The Classical Station’s interview with Rachel Barton Pine for Preview!
Interview with Rachel Barton Pine
by Bethany Tillerson (photo credits: © Lisa Marie Mazzucco)
This week’s Preview! guest, Rachel Barton Pine, is a talented violinist praised for her emotionality and technique. She is also dedicated to wholeheartedly supporting other musicians. The Rachel Barton Pine Foundation, provides financial support to student musicians, access to music essentials in developing countries, and high-quality string instruments to those who otherwise would not have access to them. The Classical Station’s host Rob Kennedy interviews her this Sunday about her album, Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
ROB: Can you tell our listeners what inspired you to be in the vanguard in so many ways as a teacher and as an advocate for less commonly heard music?
PINE: It’s the music itself that inspires me. I’ve always been very passionate about access to classical music, whether you’re talking about people from different economic backgrounds or underrepresented communities. I want all the great music I can get my hands on without limitations. There is such a treasure trove of works by composers of African descent, it was an obvious place to go to find all kinds of gems.
When I was a teenager, I was lucky to be in Chicago, where there was a certain amount of activity going on even back in the ‘90s in terms of the Chicago Sinfonietta, one of the most diverse orchestras in terms of membership and programming. So I knew of the existence of this repertoire and was able to go to various libraries and archives and started to collect works by composers of African descent, and I made this recording in ‘97 of some awesome pieces that I found for violin and orchestra. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t completely thinking of the social justice element. I was just thinking, This is gorgeous violin music. I’m a fan of the violin. I’ve got to share this stuff. But then there was an absolute outpouring after the album was released in ‘97 from students and parents and teachers and performers asking for more of this music.
There have been so many phenomenal Black music researchers throughout the decades, but a lot of what they’ve done is academia. For a long time it just didn’t filter down to the average student in the average American town. When I decided to start my Black composers initiative with my foundation in 2001, it was to disseminate this work, make it available to students of all races and ethnicities, and to inspire African-American youngsters by sharing not only the music of these composers, but also the history, like the fact that there were all-Black orchestras in America in the 1800s, or the fact that Frederick Douglass and Coretta Scott King were both serious violinists. People of African descent, Black violinists, Black musicians, Black composers, have been a serious part of classical music—not a few rare isolated individuals, but lots of activity through the years, and it just hasn’t been properly acknowledged.
ROB: Tell us about José Silvestre de los Dolores White Lafitte, whose concerto you’ve performed.
PINE: José White was a Romantic-era composer from the 1800s. He was Afro-Cuban and studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where he was a classmate of some of the greatest virtuoso violinists of the age. He wasn’t just an amazing violinist, but also a wonderful composer. And his violin concerto is not a Brahms-type concerto. It’s very much a violin concerto for a violinist to play. Later on in his career, he went back to the Paris Conservatoire as a professor. Since I recorded the CD in ‘97, I’ve been trying for 25 years to get orchestras to program this concerto. This is a kind of concerto where, once you’re in the hall listening to it, you can’t help but fall in love with it. It’s so dramatic and beautiful and flashy and touching and all the things you want from a great violin concerto. But I didn’t succeed for 25 years in getting a single professional orchestra to program it. And I ended up saying to myself, like, if the José White concerto ever gets performed, I’ll know that the world has finally changed. And I’m thrilled to report that last season and this season, a number of orchestras have actually asked me to play it, which is a 180-degree flip, a total sea change.
There are resources about Black musicians online that you can get through my own project, musicbyblackcomposers.org. We have, of course, our publications with curricular volumes, but then we have a ton of free resources right there on the website that you can just click on—everything from a podcast page, children’s books about Black composers or written by African-American authors, with illustrations of children of color. We’ve got discographies and directories of Black composers, which include more than 150 historic composers and more than 300 living composers.
Join us for the full interview at 7 PM on Sunday, March 5th. Download our app, stream online on TheClassicalStation.org, or turn your radio to 89.7 FM.