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Written by Maria Nockin   
Monday, 01 April 2013

Home is Wherever We Are This Week: Keeping up with Rachel Barton Pine

It’s not easy to keep up with Rachel Barton Pine. We all know that she is world famous for solo performances with major orchestras. Her numerous recordings include concertos, baroque and chamber music, recitals, even heavy metal songs performed with her band, Earthen Grave. In addition to this, she is a tremendously active advocate for classical music who engages in outreach all over the world and works with her Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation to help young string players accomplish their dreams. I spoke with her on January 2, 2013, when she was at home putting in a full day of interviewing.

Q: How did you come to record an album of lullabies?

A: My daughter, Sylvia, was born on September 16, 2011. (You can hear the smile in her voice as she says it). While the birth of my baby was the impetus for this recording, I’ve actually had this repertoire in the back of my mind for many years. I’d like to say that you don’t need to be a mother to play a lullaby. Certainly, men can be just as nurturing of their children. I have colleagues, both men and women, who are wonderful, dedicated parents. I hope that both men and women will discover this beautiful repertoire from my album. I’m a fan of all things violin and over the years I’ve noticed that many composers, guys like Sibelius, Ravel, Respighi, and Stravinsky have written lullabies. Recording them was always in the back of my mind, but I thought I would wait until I had my own child. One really interesting thing about the music on this disc is that fully one-half of the tracks are to be played con sordino , with a mute. I can’t think of another violin album where half the selections are muted. With so many muted pieces, I had to decide which types of mutes to use. They can be shaped in various ways and they can be made out of various kinds of materials, so they have different sounds. I ended up with three mutes: one with a very delicate quality, one that held back somewhat less sound and had a bit of warmth to it, and one with a mysterious, murky sound.

As a violinist, it is interesting to explore the lullaby genre because it involves a very different approach to violin playing. Usually, we like to play with passion and excitement. Lullabies, on the other hand, are so very delicate that they have to be approached in a very special way. If you did not know some of these pieces were lullabies, you might interpret them with the same kind of schmaltz you would apply to a romance, or you might play an Andante . Because they are lullabies, you have to make them dreamy and comforting. I found it interesting to explore playing the violin that way. Since I wanted to sample a variety of composers’ approaches to the lullaby, I had already collected quite a few pieces before my baby was born. After her birth, I picked up the project and I started collecting all I could find in order to choose the very best for the recording. I ended up with more than 150 of them. There are many fine compositions that did not make the recording. Many are gems by obscure composers. The program note writer who worked with me on the project was able to track down data on every one of the pieces I recorded. We have at least a thumbnail sketch of each composer’s professional life. I asked her to also find out something on each one’s family life, even though these are concert pieces written for the stage and not specifically intended for the home. I do, however, hope that many parents and grandparents will use this music to soothe babies and small children. Although the CD is a serious presentation of classical repertoire, I think it will also appeal to more casual listeners who may find it an introduction to classical music. Some may ask: “Who was this guy Sibelius?” Or, “Who was Amy Beach?” Then they may wonder what else they wrote. It could be the start of some classical music, some violin music, in the lives of their children.

Q: Does your daughter travel with you?

A: Sylvia started touring with me when she was three weeks old and she already has 10 stamps in her passport. The nice thing is that my husband always travels with me. He runs a computer company and manages to interface with his employees and clients from wherever we are. He has been traveling with me since 1996. We also have a nanny who travels with us. We found her through ChARTer Nannies, which specializes in supplying nannies to traveling musicians. It’s a rather new service, but it certainly does fulfill a need and we are very impressed with them. What is great in my profession is that I don’t have to make the choices so many parents struggle with because of working away from home. I can see my baby every few hours all day long. I can spend every break with her. We are never separated for more than a couple of hours. When she was a really tiny baby I could play a concerto and go backstage and nurse her. Then I could sign some autographs and return to her. It worked out brilliantly. I’m very blessed in that breastfeeding has worked out so well for us. It made travel easier because I don’t have to worry about having enough food if a flight is delayed. I’ve heard horror stories from colleagues who have run out of formula, lost their luggage, and arrived in a city only to find the stores closed. Sometimes I did have to wake up in the middle of the night, but looking at the big picture, nursing is a lot less work. It also supplies the baby’s immune system with antibodies. Despite flying to a different city or country each week, Sylvia only had two little colds during her entire first year.

Q: Of all the composers whose music you perform, to whom do you feel the closest?

