Rachel Barton Pine Releases CD of Latin-influenced Solo Violin Works
Violinist takes a musical excursion through little-known repertoire
While on her honeymoon, out in the middle of the ocean and far from the cares of the world, violinist Rachel Barton Pine found herself falling in love. In December of 2005, the much-in-demand musician and her husband, Greg Pine, finally had found the time for their long-delayed honeymoon cruise, a voyage from Buenos Aires to Santiago by way of Cape Horn—with no performances at the end of the trip demanding her attention.
Knowing that she’d have plenty of practice time out on the deep blue sea, with no looming concert engagements dictating what music she played, the astoundingly eclectic player and classical-music advocate brought along several of her all-time favorite compositions—and a handful of Latin-flavored compositions she’d just recently acquired, but knew little about.
That’s when Rachel Barton Pine found herself falling head over heels for the violin compositions of Manuel Quiroga, César Espejo, and Francisco Tárrega.
“It seemed appropriate,” she says with a light laugh, “since we would be spending two weeks around South America, to bring along those pieces. Up until then, I’d only read them, but hadn’t actually picked up my violin and played them. So it was out there on the ocean that I really first got to know this music, and I saw right away how amazing and wonderful these pieces were. I immediately knew I had to make a CD of this material.
“It was just too good to keep to myself.”
Pine, speaking on the phone from her home in Chicago (literally five minutes after returning from a concert engagement in Berlin), is clearly thrilled that the CD she dreamed up six years ago is finally ready to be revealed to the world. Capricho Latino (Cedille Records) is a gorgeous and energetic, Latin-flavored collection of solo violin pieces, including many of the same pieces she played while steaming over the Atlantic Ocean along the coasts of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile (see “Bullish on Capricho Latino”).
Her favorite part of the story, though, began several months before the cruise, when she discovered a rare book in her local library, a discovery that led to a meeting with a forgotten musicologist—and an enormous collection of important music, including those she brought along on her honeymoon.
“It’s really an amazing story!” Pine says, laughing. “I stumbled across Harry Edlund’s book, Music for Solo Violin Unaccompanied, got to know him, and now I actually have the world’s largest collection of unaccompanied violin music, right here in my apartment!”
Read a player tip from Rachel Barton Pine.
Technically, the story begins even further back than her discovery of Edlund’s book, when, as a young player, Pine first became fascinated with music composed for the unaccompanied violin. “It’s always been a little hobby of mine, collecting this stuff,” Pine says, emphasizing that she was originally hooked on solo violin works for purely practical reasons.
“I grew up in a household where our electricity and our phone were constantly being cut off,” she says, “where we were constantly having to decide whether to pay for groceries or gas for the car to drive to music lessons that weekend.”
Under such circumstances, even though the promising violinist had earned a full scholarship to pay for her music lessons, she realized that solo violin works put less financial strain on her family. After all, fairly obviously, unaccompanied pieces require no accompanist, the money for which was often just not there. Her difficult childhood led not only to her ongoing quest for fresh violin compositions, but also to the foundation she created to assist music students with similar problems (see “A Helping Hand” online at AllThingsStrings.com).
Pine, 36, is one of those musicians who thrives on defying and transcending expectations. The poverty of difficult early years is just the first of many challenges she’s fought through—her life-altering trials include the loss of a leg in a commuter train accident 16 years ago. Refusing to allow herself to be defined by her injury, Pine also refuses to be defined as a musician, actively pursuing classical music along with a wide range of other performance styles, including heavy metal. In addition to traveling the world and performing with esteemed symphony orchestras, Pine plays with the Chicago-based thrash-doom metal band Earthen Grave.
She’s performed under the baton of Zubin Mehta, Marin Alsop, Daniel Barenboim, Neeme Järvi, Semyon Bychkov, and José Serebrier, and has shared the stage with Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser and baritone William Warfield as well as such hard-rock acts as Pentagram, Sammy Hagar, Black Label Society, and Mayhem. Her discography of more than 17 recordings demonstrates her phenomenal range of scope and musical dexterity. Her credentials include immensely popular CDs of classical and early music—a number of those recorded with her chamber group Trio Settecento. Those recording projects have alternated with fascinating explorations of lesser-known categories, from a 1997 album of violin concertos by black composers to her 1998 disc Instrument of the Devil, devoted to music with thematically devilish themes, to a 2007 tribute to 19th century American violinist Maud Powell, giving each a dose of her signature musical flair and voracious historical curiosity.
Most of her previous recordings, however, have been collaborative efforts with other musicians. With Capricho Latino, she’s finally indulging her passion for playing unaccompanied violin works.
“I have to say,” Pine exclaims, “that there is nothing more fulfilling than making music together with other musicians.
