global HeartStrings. Global HeartStrings is dedicated to supporting aspiring classical musicians from developing countries. There is so much need in so many places! Currently, we are gathering materials to send to Haiti, Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria. Future plans include sponsoring foreign residencies for teachers and string instrument technicians from America, and providing scholarships for foreign musicians to study performance, pedagogy, and instrument repair in the U.S. We’ll be adding a page on Global HeartStrings to our website http://www.rebf.org soon. I hope that you will all consider how you might help.


David Ajajl without a shoulder bar

David's new shoulder bar

David's new shoulder bar has improved his posture!

the Golden String Quartet

Titus helping a young violinist


Tolu teaching children

members of the orchestra

orchestra and choir performing

the lower strings

To read my old blogs going all the way back to 2000, please visit http://www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php

1 reply | Archive link

Rachel's Musical Adventures: Performing Bach

June 8, 2007 21:13

Hi, everyone!

A week and a half ago, at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival, I had the incredible opportunity to perform the complete Six Sonatas and Partitas by Bach in a single evening. I’ve only done this a couple times before and each has taken me on a profound musical journey. The deep connection I feel to Bach’s music (which dates back to my early childhood when I regularly played Bach in church) further enhanced the experience.

As those who have studied these pieces know, many decisions must be made when crafting an interpretation. I’ve found that I enjoy multiple approaches – little details like the bowing of the second to last measure of the G Minor Adagio, big decisions like whether or not to add slurs (and if so, which ones) to the Andante from Sonata No. 2, or aesthetic judgment calls such as whether to play “notes inegal” in the E Major Minuet. In these situations and in so many others, I often don’t have a single idea that I prefer. After spending hundreds of hours studying passages and sections to decide what I like and don’t like, I’ve found that I communicate these amazing works most effectively when I let the moment of performance define my approach. Experiencing these works within the context of each other also produces a different result than performing one or two on their own. No matter how deeply one explores the depths of these glorious masterpieces, there is always more to discover. I can’t wait to see what inspiration Bach sends my way in the years to come.

Because most of Bach’s movements with repeats have two parts of equal length, the Classical and Romantic period tradition of repeating only the first half feels unbalanced to me. Therefore, when I perform one of the Sonatas or Partitas, I prefer to either do none or all of the repeats. On this occasion, since I was performing the whole cycle, I decided to do all of the repeats to convey how the weight and structure of each work compared and contrasted. I was a little concerned that the audience would get tired before I was done with the three-hour marathon. It turned out to be exactly the opposite – they were with me through every note and their enthusiasm was truly inspiring.

As much as I loved sharing Bach’s music, the preparation was very time consuming, especially considering the chamber music I had to rehearse and perform over the preceding week. I’m looking forward to finally having time to visit with my colleagues over the next few days of Schubert.

performing Beethoven's "Spring" Sonata with pianist Orion Weiss

Q&A with teens after my Bach performance

late-night dinner with some of the festival musicians

(NOTE: This blog was written on May 29, 2007.)

To read all of my blog entries from 2000-2007, please visit http://www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php

1 reply | Archive link

Rachel's Musical Adventures: My d'amore d'ebut!

June 8, 2007 21:13

Hi, everyone!

On April 29 and 30, I finally realized a long time dream - I performed for the first time on the viola d’amore.

For those who don’t know about the viola d’amore, read on (for those who do, you can skip to paragraph 8). Unlike the violin and viola da gamba families with instruments from treble to bass, the viola d’amore is an instrument without a family. Perhaps it can be best described as a supplemental instrument, like those in the wind family (oboe/English horn, flute/piccolo, etc.). No one has ever begun music lessons on it, and it doesn’t exist in children’s sizes.

It’s a cousin to both the violins and the viols, with the flat back and rounded shoulders of a viola da gamba, but held on the shoulder and played like a violin. It usually has 6 or 7 strings with an equal number of sympathetic (vibrating, non-playing) strings underneath. Consequently, the pegbox is very long (which makes it quite heavy to hold!). The scroll is often in the shape of a blind cupid’s head, so perhaps its name means “viola of love.” However, the sound holes are in the shape of an Islamic flame (not the C-curves of a viol or the f-holes of a violin), so it may be the “viola of the Moors.”

Violas d’amore first appeared in the world in the late 1600s (the violins and viols developed in the 1500s), and many early examples had no sympathetic strings. The viola d’amore has a unique, sweet sound. Leopold Mozart described it as “a special kind of violin that sounds especially lovely in the stillness of the night.”

Many violin virtuosos of the baroque period played the viola d’amore, such as Locatelli and Pisendel. In the 20th Century, it was championed by violists such as Casadesus and Hindemith. Great composers from Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi, to Massenet, Puccini, and Janacek have been inspired to write music for the instrument. Famous makers who crafted violas d’amore include Gagliano, Gofriller, Grancino, Guadagnini, Landolfi, Ruggieri, Stainer, Storioni, and Testore. A Stradivari pattern exists, but no surviving instrument has been located.

Since the 19th Century, the viola d’amore’s tuning has been standardized. From low to high: A (a third below the viola’s Cing), D, A, D (the same as a violin’s Ding), F# (or F-natural), A (the same as the violin), and D (one note below the violin’s Eing). However, in the 18th Century, more than 20 different tunings were used, with the strings tuned to the key of each particular composition.

(If you want to learn more about this cool instrument, two of the best web sites are http://www.violadamore.com and http://www.violadamoresocietyofamerica.org).

I had been interested in trying the viola d’amore ever since it was first described to me in my late teens. For years, I’ve been asking around with absolutely no luck, trying to find one in Chicago, or anywhere in the Midwest within driving distance. About 6 months ago, someone suggested that I call Liz Cifani, the principal harpist of the Lyric Opera Orchestra. It turns out that her mother had played the viola d’amore. Her dying wish was that her instrument never be sold and be loaned to someone who would enjoy and appreciate it. The instrument is beautiful, a 19th Century replica of a late-18th Century type, with 7+7 strings. I’m very fortunate to have received the use of this incredible instrument.

I decided that for my very first concert, it would be enough of a challenge to find the notes on 7 strings without changing my tuning around for different pieces. I picked the key of D Major and chose three works – a Vivaldi Concerto, a Haydn Divertimento, and a Stamitz Sonata. I used recently-printed editions with the notes given as sounding pitches, using both alto (viola) and treble (violin) clefs. At first, playing the instrument was an incredible challenge. I was completely disoriented – placing my bow on the 6th string while fingering the 5th string. And, with the different tuning, I had no idea where any of the notes were! I also found that the curve of the bridge was narrower than that of the violin, so consecutive strings were much closer.

Gradually, my coordination improved and, as I increased my practice time, a new challenge was aching fingertips. The lowest strings are quite a bit fatter than those of a modern viola. I now have a newfound admiration for cellists who have to press those thick things all day. (And after having to tune 14 strings, I also have much more sympathy for harpists.) It was also interesting to regulate the tone production across such a wide range of strings. I had to constantly control weight shifts in my bowing, much more so than on the violin. On top of all that, there were all kinds of technical passages in the Stamitz including harmonics, left-hand pizzicato, and runs up to the end of the fingerboard.

It was only in the last week before the concert that the instrument finally felt natural and intuitive in my hands. What a thrill! I’ve definitely fallen in love with the “viola of love,” and I can’t wait to learn more repertoire!

with my viola d'amore

14 pegs!

WFMT studio with Ars Antigua

interview on WFMT

playing the viola d'amore

(NOTE: This blog was written on May 21, 2007.)

To read my old blogs going all the way back to 2000, please visit http://www.rachelbartonpine.com/blog.php

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