A: Brahms is definitely an important composer in my life for a couple of reasons. Among the works on the album, the Brahms and Schubert lullabies as well as Gershwin’s Summertime are the songs I sing to my daughter on a daily basis. Of course, when I am doing a lullaby I hold her in my arms and I can’t play the violin! I sing them just like any other mother would. I remember my mother singing the Brahms to me when I was a child. The violin that I play on the recording, the 1742 Guarneri del Gesù, is known as the “ex-Soldat” because it was the concert instrument of Marie Soldat. A protégée of Brahms, she used to play chamber music with him, and he selected the instrument for her. I’m playing the Brahms Lullaby on it. That’s pretty amazing! One time in Latin America they translated “Soldat” as “soldier” because they did not realize that it was the name of its one-time player.

Q: Do you prefer playing concerts with orchestra, chamber music, or recitals?

A: My first love will always be playing the great concertos and that is what I do 80 or 90 percent of the time. The music of Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius; that is where my heart is. You cannot have steak for every meal, however. Life isn’t complete without other things as well. It’s also wonderful to do lesser-known pieces, contemporary repertoire, recitals with piano, chamber music, and early music. I love doing all of those things alongside my concerto performances. I definitely play in a more intimate configuration if I have only a piano accompanying me. In that case you have freedom that you don’t have when playing with an orchestra. You can indulge in more delicate colors.

Q: Are you still playing heavy metal music?

A: Yes, I’m still a member of my band, Earthen Grave, and we have just released our first full-length album. I’m really proud of how that turned out. We’ve been touring to support it. The sad thing is that my classical dates are booked two years in advance, so when Earthen Grave calls me for a date two months away, I’m not always able to make it. I may end up saying, “Sorry, but two years ago I said I’d go to Germany that weekend.” I do get to play with them on a limited but regular basis, however. It’s definitely a fun thing to indulge in. I’ve spent my whole life as a missionary and advocate for classical music. That is the music I love best. I’m continually reaching out to my fellow rock fans and explaining that there are a lot of misconceptions out there. In general, classical music is not music that puts people to sleep. I often ask people if they have heard the Mahler symphonies, the Brahms Violin Concerto, the Shostakovich string quartets? Now I have made an album that is supposed to put you to sleep. I find that quite humorous. I wrote an article called “The Six Most Metal Pieces of Classical Music” for Decibel Magazine , an extreme-music publication. Among them, I included the slow movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Bartók’s Quartet No. 4, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and a number of other selections that I hoped readers would check out. I believe that classical music covers the whole emotional range more broadly than any other genre. Classical music encompasses the entirety of the human experience. A great symphony can be more intense than the loudest heavy metal concert. That doesn’t mean that classical is only intense music. I fully embrace the fact that I just made a recording that consists entirely of soothing pieces. Some people will be interested in the album as classical violin repertoire. Others might be interested in the CD for their child or grandchild. Perhaps people who aren’t familiar with classical music might be drawn to this album as an aid to relaxation and sleep. It can be something to help them relieve stress.

Q: How much difference is there between playing your Guarneri and your baroque violin?

A: My baroque violin is a completely different animal. Actually, on the last album I released with my chamber group Trio Settecento, An English Fancy , I played a Renaissance violin that is held on the arm. I try to use whatever tool best fits the music that I am attempting to bring to life. Playing a Renaissance or baroque instrument is ergonomically very different. Even playing different styles of music on the same instrument can be physically different. I recently recorded the Glazunov Violin Concerto for Warner Classics. It’s their LC04281. On another album I played the Mendelssohn and Schumann concertos, along with both Beethoven Romance s. That will be released by Çedille Records in September 2013. They are big romantic concertos with orchestra and they require a certain muscular approach on the violin. In recording the lullabies I felt like I was using my body very differently. I was holding the bow in quite a different way to bring out all the subtleties. It was very different from producing a full-bodied projecting type of sound. I did use the same bow for both recordings, however. I have an amazing Dominique Peccatte bow, which, like my Guarneri, can do everything.

Q: Do you ever have time for a private life?

A: Usually my concerts are on weekends and they are preceded by a couple of days of rehearsals and outreach to the local schools, community, etc. I do get home for a day or two in between concerts. It works out well in terms of being able to do the laundry and repack the suitcase. Some items never get unpacked. My husband has been traveling with me for a long time and now our family has expanded. I honestly don’t feel that I’m home and then I’m gone from home. Home is wherever my husband is. When we are in a hotel in one city or another city that is our home for the week. My home is my family and I bring it with me. It would be terrible to have one of those Skype long distance marriages. I’m very lucky.

Q: What is the Haas Award?