But having unaccompanied music at your fingertips has so many advantages. If you’re visiting a radio station or school, some alternative venue like a bar or café or office complex or airport terminal, these pieces are just the least complicated [logistically] to play. Even in planning for the encores you’ll play after a concerto, this music is useful. There are many reasons for having unaccompanied violin music at your fingertips.”
Not to mention the thrill that comes from playing a piece that requires a musician to pull out all the talent and tricks at hand. A good piece of music can do that. “It’s fascinating,” Pine says, “to see what different composers have done to overcome the issue that the violin, really, is not an instrument that naturally lends itself to being played by itself. The violin works most naturally in conjunction with other instruments, and yet, the best unaccompanied compositions make you completely unaware of that fact.
“If you are a fan of the violin,” she adds, “there is something incredibly satisfying in just listening to a violin, and for a violinist, playing unaccompanied allows them to explore the utmost limits of what a violin can do. It allows you to ask big questions. Tonally, compositionally, emotionally—what are all the ways a violin can stand on its own two feet? I’ll probably never stop being curious about that, and I doubt I’ll ever stop seeking those answers.”
Fueled by this enthusiasm, and having become aware that there are many genres and time periods of solo-violin music lurking on the shelves of private libraries and on music stands, Pine decided long ago to launch a life-long treasure hunt for lost music for the solo violin. Now, whenever she’s out in the world, in the vicinity of printed music, she’s got one eye out for previously unknown pieces intended for a lone violinist. The result is a personal collection of music that is growing steadily in size each year, so much so that Pine often jokes about renting a second apartment just for her music.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have inherited the collections of older violinists who’ve passed away or retired,” she says, “and I’ve been happy to add those pieces to those I’ve bought in traditional music stores or found in European used sheet-music stores. Wherever I am, I’m always looking for interesting new things.”
And here’s where the story catches up to Harry Edlund and his little lost book. It happened during one of Pine’s routine searches through the massive music database at Chicago’s Newberry Library, which boasts an extraordinary noncirculating collection of rare, historic, and out-of-print music materials going back several centuries.
Over the years, Pine has become familiar with the names and work of a large number of experts in the field. “My biggest heroes are musicologists and music researchers,” she says. “Karen Shaffer who runs the Maud Powell Society for Music and Education, David Johnson who did so much work on the music of 18th-century Scotland—all these people are heroes to me. They do the detective work that makes it possible for performers to bring this wonderful music to the stage.”
While perusing lists of old articles and dissertations on the subject of unaccompanied violin, Pine, using the library’s computerized search engine, keyed in a slightly different assortment of words than usual, and the title of Edlund’s book popped up. First published in 1989, its full title is Music for Solo Violin Unaccompanied: A Catalogue of Published and Unpublished Works from the Seventeenth Century to 1989. Containing the titles of more than 2,500 works, the importance of the book, which went out of print years ago, is not so much the rarity of the works it lists—most of them are listed elsewhere—but that so many compositions had been catalogued in a single volume.
It meant someone had already done much of the work Pine thought she might have to do herself. Her initial reaction to finding the book was, she recalls, “Total excitement.”
She compares holding the book in her hands to discovering the Rosetta Stone, the legendary Egyptian artifact which contained the key to understanding and interpreting ancient hieroglyphics. “All the repertoire is listed alphabetically, with information about the dates of premieres and whether it was ever recorded,” she says excitedly, adding that the book includes a timeline of all the composers listed in the book, along with an index grouping the composers by country of origin.
Admittedly, most people wouldn’t react to such a find with the same level of exultation, but as a self-described music geek, she knew her next step was to track down Edlund himself, who, she soon found, was living in Sweden. When Pine finally connected with the author and researcher on the phone, her excitement was fairly palpable. “I told him I was his biggest fan!” she says.
Edlund revealed that few musicians had ever approached him with the same level of enthusiasm. “I was surprised to hear that not everybody is as excited about his book as I am,” Pine says. “He was just excited to discover that he actually had a fan. So it was really pretty cool.”
Sadly, though Pine and Edlund spoke several times and corresponded over the next few months, they never actually met. Edlund died unexpectedly not long after the friendship had begun. His widow allowed Pine to visit and peruse the collection, which she eventually offered to Pine in its entirety. She hopes to someday make it available to other musicians through a searchable online database, a project she sees as part of Edlund’s legacy.
Till then, she feels honored to be the caretaker and musical partaker of Edlund’s mighty collection.
“There is certainly more than a lifetime’s worth of music there,” she says. “There is literally so much music that I could do nothing but record albums of this stuff for the rest of my life and never run out of material. But, of course, then I’d never play all the concertos I love, and the different early music projects with piano. So I’m going to keep mixing it up.
“But I know,” she adds, “this music will always be there for me. There will always be new treasures to discover in Harry’s collection. Let’s put it this way: Capricho Latino will definitely not be my last unaccompanied violin album.
“I’m certain of that.&quo
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