July 2007

Rachel's Musical Adventures - talking about Maud Powell

July 28, 2007 22:59

August 1: FREE CONCERT in Chicago

On Wednesday, August 1, at 12:15 p.m., I will give a free performance at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall. This recital will be the first annual Al Booth Memorial Concert for the Dame Myra Hess series, honoring the founder of the International Music Foundation. Pianist Matthew Hagle and I will perform Amy Beach’s Romance, Gilbert’s Marionettes, Palmgren’s May Night, Grainger’s Molly on the Shore, and Ravel’s Sonata.

For more information, please call 312-744-6630 or visit www.imfchicago.org/hessmain.html.

Be sure to arrive early as this concert is expected to be standing room only!

You can also listen to the live broadcast on WFMT radio, 98.7FM in Chicago or www.wfmt.com.

July 29 & August 2: National Association of Negro Musicians, Las Vegas

The 88th Annual Meeting of the National Association of Negro Musicians will take place in Las Vegas from July 29 - August 2. This year’s theme is “Never Turn Back, Move On Up a Little Higher.” On Sunday, July 29, at 7pm, I will serve as an adjudicator in the final round of the NANM String Scholarship Competition. Then, on Thursday, August 2, at 10:30am, I will present the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation’s curricular project, “The String Student’s Library of Music by Black Composers.”

For more information, please contact the National Association of Negro Musicians at 773-568-3818 or visit www.nanm.org.
I am a proud member of NANM through the Chicago Music Association, Branch #1.

“God Defend New Zealand” now available at CDBaby.com

>My recording of my composition “Introduction, Theme and Variations on God Defend New Zealand” is now available for purchase at www.cdbaby.com/cd/rachelbarton. In the style of Paganini's Nel Cor Piu Non Mi Sento and Ernst's Last Rose of Summer, it includes virtually every pyrotechnical feat from left-hand pizzicato while bowing a canon, to wild passages of double-stops and arpeggios.

Here are some reviews:

"A spectacular work full of seemingly impossible technical feats."
Illinois Times

"Packed with all the showy tricks of the fiddler's trade, the piece brought to mind the flamboyant piano pieces of Louis Moreau Gottschalk."
The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois)

"The lovely theme was set in a well-designed two-voice texture throughout. The most striking variation was the second, where the violinist actually plays in two-part imitative counterpoint. She begins the first voice by plucking with her left hand, and the second voice is bowed. The third variation is a big finale with every trick in the book and a cadence long enough to hang laundry on. It was an impressive display."
The Daily News (South Florida)

"Full of devilish pyrotechnics - skittery bowings and lift-hand pluckings - in the style of Paganini's spectacular variations on Paisiello's "Nel cor piu non mi sento."

Miami Herald

"Paganini - eat your heart out."

The Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand)

"Her astonishing, lightning-fast playing of a pizzicato melody with her left hand while bowing a counterpoint with the right, as she did in a wonderful encore she created of New Zealand's national anthem, was far more than mere mortal violinists would attempt."

The Knoxville News-Sentinel

New YouTube video

“Rachel Barton Pine performs Dvorak’s Humoresque”

Rachel introduces and performs Humoresque by Antonin Dvorak (arranged by Fritz Kreisler, revised and adapted by Maud Powell) with pianist Matthew Hagle, April 27, 2007

Rachel's 2007 CD "American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell" features this piece, other arrangements by Maud Powell, and works dedicated to her by American composers.

To watch all of my YouTube videos, please visit www.youtube.com/RachelBartonPine.

New podcast episode

“Episode 8: Rachel Barton Pine discusses classical concert etiquette”

Rachel discusses audience response to performances, including clapping between movements and clapping in the middle of a piece. Includes musical excerpts.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer on my podcast? Just send your question via text or as an MP3 attachment to rachelbartonpine@aol.com. Please also let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. If you use iTunes, be sure to subscribe!

Chicago Sun-Times feature story

July 22, 2007
“And then there's Maud: Rachel Barton Pine discovers century-old soul mate”
By Wynne Delacoma

"I'm a total geek,'' violinist Rachel Barton Pine admitted with an unconcerned laugh. "My bedtime reading is doctoral dissertations.''

Like most solo musicians, the Chicago-based Pine is constantly on the road. (Performances in Santa Fe, N.M.; Brooklyn, N.Y., and Singapore are coming up in September.) But she always has been interested in the thrill of a different kind of chase: looking at the world of long-gone composers and performers from unexpected angles.

Among her CDs on Chicago's Cedille label is a disc devoted to music by Black composers and another pairing of concertos by Brahms and his close friend, famed violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim. Give Pine the right research topic, and she may end up spending more hours in music libraries tracking down historical information about composers and performers than practicing the music they produced.

