Feature: Chicago Violinist Rachel Barton Pine Mixes Classical With Heavy Metal

Chicago is well known for having a rich and robust classical music community. One of the best measures of that is the talent that emerges from it. One great example is violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who tours the world and has performed with every great orchestra. She has a large recording catalogue. She does chamber music. She has a foundation that helps children with financial need pay for a classical music education. She researches and performs excellent music by Black composers who have been ignored by a profession filled with white (and male) composers.

She also will be performing a recital with pianist Inna Faliks at Ravinia on Saturday, November 4. In addition to sonatas by Beethoven and Ravel, the program includes works by Black American composers William Grant Still, Billy Childs, and Dolores White, a Chicago native who died at the age of 90 in March.

Pine is a heavy metal music fan and has championed this genre alongside the standard classical violin repertoire. Her most recent CD, Dependent Arising, includes a violin concerto by violinist Earl Maneein, the songwriter and lead violin player for the guitar-less metal core band Resolution15. This is not the first time Maneein has composed for Pine. He composed a solo violin piece Metal Organic Framework, which Pine premiered in 2014. Released on Chicago’s Cedille Records, Dependent Arising also includes Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto.

In a wide-ranging interview last spring, Pine opened up about her career as a performer and educator. She discussed her upbringing in this city and the tremendous array of available resources that helped her learn, grow, and hone her talent. She has also been at the forefront of promoting classical music and helping emerging artists in underrepresented communities. She has a robust recording career, including numerous albums on Chicago’s Cedille Records. She also described her infatuation with heavy metal and how that came about.

I had attended some concerts of hers, and was generally impressed, but her recordings are what really grabbed my attention. First were her recordings of the Mozart Violin Concertos and Symphonie Concertante. The five violin concertos are early works that show Mozart’s teenage genius. They are a marvelous mix of juvenile joy and mature complexity. Pine showed off a remarkably delicate touch in the quieter moments and robust playing in the exciting moments.

She gave them even greater distinction by writing her own cadenzas. Of these works, my favorites have always been No. 4 in D-major, followed closely by No. 5 in A-major, with its “Turkish” inspired finale, and No. 3 in G-major. Yet, Pine’s playing expanded my interest in other works, especially No. 1 in B-flat-major, which has a beautifully lyrical slow movement and finale.

Recording these works with Sir Neville Mariner and the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields orchestra certainly added flair, as did her collaboration with violist and Chicago native Matthew Lipman for the Symphonie Concertante. This work from Mozart’s maturity, one of the few concertos by any major composer to feature a viola, is delightful from start to finish. As a pair, Pine and Lippman played magically off one another, combining the sweet sound of the violin with the sonorous sound of the viola.

That Rachel Barton Pine was a violin prodigy was evident from an early age. She started violin lessons at three years old and was playing Bach in her church, St. Pauls Church of Christ in Lincoln Park, at the age of four.

She recalled how the church often featured classical music. “The organist would play Bach Toccatas and Fugues, and the choir regularly did movements of Handel and Mendelssohn oratorios,” she said, reflecting, “It really shaped who I am as an artist because it wasn’t the idea of being onstage, or being judged. It was that, really, there’s no separation between audience and performer. We didn’t even think of it. We were part of a congregation. I happened to be the one making the music, but everyone was experiencing the music together, not on separate sides of the equation.”

This approach to making music together has influenced her ever since. “That idea of joining together to make and hear the music, not making the music for the purpose of entertaining or showing off, but for the purpose of uplifting our spirits, that was really the meaning of sharing my violin with people that I took to the stage and still carry with me, whatever the venue is, whether it’s a 2000-seat hall, or a hospital room playing for one person.”

Playing Bach growing up at church also played a big role in her development as an artist, which she described in the liner notes of her excellent CD, Solo Baroque. Unlike the Mozart concertos, which were released by Avie Records in 2015, this release was on Chicago’s Cedille Records, which has issued many of Pine’s recordings.

