Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxma©2011 by Fred Flaxman

Program 190
"Rachel Barton Pine"


MUSIC: Dvorák: Songs My Mother Sang performed by Rachel Barton Pine, violin, and Matthew Hagle, piano [Çedille CDR 90000 097, Track 3] [under the following]

FLAXMAN: The violinist playing in the background is Rachel Barton Pine, and I’ve been following her career since she was 10, that is to say, for more than a quarter of a century.

MUSIC: fades out

FLAXMAN: Hello and welcome to Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, and I’m going to devote the next hour to the recordings of Rachel Barton Pine on the Çedille label. But I’m going to start with a live recording of her spectacular live broadcast début with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf when she was only 10.

I was a vice president at public TV station WTTW/Chicago at the time and was put in charge of negotiating with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to launch what was called the Illinois Young Performers Competition.

The idea was to piggyback on top of a competition that the CSO already had in place, identifying the best junior and senior high school musicians in the state, and to have that competition finish with the finalists performing live with the Chicago Symphony in front of an audience at Orchestra Hall while that event was broadcast live on public TV and radio stations throughout the state.

There is nothing more nerve-racking than a live television program involving young children performers. What would happen if one of them was so nervous that he or she got sick on stage?

But the kids turned out not to be a problem at all. It was one grandfather whom I was most worried about. That was because CSO Music Director Georg Solti had final say over who would play with the orchestra. The competition had selected six young musicians as finalists, but Sir George auditioned the six and determined than one of them was not good enough. That child’s grandfather was outraged, and I worried that he might come to the event with a concealed weapon and start shooting! But, fortunately for everyone, all went quite smoothly.

The TV production was very elaborate. We hired the actor Tom Hulce, who had recently starred in the hit movie, “Amadeus,” to serve as the host. And we filmed introductory segments with each of the young musicians in their home environments, to show that these kids weren’t freaks, but normal youngsters who enjoyed doing what other youngsters enjoyed.

So, before I tell you about the Rachel Barton Pine of today, let’s listen to the audio from the “1985 Illinois Young Performers Competition,” starting with the interview with Rachel Barton, followed by Tom Hulce’s introduction, and then 10-year-old Rachel playing the Introduction and Rondo Capricioso for Violin and Orchestra by Camille Saint-Saëns. You’ll see why the words “child prodigy” have been used to describe Rachel Barton Pine ever since.

AUDIO: Rachel Barton introductory segment from the 1985 Illinois Young Performers Competition as produced and recorded by WTTW/Chicago

MUSIC: Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capricioso, performed by 10-year-old Rachel Barton with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Leinsdorf [excerpted from the “1986 Illinois Young Performers Competition” produced and recorded by WTTW/Chicago]

FLAXMAN: After more than a quarter of a century, I made contact with Rachel Barton, now Rachel Barton Pine, and asked her how she felt, looking back on it, about the experience of performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was just 10 years old.

RACHEL BARTON PINE: Growing up as a young kid, the members of the Chicago Symphony were my heroes. In the same way that other kids might have looked up to the Cubs or the Bears or the Bulls as their hometown team, I loved watching the Chicago Symphony on television or listening to them on the radio or on LP recordings. So it was an unbelievable thrill to be up there on stage making music with them!

From the age of 5 onward I really believed that I was meant to be a violinist., and that sharing music with people was my calling. My first experience soloing with one of the world’s greatest orchestras absolutely confirmed for me that this was what I loved more than anything, and I want to do it for the rest of my life. It was inspiring, motivating, and definitely a dream come true.

Of course it was an amazing artistic experience to collaborate with musicians who play at the very highest artistic level, but what was even more amazing was the kindness and generosity of so many of my colleagues in the orchestra. That night many of them came to my dressing room to say “hi,” and started asking what repertoire I was learning, and what I was doing with my orchestral and chamber music studies, etc. Some of them suggested opportunities for further concerts, and even invited me to solo with some of the other orchestras that they conducted.

So many CSO musicians became mentors, chamber music collaborators, and dear friends. They helped me realize that it is really important for a kid with artistic ability and musical dreams to know adults in their profession who can offer guidance and advice.