Her latest project focuses on someone close to home: Maud Powell, a once-world-famous violinist born in 1867 in Peru, Ill., 85 miles southwest of Chicago. A child prodigy, Powell studied with Joachim in Berlin. She gave the first U.S. performances of concertos by Tchaikovsky and Dvorak. She traveled with John Philip Sousa's concert band and was the first instrumental soloist to record for what became RCA Victor's prestigious Red Seal label.

According to the Grove Dictionary of Music, "the brilliance, power and finish of (Powell's) playing, combined with an unusual interpretive gift, led her to be recognized as one of America's greatest violinists; contemporary reviewers ranked her alongside Kreisler and Ysaye.''

In June, Pine released a CD titled "American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell'' on the Cedille label, which recently hit Billboard's classical charts at No. 12. Talking about the disc, Pine brimmed with enthusiasm for the artist she sees as something of a soul mate. She became interested in Powell in 1995 after reading a biography by Karen A. Shaffer.

"I was so excited to read about this remarkable woman,'' said Pine. "I'm an avid researcher of music history, and I had never heard of Maud Powell before. The fact that she was born just an hour-and-a-half west of Chicago and that she studied in Chicago, I felt very close to her. She was an Illinois girl, too.''

Nineteenth-century Peru, Ill., might seem like an unlikely birthplace for a globe-trotting female classical musician, but it wasn't unusual for talented women of Powell's era to study the violin or piano seriously, said Pine.

"Their parents would take them to Europe. They would study with the great professors there and come back and have some debuts and tour around for a couple of years. Then they would get married and become some town's local violin or piano teacher." These women, said Pine, were often the ones who pushed to develop symphony orchestras and concert series that eventually blossomed in cities and towns throughout the country.

Though Powell did marry -- relatively late for her day, in her mid-30s -- she had no interest in retiring from the stage. That is one of one of several parallels Pine sees between herself and Powell. She was a successful soloist in her late 20s in 2004 when she married Greg Pine, a computer entrepreneur. Like Powell's husband, he accompanies his wife on her concert tours.

Also like Powell, Pine did what she calls her "finishing'' training in Berlin, with a student of one of Joachim's pupils. Both women were interested in music by African-American composers, and like Pine, Powell was actively involved in bringing classical music to new audiences. She gave annual U.S. tours, and her programs mixed longer, serious works with her own transcriptions of songs, spirituals and folk tunes. Powell asked audiences to send postcards listing selections from her best-selling records they would like to hear at her so-called "record recital'' at Carnegie Hall; Pine keeps in touch with her audience via a Web site, podcasts, a blog and MySpace.com.

After the 52-year-old Powell died in 1920 of a heart attack, three factors led to her virtual disappearance from the music history books, according to Pine. Recording technology was primitive in the early 1900s, so her recorded legacy is mainly short pieces, relatively trivial works compared with the concertos and sonatas that the next generation of violinists such as Heifetz was able to record. (A few years ago Naxos collected and re-issued all of Powell's existing recordings in four CDs as part of the label's Historical Series of Great Violinists.) Powell wasn't a composer herself, and she traveled too much to pass on a legacy of instruction to generations of star pupils.

Now living with her husband in downtown Chicago, Pine is reveling in her Billboard debut and making plans for upcoming projects. … Her performing schedule is full, and last month's appearances ranged from the Boston Early Music Festival to Mark O'Connor's Fiddle Camp in Burns, Tenn. She is happily mulling a set of commissions that would combine two of her greatest passions: solo acoustic violin and heavy metal music.

"Heavy metal has been around for 30 years now,'' said Pine. "Classical music through the centuries has drawn on the popular music of its time, Bartok using folk music, Ravel using jazz. Wouldn't it be amazing to commission some classical composers who either grew up listening to heavy metal or played guitar to write pieces for the violin that purposely use heavy metal as one more tool in a composer's tool box?''

Fanfare Magazine cover story

July, 2007
“Rachel Barton Pine on her All-Time Hero, Maud Powell”
By Robert Maxham