Solo Baroque includes my favorite work by Bach, Partita No 2 in D-minor for solo violin, along with Bach’s Sonata No 1 in G-minor. Her notes also explain how research in music and baroque playing techniques influenced her performance. Research also led her to several lesser-known baroque works for solo violin, some of which were precursors to Bach’s masterpieces.

When she was 10 years old, Pine won the Young Artists competition of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which allowed her to solo with the CSO for eight youth concerts the following season following her competition performance with Erich Leinsdorf which was broadcast live on WTTW. Reflecting on those experiences, she marveled. “The Youth Concerts were such an incredible experience because of the rehearsal days and four long performance days, which were double performances.” That was when she met many CSO musicians. “They were kind enough to walk up and introduce themselves,” she recalled.

Pine knew she wanted to be a musician at five years old. Her experience with the CSO is when she learned what it meant to be a professional musician. It is also where she learned about the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, an ensemble intended for college graduate students and pre-professionals; a training ground for their career in professional orchestras such as the CSO. She auditioned when she was 11 and was admitted to the first violins. She became concertmaster at 14.

Pine credits the Civic as one reason why Chicago has such a great classical music scene. “Growing up in Chicago, one of the very luckiest things about being here was the Civic Orchestra. … Chicago is the only city that has something like the Civic. There are other training ensembles like the New World Symphony, but the Civic is the only one affiliated with a major world class orchestra.” 

She is grateful for the Civic’s great conductors during her formative years, including Kenneth Jean and Michael Morgan. The CSO’s world class Music Directors and guest conductors would also stop in for rehearsals and performances, including Sir Georg Solti, Daniel Barenboim, Zubin Mehta, Leonard Slatkin, and Pierre Boulez. “It was an extraordinary education!” she exclaimed.

“I feel I became a much better soloist because of my time in the Civic,” she said. “It wasn’t just that playing in an orchestra trained me to play in an orchestra, which I ended up not doing as my main career. It’s also that, playing the Brahms Symphonies gave me a much better understanding of playing the Brahms Violin Concerto. Playing the Mahler symphonies, playing all of this great rep and learning how an orchestra works was absolutely formative for me as an artist who solos with them.”

“I was certainly an aspiring soloist,” she recalled. “I was entering the regional, national, and international competitions. I also was serious about my orchestra training, not only as kind of a back-up plan. A solo career is not only being good enough to be worthy of one, but also luck, timing, connections, and all those things.”

She laughed. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice, but there’s also luck, timing, and connections. … I knew that I might or might not end up with a career as an actual soloist, so I was seriously studying chamber music and orchestra playing because I knew, no matter what, that I wanted to have a life in music.”

Another Chicago institution that formed a big part of Pine’s musical upbringing was the Music Institute of Chicago. Her first teachers gave her a good start, but she knew she needed something more. She turned to the MIC. She declared, “It’s my alma mater, very close to my heart.”

There she met Roland and Almita Vamos, who are institutions at MIC. They covered different things in her training and worked well together. Mr. Vamos would focus on technique and interpreting from the score, while Mrs. Vamos would cover tone colors, stage presence, and listening to your instincts. Pine met with the Vamoses separately each week. “They complemented each other so much,” she recalled wistfully.

Their influences are lasting. “Every time I try to figure out how I want to phrase something, I think, ‘How would Mr. Vamos sing it?’” she said. In addition to music and violin training, they gave her lessons on life. To her, the Vamoses modeled a wonderful family partnership. “They treated me as family, gave me advice and life support and they still do. Mr. Vamos is giving violin etude lessons to my daughter.”

Pine’s involvement with MIC continues today. She joined the MIC governing board in her 20s, which taught her a lot about how the not-for-profit music business operates with volunteers, donors, staff, and artists. “When the demands of being a mother required her to step back from some of her boards, MIC responded by making me a life trustee.”