In the years since I’ve tried to return the favor by touching the lives of as many young people as I can, through the work of my foundation, and by visiting schools and giving master classes everywhere I travel.

FLAXMAN: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine on her experience performing as soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra when she was 10 years old. I’ll tell you more about the foundation she started at the end of this hour.

Well now it’s more than a quarter of a century later and a great deal has happened to her since then, most of it wonderful, but part of it tragic. I’ll tell you more of her interesting story later in this program, but first let’s listen to one of her many recordings: the Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor by Joseph White. This is from Rachel Barton’s Çedille Records compact disc of “Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries.” She made this record when she was 23 years old and still known as Rachel Barton. It was a real compact discovery for me as it may well be for you.

Joseph White, who is also known as José Silvestre White Lafitte, was born in Cuba in 1836 and died in Paris, France, in 1918. His father was Spanish and his mother was Afro-Cuban. He studied at the Paris Conservatory and was highly praised by Rossini. From 1877 until 1889 he was director of the Imperial Conservatory in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after which he returned to Paris for the rest of his life. He was well-known as both a composer and violinist. His instrument was the famous 1737 “Swansong” Stradivari.

In this recording of White’s F-sharp Minor Violin Concerto, Rachel Barton is accompanied by the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege. We’ll listen to the final movement.

MUSIC: Joseph White: Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor performed by Rachel Barton with the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege [Çedille CDR 90000 035, Track 9] [4:58]

FLAXMAN: The last movement of Joseph White’s Violin Concerto in F-sharp Minor. Rachel Barton was accompanied by the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege.

Rachel Barton was born on October 11, 1974. She started playing violin three years later. Now known as Rachel Barton Pine, the new last name is the result of her marriage to Greg Pine, a computer entrepreneur and former minor league baseball pitcher.

Rachel Barton debuted with the Chicago String Ensemble at age 7. At age 14 she was forced by circumstances to contribute significantly to her family’s expenses by taking jobs playing at weddings and in orchestras.

In 1992 she became the youngest and the first American gold medal winner at the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany. She was 17. Her other awards are too numerous to mention here, but they include the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition, the International Fritz Kreisler Competition, and the Paganini Competition.

You are listening to the music of Rachel Barton Pine on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing]

From the same Çedille recording of Rachel Barton playing violin concertos by black composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries, let’s listen to the Romance in G Major for Violin and Orchestra by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a black English composer who achieved such success in his lifetime that he was once called the “African Mahler.”

He was born in London in 1875 to an English woman an a Sierra Leonean creole. They were not married. He was named after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Coleridge-Taylor was brought up by his mother and her father. He studied at the Royal College of Music. He also taught and conducted the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatory.

His successes brought him a tour of the United States in 1904, which increased his interest in his racial heritage. He then sought to do for African music what Johannes Brahms did for Hungarian music and Antonin Dvorák did for Bohemian music, but Coleridge-Taylor was only 37 when he died of pneumonia.

Here, then, is his Romance in G Major for Violin and Orchestra performed by Rachel Barton with the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege.

MUSIC: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Romance in G Major for Violin and Orchestra performed by the Rachel Barton with the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege [Çedille CDR 90000 035, Track 10] [12:33]

FLAXMAN: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Romance in G Major for Violin and Orchestra performed by Rachel Barton with the Encore Chamber Orchestra conducted by Daniel Hege.

January 16, 1995, was a day that changed 20-year-old Rachel Barton’s life forever. As she was going out of a Metra commuter train in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, where she taught violin, the doors closed on the strap to her violin case, pinning her left shoulder to the train. The doors, which were controlled remotely and had no safety sensors, failed to open to release her, and she was dragged 366 feet by the train before being pulled underneath and run over, severing one leg and severely mangling the other. Her life was saved by the prompt application of tourniquets by several passengers who jumped out of the train after pulling its emergency brake handles.

Rachel Barton sued Metra and Chicago Northwestern Railroad and, in 1999, the case went to court. Metra argued that Barton made the choice not to release her arm from the strap of the violin case because the 400-year-old violin was worth about $500,000. They concluded that she carried most of the blame for her injuries. The jury decided otherwise. Metra changed its conductor safety procedures after the accident and made safety changes to the trains themselves.