I first became acquainted with Maud Powell’s playing through 78s my father’s violin teacher had lent our family—Souvenir and Humoresque. I was surprised by how much Powell found in these pieces. In what recordings did Rachel Barton Pine first hear Powell’s playing? Had she read Karen Shaffer’s book when she first heard Powell? “Actually, I first became acquainted with Maud Powell when I read Karen Shaffer’s biography of her. It wasn’t till after that that I heard a CD collection of Maud’s re-mastered 78s.” So she didn’t become acquainted through the old 78s? “No, not in their original form. The CDs were reissues, and more recently her recordings have been re-released again on Naxos, with a few extra tracks that were discovered later. It was that first set, though, that I started listening to. But, honestly, while her playing is very dynamic and compelling and inspiring, it was really reading about her life—her opinions about music, her values, the activities that she engaged in—it was Maud as a person and as a musician, rather than as a performer, who drew me to herself. Hers was such an amazing life. Unlike most of her female peers at the time, who would go off to Europe and study, then come back and make a debut and tour for a couple of years, only to get married and settle down as some town’s local music teacher, Maud actually loved her art so much that she dedicated her life to the violin. She was lucky to meet Sousa’s manager when she was on tour with the Sousa band; they fell in love and he became her manager and toured with her. So she was able to have both a marriage and a career. As I said, she was lucky, because she had chosen to keep going with the violin despite what she assumed would be the need to give up marriage. I don’t think she didn’t want to get married, but she loved the violin so much. She gave what we would now call “outreach” performances instead of resting between concerts in big cities. She would find a small town half way between and play several classical concerts and talk about the pieces from the stage, group them into sets with similar aesthetics—for example, a sequence of pieces based on dance forms, or pieces from a particular country, or pieces that were more vocal in nature—to help the audience learn how to listen to the violin. She’d make use of Vieuxtemps’s arrangement of St. Patrick’s Day and popular tunes in their dressed-up classical versions to break down barriers. (Vieuxtemps had done the same thing with Yankee Doodle on his American tours.) And she was dedicated to the music of her time, cutting-edge modern pieces, like the Dvorak, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky concertos, which she premiered and championed (in the United States)—and many, many works by American composers. That wasn’t just contemporary music, but American music to boot, at a time when American composers were looked down upon. It was very radical of her to encourage these composers and bring before the public the most worthy of their output. She also played the music of women composers. And she was the first white performer on any instrument to play the works of black composers—for example, she included her own arrangements of Negro spirituals in her recital programs. In fact, her recording of Deep River is the first recording of any version. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor wrote his Concerto for her. Then there are fun things, such as her being the first woman to break the barrier between men’s quartets and ladies’ quartets—she formed a string quartet incorporating both genders. So it was just a remarkable life.”

Pine feels that her own remarkable life suggests striking parallels. “Yes, some through intent and some through coincidence. For example, my husband’s not my manager—I have the usual New York agent—but he does travel with me all of the time. He owns a computer business, which allows him to supervise all his employees back in the Chicago office from wherever we might be in the world by cell phone and laptop. Whenever I play for the Maud Powell Society, the ladies say, ‘Oh, Rachel and Greg—it’s just like Maud and Sunny.’ I think there are very few artists—at least women artists—whose husbands come along 100 percent of the time. So I’m very lucky, because, just like Maud, I’m able to have a marriage and a career. Another parallel: I’ve been interested in the works of black composers for a long time. You know, I recorded an album in 1997 of works by 18th- and 19th-century black composers from Europe and the Caribbean. (Çedille 03, 21:5) and have played pieces by a number of 19th- and 20th-century African-American composers. And my foundation, the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation, was formed in 2001 to fund an instrument loan program and grants for education and career. That was in response to my growing up in a financially struggling household—I’d been the primary breadwinner from the age of 14, responsible for the rent, utilities, and groceries—all of those things. Needless to say, it was difficult to afford the things I needed to further my music education and career goals. And so my Foundation helps young people in similar circumstances to those I experienced. But ever since my album of works by black composers was released, I’ve gotten a steady stream of requests for this repertoire from students, parents, and teachers, because most of it is currently out of print, and those pieces that are in print aren’t available in editions suitable pedagogically for study by youngsters. So my Foundation decided on a curriculum project, The String Student’s Library of Black Composers. We’ve already secured the same publisher that publishes the Suzuki method, so the series will have both high visibility and wide reach. The series itself will consist of volumes for beginners through advanced students, presenting three centuries of works by black composers from around the world: America, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe. I feel that I’m continuing in Maud’s footsteps in what she did to obtain deserved recognition for composers of African descent. Of course, finally, I’m interested in music of all eras, from the Baroque period to the present day. Maud, too, played repertoire from across the centuries.

