Violinst Rachel Barton Pine has been appearing more frequently on the West Coast, and for fans of fine string playing, that's good news. Last month, with her sweet-sounding viola d'amore in tow, she led the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra downtown in an all-Baroque program. On Saturday, she’s making her debut with the Pasadena Symphony, led by principal guest conductor Nicholas McGegan.
The Chicago-based Pine, 42, favors a personal touch. She writes her own liner notes, and her set of Bach's Six Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin was recorded in the Chicago church where she first performed at age 4. She also composed all the cadenzas on her recent set of the complete Mozart violin concertos with Neville Marriner and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
"Performing your own cadenzas is always the best thing, because it's going to be a reflection of your feelings about the piece," Pine said by phone from Columbus, Ohio, where she was giving a concert and a master class. "It's fresh and interesting for the audience and really personal."
Given Pine's willingness to share of herself and her apparent gift for being in the moment, it's easy to forget the harrowing ordeal she suffered as her career was starting to take off. Pine, 20 at the time, had won major competitions and seemed destined for a great international career when, exiting a Chicago Metra train in 1995, her backpack got caught in the train's closing doors. Pine was dragged 300 feet in a half-sitting position before the train stopped. Her left leg was severed above the knee; her right foot and leg were mangled.
Surgeons almost removed back muscle to reconstruct Pine’s right leg, but her mother was among those at the hospital who stopped that strategy. A violinist's range of motion comes from those back muscles. Instead, doctors took muscle from Pine’s abdomen.
After enduring years of surgery, post-traumatic stress disorder, a protracted court case and rehab, Pine recovered enough to resume her career.
"Everybody in my life, from friends to strangers, were encouraging, including Itzhak Perlman, who called and gave me advice," Pine said. "That was absolutely wonderful of him. After we hung up, I realized, oh my gosh, we only talked about backstage facilities and never spoke about music. It was just what I needed to hear, that, yes, a career would still be possible — not easy, but possible."
Pine said she grew up listening to Perlman's classic EMI recording of Paganini's revolutionary cycle of 24 Caprices. At the Clark Memorial Library in 2011, Pine gave stunning renditions of the music. Just as impressive: Pine displayed a gift for drawing in an audience, enhancing her playing with insightful and entertaining discussions and demonstrations of each caprice's challenges.
Her own set, along with other unaccompanied Paganini pieces, arrives in May on the Avie label. Naturally, she wrote the liner notes.
At Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium on Saturday, afternoon and evening concerts will offer Schubert's "Overture in the Italian Style," Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 ("Scottish") and Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 5 ("Turkish"), with Pine as soloist.
As part of her research into Mozart's "Turkish" concerto — the Turkish element was a fad in Western Europe circa 1775 — Pine said she visited London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and performed with the Bilkent Symphony in Ankara, Turkey.
"At the museum, I saw the piano with an extra pedal that operated cymbals so you could play your little Turkish marches in your living room," Pine said. "In Ankara, I was curious whether Turkish musicians were offended by this music, since it kind of exoticizes the ‘other.' In fact, my colleagues chose to embrace it by augmenting the section in the last movement where the cellos and basses bang their bows against the strings by adding real Turkish percussion instruments, making Mozart's faux Turkish music sound more realistically Turkish."
Off the concert stage, Pine has a foundation that supports students and young professional musicians. These days she enjoys traveling to concerts with her husband and 5-year-old-daughter.
"I had to have a certain amount of illogical faith to continue in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles," she said. "My primary motivation was sharing music with others, not as another entertainment option but as something deeper."
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Pasadena Symphony with Rachel Barton Pine
Where: Ambassador Auditorium, 131 S. St. John Ave., Pasadena
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $35 and up
Info: (626) 793-7172, pasadenasymphony-pops.org
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