“There are only so many hours in a day…. My experience and my gifts are put to best use by advocating for the cause of music, for arts funding, especially for arts education,” she said. “That’s what I always did since I was a teenager, and that’s what I continue to do. It’s my primary passion.”

Another Chicago institution that is a perfect match for Rachel Barton Pine is Cedille Records. She posits, “I feel like so many other labels would have been more commercially focused, thinking of what’s going to sell, and rejecting things that their artists were passionate about.” Commenting about Cedille’s founder Jim Ginsburg, she added, “I love that Jim really wants to support his artists fully in their vision.”

“It’s not about finding unusual rep because it’s less known, or doing the famous repertoire because it’s popular,” she averred. “It’s about what music, known or less known, am I excited about right now. Whatever it might be, Cedille is going to let me explore my vision for it. That’s just a beautiful thing to have a record company that is not just the business partner, but literally the artistic partner. I love that Jim Ginsburg cares about every aspect of each release, from the details of the album cover art to the liner notes and credits, all the written that goes into the booklet. It’s not just the quality of the recorded sound that I love, but every piece of the puzzle. It’s not just top quality, but truly collaborative. Jim will read every word I write and send back suggestions for wording or a footnote.”

One Cedille Records release from earlier this year is Concertos by contemporary Syrian composer Malek Jandali. Performed by the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop. In addition to Rachel Barton Pine performing Jandali’s Violin Concerto, the release has Anthony McGill, who was raised in Chicago and is now the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic, playing a Clarinet Concerto.

Jandali’s compositions seek to incorporate melodies and musical idioms from his homeland Syria, and the rhythms and themes that come forth from Pine's performance are striking. The Concerto for Violin and Orchestra includes the use of the Oud, or Arabic lute, and was inspired by women and dedicated to Pine. It is no accident that the performance was conducted by Alsop.  

In her recording career, one thing that surprised Pine is that one can never know what will appeal to large numbers of listeners. “What’s been really interesting is that some of the things that perhaps were more indulgent projects turned out to be really popular albums,” Pine reflected. “Which just goes to show you, if you think commercially, you probably are not even doing the best job commercially because you don’t always know what’s going to end up striking a chord, so to speak.”

One such release was the Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries album in 1997. “ was pretty out there,” she recalled. “I knew this music from Michael Morgan , and since I was home schooled, I was able to do a lot of music research during my teenage years. I spent lots of time in libraries. I went over to the Center for Black Music Research and found all of these great works.”

This album was recently reissued. The original release had included an 18th century work by French composer Chevalier de Meude-Monpas. It has since been discovered that he was probably not of African descent. A more modern work by an undisputed Black composer has been substituted for this 25th Anniversary re-release, Violin Concerto No. 2 by Chicago-based Florence Price. Pine recorded this with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Jonathon Heyward.

“That album really sparked something in the late ‘90s. It led to the creation of my entire Music by Black Composers project,” she recalled. “Honestly, in those days I wasn’t even thinking about issues of diversity or inclusion, or social justice. I wasn’t aware yet. There were some African American members of the Civic, and I didn’t realize what a problem it was in the industry.”

“Mainly I was just excited as a fan of the violin that there was some awesome violin music that hadn’t been adequately shared, that I wanted to get out there. The motivation stemmed from sharing more great violin music rather than from moral obligation.” She reflected, “In retrospect, it was pretty naïve of me, but it also means that my motivation was completely pure.” To Pine, “It’s all about the music.”

Pine pointed out that, “Cedille itself ended up doing a Black composers series of symphonic albums, which was inspired by the success of my concertos album.” After Pine’s album came out, students, parents, and teachers, and just everybody said to her, “Until your album, we had no idea that there such a thing as a Black composer from the 1700s or the 1800s.’”