Another parallel lies in Pine’s dedication to outreach. “In fact, I’ve been doing that for many years. From the age of 12 or so, I’ve been a big rock music fan, particularly the heavy metal genre, my absolute favorite. I even recorded an album of some of my favorite heavy metal songs; but first I started going on rock radio stations—that started around 1995 or so—when I was in town playing concertos—I’d play a little Metallica or Led Zeppelin and follow up with some Paganini and talk to my peers about how cool classical music is. A few points I always make: first, just as rock is an umbrella term for a wide variety of genres, from things that are very much on the lighter side, like, say, Celine Dion, all the way to things on the heavy end of the spectrum, you know, AC/DC and beyond—in just the same way, classical music is an umbrella term for all kinds of different styles and genres. And so if you’ve heard Pachelbel’s Canon in a dentist’s waiting room and think it’s pretty boring, you might like a Mahler symphony, which would be the equivalent of the AC/DC end of the spectrum. Another message is that, just because a lot of classical music is historic, it’s not museum music. The great composers speak directly to the human heart, to the soul, and to the human emotions, which have always been and always will be the same. Young people these days listen to rock music of the past. And I grew up listening to Jimmy Hendrix, among others. These were dead composers—I didn’t live during the 1960s. So how is that different from playing Tchaikovsky, who’s a dead composer? We didn’t live during the 1800s, but if the music speaks to you, it speaks to you. And the last point I always make is that I have had the great honor of meeting many of my favorite heavy-metal bands—whether it was hanging out backstage with Megadeth and learning that the lead guitarist was really into the Ysaye violin sonatas or hanging out with Slash from Guns N’ Roses and learning that he was really into Bach—many of these experiences have shown me that a lot of the great rock musicians were classically trained and often consider their music to be classically influenced—and many of them listen to classical music. So if you like Van Halen and Van Halen likes Paganini, you ought to give Paganini a try. Anyway, my activities expanded from going on rock radio stations to recording an album on acoustic violin of a number of my favorite rock songs and interspersing a number of fast and exciting classical pieces in between them. Now orchestras will sometimes send me to local bars or cafés, where I present a concert of a similar mix of music. Of course, performing rock music on the violin isn’t an end in itself—I’m not what you’d call a crossover artist. But I use these recognizable songs as a point of entry for people, to lead them into classical music. The final step is encouraging them to come to a real classical performance. Sometimes orchestras will ask me after the concerto to play something of a non-classical nature as an encore. And I always say, ‘Well, rock doesn’t need more fans than it already has, so there’s no point in playing a rock piece for the classical people; and if there are any of my rock fans in the audience, I want to play another classical piece for them, because this is the chance.’ I think of all that as following in Maud’s footsteps.”

There are other parallels, too. “Yes. Maud was a native Illinoisian, just like me. She was born an hour and a half west of Chicago in little Peru, Illinois. She grew up in Aurora, Illinois, which is best known as the site of Wayne’s World. She had her earliest violin lessons in Chicago, taking the train in from the suburbs until she was a teenager and went off for her finishing training in Europe. Her European training even parallels mine, because she studied with Joachim as her major European teacher, and I took some of my finishing training in Berlin with a student of a student of Joachim. So I feel close to her and that part of her life too.”

Why has her name been largely forgotten? “There are three possible explanations, and maybe the reason’s a combination of the three. First, she didn’t live into the electric recording era, as Heifetz did; so she didn’t make any full-length concerto albums with orchestra that would remain in the consciousness of the next generations. Second, she made a number of extremely tasteful arrangements and transcriptions, but she didn’t write any original numbers as did Kreisler, so she’s not remembered as a composer. Who would remember Vieuxtemps, for example, if he hadn’t composed original pieces? We’ve almost entirely forgotten many great virtuosos, but we remember Vieuxtemps and Wieniawski because they wrote the strongest concertos—and then, of course, we remember that they were also violinists. Third, Maud also didn’t leave a pedagogical legacy. We would never remember Auer the performer except that he had been the teacher of some of the great performers. Maud didn’t have a studio. She probably would have if she’d lived longer—she was only 53 when she died—but she was on the road so much that she couldn’t do both. And so, while she would often give supplemental lessons and was very dedicated to giving advice to any young person who asked for it and very often wrote articles for music journals, she didn’t have a studio of her own with regular students. And, actually, my life so far has paralleled hers, as well. I did have a studio when I was in my late teens, before my concert career became full time; but I haven’t had one since 1995, although I give master classes in almost every city I visit. Someday I’ll have a professorship; right now, I’m too busy touring, but I do everything I can for music education along the way. I serve on a number of boards of trustees and advisory boards for various music schools, and, of course, there’s the work of my foundation. I do give quite a few supplemental lessons and seminars at the American String Teachers Association and other conferences—my first article is going to be published in the ASTA Journal—and I answer e-mail from music students asking for advice about this or that. Anyway, when people ask me who is my favorite violinist or my favorite musician, I can’t answer that question speaking only from the perspective of whose playing do I like best. I try to be inspired by many violinists and incorporate elements from many of my colleagues past and present. But in totality, as a person and as a musical ambassador, Maud Powell is definitely my all-time hero. I would most like to live up to the standards and values that she set, all that she did to promote the arts, and also her seriousness about her art as interpreter, always striving to find deeper and deeper meaning in each of the pieces she played, researching the composers’ lives. You know, she often wrote her own program notes. I could talk about Maud Powell for hours—she’s my favorite topic!”

