Violinist Rachel Barton Pine returns to Springfield this weekend to perform Erich Korngold’s violin concerto with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra. The Chicago-based musician said this is the fourth or fifth time she’ll collaborate with ISO music director Karen Lynne Deal, and the third time with this orchestra.
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine returns to Springfield this weekend to perform Erich Korngold’s violin concerto with the Illinois Symphony Orchestra.
The Chicago-based musician said this is the fourth or fifth time she’ll collaborate with ISO music director Karen Lynne Deal, and the third time with this orchestra.
The Korngold concerto shares the bill with Gabriel Faure’s Suite from “Pelleas et Melisande” (conducted by Paul Vermel) and what has been billed as a “mystery love story” by a “mystery composer.”
In a telephone interview earlier this week — just hours after returning to Chicago from Israel, where she had been performing — Barton Pine said the Korngold violin concerto is a joy to play.
“It was really written in a way that’s very grateful to the instrument. Very challenging technically — definitely one of the more challenging concertos — but very idiomatic at the same time,” Barton Pine said.
“And the melodic way that it’s written — with all of these expressive slides and rubatos — when you think about the soundtracks that you listen to of movies from that era, and how you often hear soaring violin solos here and there in special scenes, and how they’re always very warm, very expressive types of violin playing: well, that’s exactly what this whole concerto is. It’s really fun to get to indulge in that.”
That movie sound is no coincidence. After Korngold immigrated to the U.S. — as the Nazis overran his native Austria — he became a film composer, winning Academy Awards for two of his scores.
According to an advance copy of Steven Ledbetter’s program notes for the ISO provided by Barton Pine’s publicist, Korngold was writing music for “Another Dawn” (1937) when it struck him that one of the musical themes would be good for a violin concerto.
Barton Pine, however, is not so sure of that interpretation.
“My understanding is that the most recent biography of Korngold actually shows that the concerto was written first, and then he took the themes and made them into movies. But whichever it is, the piece is not some kind of cobbled-together recycling of movie themes. It really is a concerto that stands on its own two feet.”
The first time she performed the concerto was with the Rockford Symphony in 1996.
“It was really a rather perfect first performance, because the Rockford Symphony’s home at that time was a remodeled, old movie theater from the era, where those films were probably shown at the time of their release.”
Some critics dismissed Korngold as a composer, snarking that his music was “more corn than gold.” But Barton Pine said she liked the rebuttal delivered by the conductor at the pre-concert lecture in Rockford: “Right here in Illinois, that’s just fine with us.”
Barton Pine said she thought that people who say things like “more corn than gold” are getting it backward: “It’s not that Korngold sounds like Hollywood, it’s that Hollywood sounds like Korngold.
“Korngold was one of the great of the last late-romantic German composers. And we were lucky enough that he happened to come to America and happened to elevate the quality of our films by writing music for them. But his sound was his sound, and he just happened to lend it to Hollywood. Now, of course, we associate it with Hollywood, but it was his voice first.”
Barton Pine has musical tastes that extend beyond 19th- and 20th-century classical music.
She performs as part of the Trio Settecento, which plays music of the baroque period (1600-1750) with period instruments and period costumes. She’s also in the metal band Earthen Grave, where she performs with an electric violin and appropriately goth clothing.
She seems to relish comparing classical music to metal and tries to get fans to cross over (that is, getting metal heads into a symphony hall).
“Any piece of classical music is potentially enjoyable by anyone who gives it a try if it’s a good piece of music, because classical music really does have the ability to speak directly to the human emotions in a very deep and profound way,” Barton Pine said.
“It really moves you on a level that goes beyond most other music. So that’s why I feel like it’s important that everybody has classical music in their lives.”
Brian Mackey can be reached at (217) 747-9587 or firstname.lastname@example.org.