The accident took two years out of the young violinist’s career. That’s how long it took her to recover from her injuries. But since then she has appeared as a soloist with orchestras around the world under such conductors as Charles Dutoit, Zubin Mehta, Neeme Järvi, Marin Alsop, and Plácido Domingo. She has appeared with Daniel Barenboim, Christoph Eschenbach, and William Warfield, and at festivals including Marlboro, Ravinia, Montreal, and Salzburg.

Rachel Barton Pine’s musical interests extend well beyond classical to baroque, folk, Celtic, rock, and jazz, and a number of composers have written works for her. She has often performed at schools and on rock music radio stations in an effort to interest younger audiences in classical music.

Carl Fischer Music published a sheet music book of cadenzas and virtuosic encore pieces composed by Barton Pine, as well as her arrangements of other works for violin and piano. Barton Pine became the first living composer and first woman to be included in this famous music publisher's Masters Collection.

Pine has also edited a four-volume collection of compositions associated with America’s pioneering female solo violinist, Maud Powell. She has also recorded many of these pieces in another compact disc issued by Çedille Records called “American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell.” It is from that album that we now hear Rachel Barton Pine with Deep River.

MUSIC: Coleridge-Taylor: Deep River performed by Rachel Barton Pine, violin, with Matthew Hagle, piano [Çedille CDR 90000 097, Track 9] [4:46]

FLAXMAN: Deep River. Rachel Barton Pine was the violinist, accompanied by Matthew Hagle on piano.

In 2001 Rachel Barton Pine started a foundation bearing her maiden name to promote the study and appreciation of classical music, including string music by black composers. The foundation prepares music curricula on black composers, loans high-quality instruments to deserving young musicians, and provides grants to cover incidental expenses, such as for supplemental lessons, accompanist, sheet music, travel, competition entrance fees, instrument repair, and audition recordings. Another foundation program, called Global HeartStrings, is dedicated to supporting aspiring classical musicians from developing countries. That effort is aided by Barton Pine’s younger sister, Hannah Barton, who is also a violinist.

In 2006, after being nominated by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Rachel Barton Pine received the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award for her work through her Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation.

I’d like to conclude this tribute to Rachel Barton Pine with a piece from one of her newest recordings. The Çedille album is called “Capricho Latino” and it begins with Rachel Barton Pine’s fantastic arrangement for solo violin of Asturias by Isaac Albéniz. Asturias is the name of a northern region of Spain with a strong local character, and this work may well be the best-known piece of Spanish classical music.

MUSIC: Albéniz: Asturias (Leyenda) performed by violinist Rachel Barton Pine [Çedille CDR 90000 124] [6:02]

FLAXMAN: Asturias by Isaac Albéniz, performed by Rachel Barton Pine.

At the time I put this Compact Discoveries program together, Rachel Barton Pine had 18 compact discs to her credit on four different labels. So I reserve the right to feature her again, as she is responsible for many more compact discoveries than I could fit in this hour.

MUSIC: Dvorák: Songs My Mother Sang performed by Rachel Barton Pine, violin, and Matthew Hagle, piano [Çedille CDR 90000 097, Track 3] [under the following]

FLAXMAN: If you missed any of this program or would like to hear it again, go to compactdiscoveries.com on the internet, where you’ll find links to stream Compact Discoveries programs on demand without charge. At the website you’ll also find scripts for every Compact Discoveries program with complete information on every selection. There are other features there as well, including my lists of recommended music, concert DVDs, and CDs and DVDs of classics for kids.

This is Fred Flaxman thanking you for listening and hoping that you’ll join me next time for more Compact Discoveries.

ANNOUNCER (Steve Jencks): Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Book Publishers and their latest offering, a tongue-in-cheek memoir by Compact Discoveries host Fred Flaxman called “Sixty Slices of Life ... on Wry: The Private Life of a Public Broadcaster.” And by the financial support of Isabel and Marvin Leibowitz, and an anonymous donor from Palm Beach, Florida. And by contributions to local public radio stations by listeners like you. Thank you. [0:28]

Total Program Timing: 57:00