Do Powell’s interpretations seem more Powell than composer, in the manner of so many of the period’s violinists? “That’s always such a subjective question to answer—even about oneself. I know from reading about Maud in the music journals from her lifetime, and from reading her own writings, that she was determined to capture the essence of each composer’s individuality. It definitely was not her goal to go out on stage and be herself and that’s it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I would love to have heard Ole Bull—his eccentricity was unique, and I can’t imagine that anything he would have played would have sounded like anything other than Ole Bull—he was great and whatever he did was going to be great. I wouldn’t choose that approach, but there’s nothing wrong with any approach as long as it’s effective. But Maud came from the school of thought that was true to the composer, so she really strove to differentiate French music, say, from German music and even within each country and each composer individually. I believe that was a result of Joachim’s musical values—he didn’t believe in anything showy. In a way, he was almost ascetic. He strove to preserve the purity of the composer’s intent, with nothing of the performer’s ego entering the picture. I think there’s something of a balance to be achieved. Joachim didn’t play all repertoire, and when I’m playing Bach or Beethoven or Brahms, I definitely agree with his approach. But when I’m playing Paganini, as I am this weekend—the Second Concerto—it would be wrong to interpret him like that, because Paganini valued beauty of operatic line and flash for its own fun sensationalism. It’s just like food, I guess—different ethnic cuisines, different parts of meals—desserts and main courses, appetizers, side dishes—music can fall into any of those categories. Brahms is a nice steak, but you wouldn’t want to eat nothing but steak. When I listen to Maud, I feel that I can hear a difference between her aesthetic approaches. We definitely go farther with that these days, because we have the benefit of a hundred more years of musicological thought. When we play Baroque music, we know that we’re not supposed to put in certain kinds of slides, because they didn’t do it in those days. We know what the equipment was and that impacts our approach.”

But then why do violinists who will so readily embrace “authenticity” in performances of Bach recoil from portamentos and rhythmic subtleties in their performances of romantic literature? “I’m glad you brought that up. And I would actually carry that question into the 20th century. When it comes to orchestras, it can be a frustration. Orchestras of the first part of the 20th century would sometimes schmaltz all over Mozart, which can be a little offensive to our sensibilities. Nowadays, they know better than to do that, but now in repertoire where they’re supposed to schmaltz, where you want them to schmaltz, they’re almost inhibited. The piece where I experience this most starkly is the Barber Violin Concerto, which has that 1940s flavor—the juicy Hollywood soundtrack kinds of warm slides and rich sound from the strings. The orchestra almost feels guilty if they put in a slide, and I think, ‘Come on, guys! This is your chance. Go for it!’ But it’s as hard to get them to schmaltz in repertoire today as it was to get orchestras a couple of generations ago to cut it out. As a fiddler friend of mine says, we always have to strive to be as multilingual as possible. So Maud’s Bach isn’t done in the way that somebody with an understanding of the 18th century from the 21st-century perspective would play it. But her Bach was definitely very honest. It was thoughtful, had great commitment, and she did everything in her power to give it her own characteristics, very different from how she might play Deep River or a de Beriót showpiece—or anything else.”

How was the repertoire chosen for the tribute album? “There’s an upcoming publication of all of the works dedicated to Maud Powell, with the exclusion of a few concertos, as well as all of Maud’s transcriptions. This will be a three-volume series. It was a massive, massive undertaking, especially on the part of Karen Shaffer, who wrote multi-page articles on every single piece and its composer, including all of the review quotes of Maud having played that piece throughout her career, and a complete biography of each composer, many of whom were obscure. Some of the pieces existed in manuscript only, and I served as editor of this sheet music project and supervised entering these manuscripts into the computer. I also corrected the fair copies, and for two of the pieces—Maud’s cadenza to the Brahms Violin Concerto and the Sousa airs—I created a fully edited version with usable fingerings and bowings. Those two pieces are very technically challenging and, since the urtext copies weren’t close to being playable, we decided to publish my editions so that people could use the solutions that I’ve spent many, many hours of my life figuring out as a jumping-off point. For some of the pieces, actually, no manuscripts were to be found—they had to be transcribed from recordings. A couple of students did that work, but I made revisions and corrections.

“I’ve performed a lot of this repertoire often over the last decade. I’ve given recitals at the Maud Powell Festival in Peru, Illinois, to mark Maud’s birthday. Typically my recital tributes to Maud incorporate repertoire from different categories. I haven’t yet recreated one of her actual programs—a concerto with piano, a sonata, a movement of this, a movement of that, some shorter character pieces, and so forth. Instead, I play concerto movements with piano, but not an entire concerto—like those mix-and-match children’s books where you can flip and match the head of a giraffe and the midsection of an ostrich and the feet of an elephant. I choose from among concertos that Maud premiered or concertos that she championed or was affiliated with in one way or another. I also draw upon repertoire that she premiered, that was written for her, or that she transcribed. From these, I try to choose pieces that aren’t part of the normal canon. For example, Maud often played the Franck Sonata, but I wouldn’t go into a Maud Powell recital playing the Franck Sonata, because you can hear me play that at any recital. I would choose repertoire that would be a little more special and unique. Besides this group of Maud Powell fans in the town of her birth, there’s another that claims her as their own —the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame in the Fox River Valley area of Chicago’s western suburbs. The group, which started a few years back, honors all kinds of artists who came from the region; Maud was in the first group of inductees. So I gave a Maud Powell tribute recital in Aurora, Illinois. And last year, I gave a Maud Powell tribute recital in Washington, DC, at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Leonard Slatkin came to that recital. When I thanked him for coming, he said that Maud’s arrangements were wonderful and that she really was the female Fritz Kreisler. After he left the room, I kicked myself. I should have said, ‘No, Fritz Kreisler was the male Maud Powell,’ because Maud Powell came first and Kreisler and his generation looked up to Maud Powell. But I’d agree that Powell’s transcriptions are in the top league.