The Music by Black Composers Project grew out of the Rachel Barton Pine Foundation, which she created in 2001. The Foundation has several programs, including some for Young Artists. “The inspiration for the Young Artists programs came from experiences in my own childhood. People always think about scholarships, and I did have a scholarship that covered the cost of my lessons,” she explained, “but that’s only one aspect of what you have to pay for to get a life going as an artist.”

She pointed to all the expenses a budding musician must incur to succeed: sheet music that is not always free in the public domain, paying for an accompanist, concert attire, travel expenses, audition recording sessions, new violin strings. These costs are rarely covered by the money won in competitions. Pine is proud that her RBP Foundation “was actually the first program, and there are still very few out there, that offer general financial assistance for those extras.” Pine is also pleased with the way they choose award recipients. “We evaluate young artists based on three criteria: financial need, accomplishments and potential, and their musical goals.”

Pine has also released many other recordings on Cedille Records. One set of recordings from 2002 that really captures Pine’s approach is a double CD of violin concertos by Johannes Brahms and Joseph Joachim. This release also featured Carlos Kalmar conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The Brahms concerto is on every critic’s list of top-five violin concertos. His good friend Joachim, the leading violinist of his day, premiered this work and many other violin compositions by Brahms. Joachim was also a composer, and he composed the solo cadenzas that most violinists use when performing the Brahms. Pine, while using Joachim’s version on occasion, also composed her own. Both versions appear on this release.

Pine is driven to explore and record music that gets little attention. Joachim also composed violin concertos, the second of which, “In the Hungarian Style,” Pine suggested has the most difficult violin part in the entire repertoire. Its performances and recordings are scarce. After studying it intensely, she set out to present it to the public. Before recording it with Carlos Kalmar, she performed it with him and the Grant Park Orchestra.

It was also the inspiration for Brahms’ Concerto. “People think of Beethoven as being the inspiration for the Brahms Violin Concerto, but in fact the Beethoven Violin Concerto inspired the Joachim Violin Concerto, which is what inspired the Brahms Concerto.” Pairing them on a single release, with extensive liner notes that she wrote, allowed her to tell that story. She praised Cedille Records for being “the only label that actually puts their entire booklets for free on their website, so you can listen on Spotify and still read the liner notes.”

“In terms of recording generally, sometimes I like to present certain well-known rep in a context in which it hasn’t previously been heard.” As an example, she pointed to a deep dive she did into Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy. She learned how to be a Scottish fiddler and brought that flair to the music, which she paired with other Scottish-flavored works. Some had never been recorded before.

That particular release, Scottish Fantasies for Violin and Orchestra, is a double CD with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Alexander Platt. It includes Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and Airs écossais by Spanish violin extraordinaire Pable de Sarasate, Bruch’s dedicatee. Also on the CD are lesser-known, rarely performed, but excellent music by Scottish composers Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie and Sir John Blackwood McEwen. “I’m not all about the obscure rep, nor am I all about the masterpieces,” Pine said. “I’m all about all the good music.” Once again, it was released by Cedille Records.  

Scottish Fantasies for Violin and Orchestra concludes with Medley of Scots Tunes, which Pine co-wrote and performed with Scottish fiddler Alsasair Fraser. Pine wrote the orchestration. When asked about composing, Pine said, “I’m not a full-fledged composer, but I do more than many of my peers.” Referring to the extended solo passages that occur in concertos, “I write my own cadenzas and some of my own encore pieces.” 

She spoke proudly of the fact that she is, “the only woman and only living composer to have been published in Carl Fischer’s Masters Collection Series. They have the Heifetz Collection, the Kreisler Collection, all the violinist composers of the past, and then they have the Rachel Barton Pine Collection.”

This is part of her message to young violinists. “I love showing young people that this isn’t just something violinists used to do. ‘Hey, I did it, and you can do it too.’” She added, “That being said, like Kreisler and Heifetz, you’re not going to catch me writing a concerto or sonata, let alone a symphony or a string quartet. I’m not that kind of composer. I’m a violinist who writes for the violin.”