A: It’s an award for music education. I received it because of my work with my foundation. I started the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation in 2001. It was inspired by my own experiences as a young violin student. I grew up in a financially troubled household. My dad was unemployed a majority of the time, and when I was growing up things were very tenuous. Sometimes the electricity or phone was shut off. We were often one missed payment away from losing the roof over our heads. Sometimes the question was whether to buy groceries that week or fill the tank with gas to drive to my violin lesson. I had scholarships for my lessons, but there are expenses that scholarships do not cover. For example, you have to buy strings for the violin and, sometimes, new hair for the bow. There are sheet music purchases and piano accompanist’s fees. You may need airfare to competitions, as well as audition recording sessions, stage clothes, etc. Paying for all these things was a real challenge for my parents. My foundation is quite unique in that it selects talented young artists who desire to live a life in music, but are financially challenged. It pays for expenses other than lessons. We have had some 50 recipients in our Instrument Loan Program, Grants for Education and Career Program, or both. I am very grateful for the supporters who have given donations to the foundation because they have enabled us to do that work.

Carl Fischer, the sheet music company that publishes my cadenzas and etudes, is publishing a companion edition to my lullaby album. It will have my fingerings and bowings for the music to all of the lullabies, much of which is currently out of print. It will also include a companion CD on which Matthew Hagle plays the piano accompaniments as music minus one tracks. As soon as we wrapped up the album, he went back into the studio for an extra day and played all the accompaniments so they could be on a separate disc. The nice thing about the lullabies is that they are sophisticated repertoire for the concert artist and at the same time simple enough to be played by students or amateur violinists. Then these students and amateurs can play using the disc for accompaniment instead of having to hire a pianist. Someday I hope to hear stories about big sisters, parents, or even grandparents who played the lullabies to a baby.

Q: Do you expect downloads with good fidelity will ever replace compact discs?

A: People have been talking about the demise of the CD or other physical recorded media for 20 years. If I want to buy music and I want to have it right now, I download it. The exception occurs when I want to research program notes. Sometimes there is repertoire for which I cannot find a good article online. I feel that a download with no program notes is only half an album. You are not getting the text. Çedille Records prints all the program notes on their website so you can get the printed material with the download, but not every record company does that. I also have the accompanying essays for all my albums on my website. I may buy the physical version of an album because I want the booklet. Another reason why physical versions of albums may be with us for a while is that people who go to a concert may want to take the music home with them. They want to have it at the end of the concert so that they can have the artist sign it. That is not going away anytime soon. I can sign 50 to100 CDs at one concert. There are no record stores anymore, so people buy CDs at concerts.

Q: What is your Trio Settecento doing now?

A: The trio has finished its four-disc survey of music in Italy, Germany, France, and England. We will now be doing narrower slices of repertoire. Our next project is the 12 Veracini Academic Sonatas that have only once been recorded in their entirety.

Q: Do you have a favorite look for concert gowns?

A: I used to buy ready-made dresses that could be modified into concert wear. There were also things that my dressmaker could come up with from time to time, but a few years ago I realized that I wanted to have a signature style. If you look at Anne-Sophie Mutter, you see that each of her dresses is different but in some ways they are the same. They are all variations on a theme. I really want to have a defined image, a style that fits my body and my personality so that when people see me they will say, “Yes, that’s a Rachel dress.” Defining it was a collaborative process with my stylist and my dressmaker. Now we have gowns that are variations on this signature style. Many people wear slim gowns, but that just doesn’t feel dramatic enough for me. For the stage, I like a sleeveless top, a heart-shaped neckline, a V at the waist, a wide skirt, and extensive beadwork. Those are the consistent elements. I like jewel tones because they go well with my red hair.

Q: Do you have a humorous story to tell us?

A: My little sister, Hannah Barton, is 12 years younger than I am. She is also a violinist and she plays a good deal of avant-garde and contemporary music. My mother was pregnant with her when I was 11 years old and practicing the Paganini Concerto No. 1, which is very bombastic. It’s loud, intense, energetic, and extroverted, but it’s what my sister heard in the womb. After she was born, if she was fussy, I would try to soothe her with every slow beautiful piece I could think of. I played Bach Adagio s, the Meditation from Thaïs. None of them worked. One day I was again practicing the Paganini No. 1. Hannah got a look of relief on her face, curled up in the fetal position, and went right to sleep. I wondered how that bombastic piece could relax anyone, but I realized that she associated it with the comfort of the womb. It was familiarity that comforted her. I could always put her to sleep if I played that incredibly crashy piece.