“So when it came time to make the album, I already knew many of the pieces intimately. But there were some new pieces to choose among, because some works hadn’t been unearthed by Karen until she went to put the sheet music project together. So when I was about to give another Maud Powell tribute recital,

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Rachel's Musical Adventures - In Memory of Johnny Frigo

July 19, 2007 01:52

July 21, 2007: Performance at the Amati Music Festival in New York

On Saturday, July 21, at 8:00pm, I will perform with pianist Yuan Sheng at the Amati Music Festival in Hunter, New York. The recital will include: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 1, Strauss’s Sonata, Bach’s Sonata No. 1 in G Minor, Bellstedt’s Caprice on Dixie, Dvorak’s Humoresque, Coleridge-Taylor’s Deep River, and Espejo’s Airs Tziganes.

For more information, please contact the Amati Music Festival at (201) 567-0221 or visit amaticonservatory.org/Festival/welcome.

New YouTube video

Rachel performs Prelude from Sonata No. 2 “Obsession” by Eugene Ysaye

Rachel introduces and performs the Prelude from Sonata No. 2 “Obsession” by Eugene Ysaye, May 4, 2007.

By the way, I’m using a baroque bow because I just performed a concert of solo Bach and I forgot to grab my modern bow for the encore!

To watch all of my YouTube videos, please visit www.youtube.com/RachelBartonPine.

New podcast episode

“Episode 7: Rachel Barton Pine discusses classical improvisation”
Rachel discusses the differences between classical and non-classical music and classical improvisation, including baroque ornamentation and the use of rubato. Includes various musical examples.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer on my podcast? Just send your question via text or as an MP3 attachment to rachelbartonpine@aol.com. Please also let me know if you have any comments or suggestions. If you use iTunes, be sure to subscribe!

“In Memory of Johnny Frigo”
July 15, 2007

On July 4, I lost a dear friend. Johnny Frigo passed away at the age of 90. For those of you who weren’t fortunate enough to know him or his music, he was one of the greatest jazz violinists of his generation, comparable to Grapelli. He knew, toured with, or recorded with virtually every jazz great. For many years, Johnny was the first call string bass player for all of the studio work in Chicago. When the electric bass came into vogue, Johnny quietly transitioned to violin (an instrument he had studied in his youth). He took a Sunday morning gig on violin so he could get his chops in shape without anyone in the music community catching on.

Johnny was phenomenal. It wasn’t just his ability as a fiddler that made him such a wonderful musician, though he had an encyclopedic knowledge of tunes and knew the changes like no one else after his many decades playing bass. It was the humanity that infused his music-making which set him apart – the great depth of spirit with which he sang on the violin, his humility when accompanying guest artists, subtly enhancing their performance without drawing attention to himself, and his unmatched sense of humor, especially at moments when you least expected it. He obviously loved what he did and had a lot of fun doing it.

Johnny was a composer, writing numerous songs including ‘Detour Ahead’ and the Chicago Cubs theme song ‘Hey, Hey, Holy Mackarel.’ He was a poet with a masterful wit and gift for imagery. He was a gifted visual artist with a stunning collection – it was years before I discovered this facet of Johnny and I was very fortunate to receive a personal tour through his exhibition at the Old Town School of Folk Music, a memory I will always treasure.

Johnny was one of the few regular dinner guests at my home. My husband and I would pick him up in the lobby of his building and spend magical evenings hearing tales of life in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and talking about music. Johnny grew up very poor in the Great Depression, and I’ll never forget the sad look in his eyes as he recounted the stories of hunting sparrows for food with his slingshot.

For as long as I could remember before it closed a few years ago, Johnny played at Toulouse on the Park every Monday night with his dear friend Joe Vito on piano. In a small room with velvet walls and mirrored ceilings, the two of them cast a spell on everyone gathered there. No one spoke for fear of missing a note. The stream of jokes between numbers filled the room with laughter. Johnny had such a great sense of timing. At least once an evening, he would set down his violin and recite a few of his poems. Creative, touching and humorous, somehow they were an organic extension of his musical art and his concerts would have been less complete without them.

Musicians were always stopping by Toulouse, from Lyric Opera soloists to Mark O’Connor, and none could escape without jamming with Johnny. No matter how good these other musicians were, he had a way of supporting them that made them sound even better. I would stop by every week that I was in town, and it was a favorite date spot for my husband and me. Johnny would always insist that I play. I even tried leaving my violin at home, but he would just hand me his. With the spell of Johnny’s improvisations in the air, I always felt that my performances of pieces like Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo had a special intimacy and spontaneity that I can’t quite capture anywhere else. Johnny’s favorite piece in my repertoire was Paganini’s 24th Caprice. Whenever I played it, after the applause died down, he would look at the audience and say, “I play the same tune, but I do it in B-flat!”

