During the early months of lockdown last spring, with orchestra engagements cancelled for the foreseeable future, violinist Rachel Barton Pine didn't even want to think about violin concertos.
"The last thing I wanted to play was a concerto," Rachel told me Wednesday, speaking over the phone from Chicago. While she did create a weekly live show called Family Fridays with RBP during the pandemic, "I couldn't even face practicing a concerto. It was just too raw, knowing that I couldn't go and do what I'd been doing for most of my life. Even if someone played a concerto at a master class, I would get these pangs; I'd feel a longing for performing."
But that changed. "At a certain point, something switched in my mind," Rachel said. "I went from wanting to avoid concertos at all costs to feeling like I missed these concertos because they had been my close companions for all these years."
In fact, starting at 4 p.m. ET this Sunday, Rachel will begin weekly celebration of the violin concerto, with a 24-part live series called Concertos from the Inside with RBP. Each week she will explore a different violin concerto, with a live show in which she will perform each concerto unaccompanied, starting beforehand with a pre-concert lecture and concluding with post-concert question-and-answer session. And yes, that's 24 concertos, including (in order) the Mendelssohn, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky, Barber, Beethoven, Khachaturian, Brahms, Saint-Georges, Prokofiev 1, Dvorák, Mozart 3, Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, Korngold, Scottish Fantasy, Paganini 1, Saint-Saëns 3, Mozart 5, Vivaldi Four Seasons, Shostakovich 1, Wieniawski 2, Sibelius, Mozart 4, Prokofiev 2 and Bruch G Minor concertos. (Each concert is $20, or $349.99 for the full series. Click here to purchase tickets or find out more.)
For the series, Rachel wants to bring the soloist's personal experience of a concerto to the listener, both by sharing her own experiences and insights, and by performing "a capella," with just the solo violin part.
"I realized, I spend most of my life listening to concertos a capella - my solo part, by itself. I imagine the orchestra part in my mind, but I actually hear just my part aloud. The public would almost never would hear the solo part, played all by itself." Rachel said. In fact, before going on a concert tour, she does an a capella "performance" in her condo, imagining being onstage and playing all the way through, without stopping.
"So actually I've always 'performed' these concertos unaccompanied, only nobody has ever seen it," she said. Why not let everyone in on that "insider" performance?
"I can't bear to let more months go by where I don't say hi to my friends (these concertos) and get to hear all these melodies that are just so much a part of who I am," she said. "And maybe it would be interesting for people to get the inside scoop on not just my thoughts on the interpretation and history of the piece, but also the things that I've never before shared or revealed, like what are the spots I still personally find challenging? Or what are my own goals, what I do want to capture with this piece? What do I think about, right before I'm going to perform it?"
"I was inspired not only by the students and performers who are stuck at home, looking perhaps for things they could experience that are new, but also the incredibly vibrant community of violin aficionados, who are not necessarily professional musicians but who are so passionate about the instrument and its repertoire," Rachel said.
How did she come up with these 24 concertos? First, she started with the nearly 70 violin concertos she's played over a lifetime, and then she narrowed it down. She wanted to include concertos that many people would know and may have studied. She also wanted to stick with concertos with which she has a lot of experience - and stories to tell.
For example, the Mendelssohn Concerto.
"I first really delved into this concerto when I was 10, and I performed it as a soloist that year, the first movement with one orchestra and the last with a different orchestra," Rachel said. That last orchestra was doing a family concert with a "Wild, Wild West" theme. "So they did Copland's 'Hoedown,' and Rossini's 'William Tell Overture,' which of course is not a Wild West plot in Rossini's opera, but had been co-opted by the 'Lone Ranger...'"
"Somehow the last movement of the Mendelssohn, with the same kind of trumpet call at the beginning, seemed fit the vibe," Rachel said, laughing. "I never miss the opportunity to indulge in a costume, so I got to wear a blue jeans skirt, cowboy boots, a checkered shirt, a big belt buckle, and my hair in braids. The orchestra gave me a cowboy hat with the name of the orchestra on the brim but that interfered with my up-bows..."
"The embarrassing thing is, that left such an indelible memory that, to this day, when the trumpet call of the third movement kicks in, I always think, 'Yeeehaww!'"
Of course, she'll talk about more than that - she'll talk about recording the work, how her interpretation has changed, classicism vs. Romanticism -- but the idea is to celebrate and take a close look at our most beloved violin concertos.
"The point is to pull back the curtain and let you experience what the soloist herself hears," Rachel said. "I'm hoping it will be fun for people."
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