“But my daughter has original melodies pouring out of her all day long. She improvises on the violin, and she sings. I think she got that from her father,” said Pine, laughing. “He has the creative genes.” Her husband Greg is also from Chicago, and Pine is very proud of their 12-year-old daughter, Sylvia, who is also a violinist. “My daughter started taking lessons at two. When she was four, she surprised the heck out of me by self-identifying as a composer.” Pine smile and reflected, “So, people think, ‘oh you play the violin, and your daughter plays the violin––she’s going to be some kind of carbon copy.’ Not at all!”  

One person Pine credits for helping her daughter’s musical development is contemporary composer and violinist Jessie Montgomery, who is currently the Mead Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This year, Sylvia is one of six participants selected for Montgomery’s Young Composers Initiative. After workshopping new pieces of chamber music throughout the year with Montgomery, the young artists’ works will be performed by musicians of the Civic Orchestra in Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center on May 31, 2024.

Pine was on the board of Sphinx, the national organization for diversity in the arts, when she met Jessie, who was starting as a young violin performer. Last spring Pine and Montgomery gave the world premiere of Musings for Two Violins, which Montgomery wrote as a commission from MusicNOW, CSO’s contemporary music program.

Jessie Montgomery. Photo by Jiyang Chen.

Pine recalled, “Her first chamber group, which was a string octet, were Sphinx competition winners and Sphinx Symphony members. They used to consult me for repertoire suggestions. This was before everything was online and I was researching by going to libraries. I knew about a number of octets that they didn’t know existed.”  She added, “It’s been wonderful to see her grow over the years, as a performer and arts leader who was on faculty of the Sphinx Performance Academy. She served as concertmaster of the Sphinx Virtuosi for many years.”

Pine is also impressed by composers who are also performers. “Once upon a time, there was no such thing as a composer who wasn’t also a performer, or a performer who didn’t compose at least a little,” Pine averred. “Then, people were designated as composers, where they didn’t really step foot on stage or keep up playing an instrument. That wasn’t necessarily a healthy development,” she said. “The profession wanted to sort people into lanes: Are you a performer? Or are you a composer? … This current generation is now really getting back to the roots of what I would call a healthier musical life of doing both. Jessie’s curated season at MusicNOW highlighted a number of fellow composer/performers. I love that she is showing the next generation that this exists. This is good. This is possible.”

Unlike other composers Pine would talk to when Sylvia was younger, Jessie Montgomery was the one and only composer who had really specific and useful advice. “She said that composing is a very close cousin of improvisation. Of course, improvisation is not something seriously taught with classical music training. More and more teachers are starting to do a little of it, but it’s not yet the norm. Jessie said that Sylvia should be doing a lot of improvisation, and that there’s a particular teacher in New York who came up with an entire method, Alice Kanack. Before the pandemic, Sylvia was taking lessons from a protégé of Kanack. During the pandemic, she connected with Kanack directly over Zoom, a relationship that continues.”

When asked how she keeps the established repertoire fresh and makes it her own, she paused. “In terms of interpreting things, even the pieces that have been recorded numerous times, each of us is an individual, and what we’re striving for is to have more profound, if you will, (laughing) thoughts in your 40s than you did in your 30s, and so on. At some point maybe, your muscles give out, but Milstein was still performing in his 80s. I plan to keep practicing and go on as long as I can. But as you live life and as you study music your understanding becomes ever more complex.”

Expanding her thoughts beyond music, Pine said, “Each of us, as a human, has their own individual personality. I’m gratified that people enjoy me as an artist and want to hear me play. It’s also like continuing the conversation and adding to the dialogue about that piece. It’s not like mine is that last word or anything.”

Rachel Barton Pine. Photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco

When she has nothing to add to a piece, she doesn’t record it. “There are a few works that I have chosen not to record because I don’t feel like have anything different enough to say about it. I still perform them onstage and stand behind my interpretation, but I don’t feel like it adds much to the conversation.”

