EXCLUSIVE: Violinist Rachel Barton Pine Talks Mozart Concertos with Neville Marriner and St. Martin, Overcoming Childhood Poverty and Adult Tragedy, How to Play Your Own Cadenzas

By Jaime Prisco on Jan 28, 2015 02:00 AM EST

No, Rachel Barton Pine is not a stranger to Mozart. In fact, you may even call her an expert.

On January 13, for Avie Records, the acclaimed violinist released Mozart: Complete Violin Concertos and the Sinfonia Concertante K364--accompanied by Sir Neville Marriner's Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

Not surprisingly, it's selling out.

Ever the scholar, and well before any mics were placed, Pine spent a lot of time reading, listening and absorbing as much as she could about that celebrated son of Leopold.

Of course, her own story celebrates much more than the plight of a fastidious musician. Yes, her's is one of struggle and, perhaps most importantly, the triumph that is deserved from overcoming life's largest of obstacles.

You see, Pine's latest album, her 24th recording to date, coincides not just with Mozart's birthday; it's also the 20th anniversary of the accident that nearly killed her.

Upon exiting a Metra commuter train in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Pine’s violin case strap became wedged in the closing doors, pinning her to the car. Dragged along the tracks for some 400 feet, eventually, she was pulled underneath, resulting in one leg severed and the other severely mangled.

Though she was able to start playing again about a year and half after the accident, it took over 40 surgeries and 14 years' worth of rehabilitation to truly put Pine back together again.

"I was touring, doing my performances, but any time I had a week off or a holiday break, I would have to fit in another surgery," she explains.

"Thankfully, that time is behind me," Pine says now, "and I was able to have my first child."

Indeed, the violinist, mother and philanthropist is stronger than she has ever been. As she tells it, her struggles growing up have had an even larger impact, shaping her into the dynamic performer she is today on stages as far-flung as the Johann Sebastian Bach International Competition in Leipzig to Mark O'Connor's summer fiddle camp to heavy metal dive bars.

As a child, Pine talks first about witnessing a group of girls playing the violin at her church. Immediately, she was enamored with the instrument. She received her first violin at the tender age of three, despite her family's near destitute financials.

“We were constantly having the lights turned off or struggling to have food on the table,” the then Ms. Barton recounts.

Still, as Pine now duly notes, her family fully supported her four-string dreams. Rather than work outside the home, her mother agreed to homeschool the precocious child, at her principal's recommendation. Thanks to homeschooling, sure, Pine was able to practice sans distraction, but she was also free to learn unencumbered.

To wit, she enjoyed her "life outside of violin," an existence the virtuoso admits she never could have been afforded while attending a traditional school.

Naturally, her talents grew and matured. At a mere 10 years old, Rachel E. Barton made her Chicago Symphony debut, under no less a baton than Erich Leinsdorf.

By age 14, with the help of too much makeup, she was helping to pay the rent.

"All of the money I would win from contests would go toward various music costs. I had scholarships for music school, but I still had to pay for sheet music or getting my bow re-haired," she remembers. "However, I finally was able to reach the point where I could get freelance, grown-up jobs."

"It was then," she notes, "I was able to really help with the rent, utilities and groceries."

Preternaturally grateful, it was a mother’s sacrifice and Pine's own appreciation for the support she received as a burgeoning musician that inspired her to establish the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation: "an organization that helps children whose parents struggle to finance their musical education," she sums it up.

Specifically, her foundation provides instrument loan programs, as well as the myriad incidentals that may be the deciding factor in a child’s ability to attend music school or competitions.

“With scholarships," Pine explains, "they don’t provide any of the other necessities needed, such a sheet music or money to travel to competitions. [The foundation] helps with those expenses.”

One of the Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation's biggest success stories? A viola player by the name Matthew Lipman.

Back when he was more likely to be heard "From the Top" rather than with William Walton, the Barton Foundation paid for the Music Academy of Chicago student to attend several different competitions.

Now, the Primrose International Viola Competition winner can be heard (in his recording debut) alongside Pine and Mozart.

"[Matthew] has a joy and spirit about him that suits Mozart so well," she gushes. "As chamber musicians, we always like to have a meeting of the minds before we record, so that the music could be mutually satisfying. I realized the way Matthew approached Mozart was the same way I approached Mozart--long before we even spoke about it."

Asked how Lipman fit into the dynamic with Sir Neville's vaunted Academy, and Pine is similarly effusive.

“They’re not content with perfect, they will perform over and over until they get it as good as it could possibly be,” Pine points out, mentioning, too, how she hopes to have the same energy and drive that both conductor and ensemble have maintained throughout the years.

Not that it's always so serious. This new album focuses on what Pine dubs the “playfulness of Mozart," giving her the chance to perform her own cadenzas--a rarity given all the fuss over historically informed, urtext practice.

However, it's not blind self-aggrandizement that Rachel Barton Pine's most after, either.

Case in point: "The best is when people tell me that I have inspired them to write their own cadenzas," she says demurely.

It's precisely that kind of selflessness, her brand of piquant deprecation, that you get when talking to Mrs. Pine. In spite of everything--be it crushing childhood poverty or crippling adult circumstance--she knows that through steady practice and quiet determination, peace and tranquility will return to her once again.

Ultimately, it's what calls upon her to be a better musician, a better mother, a better humanitarian than she was when she woke up.

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TagsEXCLUSIVE, Rachel Barton Pine, Mozart, Avie Records, Sir Neville Marriner, Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Rachel Elizabeth Barton Foundation, Matthew Lipman, Classicalite Q&A

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