VIOLIN LULLABIES Rachel Barton Pine (vn); Matthew Hagle (pn) ÇEDILLE 90000 139 (68:35)

BRAHMS Wiegenlied. YSAŸE Rêve d’enfant. REBIKOV Berceuse. BEACH Berceuse No 2. SCHWAB Berceuse Ecossaise. RESPIGHI Berceuse. GERSHWIN Summertime. FALLA Nana. FAURÉ Berceuse. SIBELIUS Berceuse No. 6. VIARDOT-GARCIA Berceuse No. 3. HOVHANNES Oror. STRAVINSKY Firebird: Berceuse. RAVEL Berceuse sur le Nom de Fauré. CLARKE Lullaby. SCHUBERT Wiegenlied. SCHUMANN Cradle Song. DUROSOIR Berceuse No. 4. GRIEG Berceuse. ANTSEV Au Berceau. R. STRAUSS Wiegenlied. SIVORI Berceuse. BERAUD Petite Reine Berceuse. STILL Mother and Child. REGER Wiegenlied

What a beautiful recording this is! It fills a real need as well. A mother or father can put this recording on and relax listening to its clear and present sound while feeding and bonding with the baby. This album also gives us a chance to see how composers from different cultures and different eras handled this particular type of composition. The CD opens with the universally loved Brahms Lullaby , which Rachel Barton Pine says her mother sang to her. You may have had the same experience. Mine sang it to me in German. Johannes Brahms wrote his Wiegenlied or Cradle Song in 1868 to celebrate the birth of a second son to his Viennese friends Arthur and Bertha Faber. Eugène Ysaÿe wrote his Rêve d’Enfant for his own son, Antoine, who would later be his father’s biographer and publisher. In 1913, he actually recorded it, too, at a very slow tempo. Pine and Hagle play the Ysaÿe and Brahms pieces at moderate tempos and with great delicacy of tone. Their notes fall as gently as rose petals. Vladimir Rebikov is a little known composer whose music leads into the compositions of Debussy, Scriabin, and even Stravinsky. Pine plays Amy Beach’s Berceuse (lullaby) using a warm toned mute that evokes daydreams. Listening to her play it is a calming antidote to everyday stress. Ludwig Schwab’s lullaby clothes the baby in an aural tartan coverlet as Pine and Hagle play the composer’s version of a Scottish tune. Pine also renders Respighi’s long-lined melody with a warm-toned mute while Hagle plays the piano part with the fleetest of fingers. We all know the tune of George Gershwin’s Summertime, but Pine gives us her own fascinating take on it. Pine uses a mute with a rather mysterious tone for Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Nana. Its words, “Sleep little star of the morning,” might hit a familiar note with parents! Gabriel Fauré’s pastel tones and Jean Sibelius’s charming melody bring us back to cooler lands and sweet invitations to slumber. Research shows that neither Rebecca Clarke nor Amy Beach had children, so of the women composers represented here only the famous singer and pianist Pauline Viardot-Garcia could have sung her lullaby to her own baby. The music of Alan Hovhaness always had a hint of mystery and this early lullaby is no exception. Pine and Hagle play it smoothly, so that its inventive harmonies fascinate the ear. The Firebird is a ballet based on a folk tale about a magical creature that sings at night and pecks at golden fruit. Its eloquent music spices up the middle of this disc with its unique harmonies.

Maurice Ravel’s music envelopes the listener in its gossamer fabric and its colors dance in the air. Rebecca Clarke was a violist and her contribution makes use of the violin’s lower strings. The delicate radiance of Pine’s rendition holds the listener in thrall. Like the Brahms, Schubert’s Cradle Song is a familiar tune. Here it is rendered in flawless form complete with gorgeous double-stopping. The Schumann Slumber Song is one of his lesser-known pieces. Like the Durosoir that follows, it massages the ears. So do the charming Grieg and Antsev pieces. I hope we get to hear more of the latter’s music. Pine and Hagle’s version of Richard Strauss’s Cradle Song strikes a delicate balance between lullaby and concert aria. Like Respighi, Camillo Sivori wrote his music with the long lines of bel canto and topped it off with a challenging finale that Pine tosses off with ease. Victor Beraud is the pen name of British composer G. Frank Blackbourne. He wrote his Lullaby for a Little Queen for piano. Edward Elgar then arranged it for violin and piano. African-American composer William Grant Still wrote his warm toned and inviting yet intense Mother and Child in 1943. Max Reger’s Cradle Song , a dreamy invitation to sleep, shows a very different side of his creativity. In addition to the music on this CD, there is a download available with three more lullabies: Alexander Iljinsky’s Berceuse No. 7 from the opera Noure and Anitra, Xavier Montsalvatge’s Nana, and Betty King Jackson’s Lullaby. These three show the variety of cultures that lullabies cover. Pine and Hagle play each of them idiomatically with great attention to detail and the ultimate in musical values. This is a truly beautiful disc and I think it will have great appeal to our readers. Maria Nockin

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 26 March 2013 )
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