She noted that she doesn’t always get to choose what she performs. “There are so many things that are systemic and institutional that one individual artist can’t do a lot about. When I go solo and perform ‘my concert,’ I don’t always control the repertoire that is chosen. I’m very happy to play another Tchaikovsky Concerto or another Sibelius Concerto, whatever I’m asked to play. I love those pieces but it’s not like I curated the program.”

Pine observes, “Different orchestras are doing different things. It’s interesting to go around and see some of the initiatives that are in place, whether you’re talking about what the orchestra wears on stage, or whether the audience is allowed to bring drinks into the auditorium.”

When the discussion shifted to heavy metal, Pine fondly recalled, “Santa Claus brought me my first transistor radio when I was 10. It was under the Christmas tree. I just started scrolling up and down the dial. I heard all kinds of rock music and pop music, things I’d never really encountered before. I’d heard maybe a little of it on someone’s car radio, or at the pharmacy or the grocery store, but I’d actually never seriously listened to this stuff. My parents always had WFMT and former Chicago classical station WNIB on in the car and the home. That’s what we listened to.”

Then she discovered WVVX at the end of the dial every night at 10 pm, she recalled, “They were playing much more of the extreme genres of metal, thrash bands like Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, Sepultura, Pantera. This stuff is amazing! I was absolutely drawn to it. At the time, from age 11-17, I was practicing eight hours a day of just my own personal practice, not including rehearsals and lessons and performances.” 

Heavy metal filled another musical role for Pine. “When I was listening to classical music for pleasure, I couldn’t turn off the thinking side of my brain. If it was a work of the repertoire I knew, I would be analyzing the interpretation. If it was a work of classical repertoire I didn’t know, I would be analyzing the construction of the music. I realized that with heavy metal I could turn off my brain.” She paused and reflected, “And it’s not to knock heavy metal, which definitely isn’t brainless music! In fact, I later discovered that the reason I was so drawn to it is because it is actually very close to classical music. There are lots of people out there who listen to classical and metal, and not much else.”

She discovered that many musicians in her favorite bands were influenced by classical music. “When I started meeting a lot of my favorite bands, they would talk about how inspired they were by classical, and not just Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. I was talking to the lead guitarist of Megadeth, Marty Friedman, and he explained how much he loved the Ysaÿe violin sonatas. Alice Cooper’s guitarist Keri Kelli asked if I played any of the pre-Paganini violin virtuosos like Locatelli and Tartini…. I could go on and on about these stories.”

“I never would have realized this about metal except that I started playing it on my violin in my early 20s, which NEVER occurred to me to do before that.” She pointed to playing the national anthem for a 1995 Chicago Bulls playoff game. “That was a life-changing moment. I thought I was doing it for fun; I got great tickets to the game, I got to meet Michael (Jordan) and get his autograph. But millions of people saw it on TV which inspired me to introduce more people to classical.” Lots of people started approaching her on the street to tell her how much they enjoyed hearing the violin.

Pine’s latest release on Cedille Records, Dependent Arising, pairs Earl Maneein’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra of the same name with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in a-minor. In the liner notes, Pine explained that there is no classical composer more beloved of metalheads than Shostakovich. These works were recorded with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, conducted by Tito Muñoz, who commissioned Maneein to compose the concerto for the Phoenix Symphony after hearing the world premiere of the work for solo violin Maneein composed for Pine in 2014.

In the Maneein’s Concerto, Pine wrote, “ elevates the rhythmic patterns and aggression of various heavy music subgenres to an expanded realm of storytelling. Those who know these musical roots will spot them (the world’s first blast beats created on symphonic percussion and timpani!), but those who approach it as any other contemporary classical work will fall in love with its emotional journey.”