In 2004, Johnny graced my wedding by performing at the reception. As always, he charmed the guests and left a profound mark on the evening.

I’ll always be thankful for the time I was able to spend with him and grateful for his kindness and encouragement. Johnny left behind many musicians whom he inspired and fans whose lives he enriched. He was one-of-a-kind and the world is emptier without him.

teaching with Johnny Frigo and Hans Holzen at Mark O’Connor’s Fiddle Camp

hanging backstage with Johnny Frigo and Mark O’Connor

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

ClassicsToday.com reviews American Virtuosa

Artistic Quality 10/10 Sound Quality

Back in the late-'50s/early-'60s, my violin teacher sent me home after each week's lesson with a handful of LPs--recordings of famous violin pieces, transcriptions, and arrangements performed by the world's greatest violinists--Heifetz, Stern, Milstein, Menuhin--which (as she knew they would) never failed to inspire a young student to practice, practice, practice. After all, how could you resist wanting to work as hard as it took to be able to play such magical musical gems as well as the masters--to make your own instrument sound those beautiful melodies, your bow skip over the strings with such ease, and your tone charm all who would listen with its vibrant resonance?

With this new release, violinist Rachel Barton Pine and Cedille recall the glorious era of the headline-inducing violin recital, the art of the arrangement and transcription, and the thrill of virtuoso performance for its own sake. And yes, Pine's choice of music and her brilliant playing could serve as inspiration to a new generation of prospective string players, just as those by the old masters did during the days of the LP.

Pine's own focus and inspiration come from Maud Powell (1867-1920), the "first great American violinist", who not only was a phenomenal performer and accomplished transcriber/arranger, but who in her pioneering recitals also was a champion of new works by American composers, including African Americans and women. Pine has already proven her formidable technical and interpretive skills--in Bach, Brahms, Joachim, and Bruch, among many others; here she treats us to 18 works from the 19th and 20th centuries, most of which were either dedicated to or arranged by Powell. From Amy Beach's gorgeous Romance to Dvorák's Humoreske, Sibelius' "Musette" from King Christian II, Carl Venth's Aria, and Cecil Burleigh's Four Rocky Mountain Sketches, Pine and her very able piano partner Matthew Hagle treat us to a true celebration of the violin in its several guises--as singer, percussionist, poet, and even humorist.

There are beautiful melodies everywhere--the kind that musicians used to unashamedly perform both in parlors and on concert stages--and there are also purely entertaining novelties and virtuoso show-off pieces, from Chopin's "Minute" Waltz to Herman Bellstedt's dazzling Caprice on Dixie for Unaccompanied Violin. Two of the disc's highlights are spirituals arranged by Powell--Deep River and Nobody Knows the Trouble I See--the latter of which Pine smartly chose to quietly, reverently end her recital.

Pine revels in every double-stop passage and soaring melody, takes full advantage of opportunities to "dig in" or softly float; she shows her sensitive side in the muted harmonics of Massenet's Twilight and in one exquisite section of Max Liebling's Fantasia on Sousa Themes. In fact, she never leaves any doubt that she's having a great time with this music (listen to the surprising "Stars and Stripes Forever" conclusion to the Liebling!), or that she truly respects and is inspired by "the art of one of the greatest violinists ever." The sound is unfailingly vibrant and ideally balanced between violin and piano (not always an easy feat), allowing Pine's 1742 Guarneri violin to freely express itself. Highly recommended!

-- David Vernier

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Rachel's Musical Adventures: I'm on the Billboard charts!, new season announced, Bach reviews

July 12, 2007 19:58

My new CD is on the Billboard chart!

My most recent album, “American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell” has just debuted on the Billboard Classical Chart at #12. This is my first time on the Billboard chart. You can see the whole list here.

By the way, American Virtuosa is my 12th CD, it’s #12 on the charts, and today is July 12!

New Season Announced

My complete concert dates for the 2007-2008 season are now posted at www.rachelbartonpine.com/tourdates.php.

My international performances will include the Gottingen Symphony in Germany, the Israel Chamber Orchestra, a tour with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, a recital for the National University of Singapore Cultural Center, and a trip to Ghana to teach, perform, and study traditional music. My U.S. orchestral engagements will include the Santa Fe, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jacksonville, Fox Valley, Youngstown, Northwest Indiana, Greenville and Columbus (GA) Symphonies and the Dayton Philharmonic. My concerto repertoire will include those by contemporary composers Roque Cordero and John Corigliano, the Joachim “Hungarian” concerto, and Beethoven, Brahms, Bruch, Dvorak, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Saint-Saens and Tchaikovsky. My chamber music performances in New York will include Bargemusic, Performers of Westchester, and guest appearances with the Jupiter Players, and I will also give a select number of recitals with Matthew Hagle, my longtime piano collaborator.

REVIEWS: Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas in Montreal, May 16, 2007

Le Devoir (Montreal)
May 17, 2007
“Classical Concert - Larger than Life”
By Christophe Huss

I remember, as if it was yesterday, the shock of my encounter with Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. It was almost exactly 30 years ago, at the Strasburg Festival. Itzhak Perlman, then the undeniable star of the young generation, played the Second Sonata and the Second and Third Partitas. Focus and tension in search of perfection and clarity were so conspicuous that we would not have dared ask for more. Yesterday, Rachel Barton Pine did it again. Exploit, madness…
There are two principal ways of playing Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas. The first one, apollonian and detached, aims to a timeless violinistic beauty. In the second one, movement and phrasing dominate. Among the most recent famous performers, James Ehnes and Julia Fischer adopt the first way; Gidon Kremer, Viktoria Mullova and Ilya Gringolts adopt the second. Rachel Barton Pine also practices this more musical than violinistic manner. But she crowns this approach with an acute awareness of the baroque style and an unusual shimmering sound.

Introducing the six pieces with calm and informative remarks, adding after a more than two hours concert the most extraordinary interpretation one can imagine of the Prelude from the Second Sonata by Ysaye, performing in a church whose acoustics perfectly suit this repertoire, Rachel Barton Pine went straight to the heart of the violin and to the heart of the music.

Thanks to her fabulous bowing technique and use of a baroque bow (but metallic strings for more power in reserve), the American violinist went through the six pieces in a refined manner, without any concession in expression or pride, with humility, simplicity and a surpassing sense of rhythm and pulsation. As with Mullova, she plays the Ciacona of the Second Partita in the same tempo, instead of expressing different romantic moods.

The sense of the sound continuum, the energy, the crescendos, the alternating shade and light gave us magical moments, like the Giga of the Second Partita or the last Allegro in the Third Sonata. But it would be too artificial to isolate moments of a larger than life musical performance, a performance that was extraordinary in the full meaning of the word.

La Presse (Montreal)
May 18, 2007
“The Marvelous Bach of Rachel Barton Pine”
By Claude Gingras

On paper, the program “inspired by” Jean de La Fontaine delivered by “Les Idées Heureuses” at Pollack Hall was the most original of the four concerts listed on Wednesday night’s calendar…

Thirty minutes of that and I rush towards Bach and Barton. I arrive during the intermission. The Second Partita – which includes the famous Ciacona – the Third Sonata and the Third Partita remain to be performed.

Paganini’s 24 Caprices, as interpreted last year by the American violinist, had left imperishable memories. … the heroic young woman shows a strength of character, a consciousness, I would even say a joy in life that we could all use as a role model.

Rachel Barton Pine introduces each work with brilliant and humorous remarks. With her baroque bow and 1742 Guarnerius del Gesu, she plays Bach by heart, goes through every repeat without exception, forever capturing our attention thanks to a miraculous gathering of all the qualities one can dream of: musicality, violin mastery, variety and richness of sound, continuity of thought and vigour…and, above all, humility. We are swept miles away from the violin players (joueuses de violon) whom we see undressed on the CD cases!

The style is “romantic,” but without the extremes associated to the genre. The tempos never linger, and the added nuances are restrained. The violinist even gives an encore: a movement of the Second Sonata by Ysaye, once again humorously introduced. Rachel Barton Pine will return – perhaps with the six Ysaye Sonatas. Let’s hope so!

REVIEW: Paganini’s 24 Caprices in Montreal, June 26, 2006

This review is from last year, but I just had it translated!

Le Devoir (Montreal)
June 27, 2006
“A Really Diabolical Evening”
By Christophe Huss

We knew from her CDs, notably those devoted to Brahms and to Bruch, that Rachel Barton Pine was an excellent violinist. But, having never seen her perform live, I did not know just how special she is…

It was during the 4th Caprice that I understood what was happening: nothing, absolutely nothing, could distract this tightrope walker of a violinist, who not only deals with the tightrope but scoffs at it to grab the stars. With these works, especially when a violinist plays all the 24 Caprices in one evening, the listener usually becomes an “aural voyeur” who more or less consciously waits for a mistake. Not so last night!

What is most admirable is that Rachel Barton Pine doesn’t make her virtuosity the central focus of her interpretation. It is the sound—sumptuous, rich, and nourished by her Guarnerius del Gesù that once belonged to Brahms—that is the major subject of interest… Rachel Barton Pine brings out rare and precious sounds from her violin.

From the mandolinesque effects of the 6th Caprice, of which the final fade towards silence was a striking moment, to the Quasi Presto tempo of the 24th Caprice, through the low sounds of the 14th, the power and vivacity of the 16th, the weight of the perfect bowing of the 12th and 17th (most notably), Rachel Barton Pine displayed a full spectrum of effects and emotions. I also admired her extraordinary rhythmic grasp all through the pieces, since it is so common to see violinists rushing while playing these pieces.

Montreal should have offered a full to capacity church to this grande dame of the violin, who gave us yesterday one of the greatest recitals of the year.

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