Heavy metal gave Pine a release from a very grueling practice regimen. “I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eight hours a day of practice to everyone,” she said. “You must ask, ‘What are your priorities? What is your ability to focus? What does your schedule allow you to squeeze in? It is not necessary to practice that much per day to have a solo career, though it did expedite my studies. I always hesitate to even share that factoid because I don’t want to freak people out. But, in any case, I was a weirdo, and I did practice eight hours a day.” She laughs.

When asked point blank who her favorite composer is, without pause, she said, “my daughter… Everything she writes really sounds like her.” In considering the traditional classical composers, Pine said, “The music of Bach is what I can especially relate to. Even though his Partitas and Sonatas, for example, were not specifically written for a sacred context, there is still something spiritual in every note Bach wrote. I actually recorded my Bach album in my church. You can hear the acoustics that I first heard when playing Bach as a tiny child in the single digits. For me his music is just prayer.”

Pine lives downtown with her husband and daughter. She grew up on the north side, near Western and Irving. Her husband came from the Jackson Park Highlands, south of Hyde Park. “The pastor of his church switched to my church, and Greg’s family came with him,” she explains. Pine met her husband at coffee hour one morning after church in 1995, the same church she first heard the violin played as a three year old. “We don’t talk about the Cubs and Sox,” she laughed. “We live in neutral territory downtown.”

As we wound up our conversation, she spoke ever so fondly of Chicago. “ still so glad that I’m able to live in Chicago. I was lucky that I could stay here when I was a teenager, right when I was starting my career, after I won my competitions, made my first album, and was just starting to hit the road. It was in the days when you used to have to move to New York to pursue this particular path but fax machines literally allowed me to not have to leave Chicago. I could tell my manager, “Fax me!” Then, of course, a couple years later with e-mail and cell phones, everything changed.”

In scanning the classical musical landscape in Chicago, Pine is enthusiastic. “Chicago is blessed. It’s unbelievable. I tour a different city or country every week. Usually, there’s one youth orchestra, and maybe they have a few levels of orchestras, maybe not. We have the Chicago Youth Symphony, the Elgin Youth Symphony, the DuPage Youth Symphony, the West Suburban Youth Symphony, Midwest Young Artists, and many more. Our third level of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras is better than many communities’ first level youth orchestras.”  She also pointed to the numerous community music schools such as MIC, and the thriving contemporary and early music scenes.

“I’m so grateful that I didn’t have to leave Chicago, which I never wanted to leave. It’s friendly and beautiful. It’s also as sophisticated as anywhere. I can’t find that combination anywhere else. All the east coast cities are scrunchy and dirty and stressful. Other big Midwest cites don’t have the history, the lake, the architecture. Chicago is the best, it’s unique. And growing up here, I was able to avail myself of various non-classical music scenes that were big inspirations. I was able to go to industrial music dance concerts and clubs like Medusa’s in the Wax Trax days, go to clubs playing house music, and all of those parties. Of course, I also attended Blues Fest and went to blues bars. Blues was the only other genre that my parents would occasionally play in the house. I’m so lucky that there’s such a musically rich environment here. As an international performer, I certainly can’t participate in local concerts as much as I wish I could anymore. But l love attending as many shows as I can when I’m in town, and supporting the youth orchestras.”

Rachel Barton Pine will be performing this weekend with pianist Inna Faliks at Ravinia in Highland Park, Saturday, November 4, 7:30 pm. For ticket information, click here.

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Louis Harris

A lover of music his whole life, Louis Harris has written extensively from the early days of punk and alternative rock. More recently he has focused on classical music, especially chamber ensembles. He has reviewed concerts, festivals, and recordings and has interviewed composers and performers. He has paid special attention to Chicago’s rich and robust contemporary art music scene. He occasionally writes poetry and has a published novel to his credit, 32 Variations on a Theme by Basil II in the Key of Washington, DC. He now lives on the north side of Chicago, which he considers to be the greatest city in the country, if not the world. Member of the Music Critics Association of North America.