Rachel Barton Pine shares violin talents with Lawrence

Lawrence is fortunate enough to host high-profile performers who want to play for university students and Appleton townspeople. On Saturday, Feb. 6 in the Lawrence Memorial Chapel, Rachel Barton Pine gave a two-hour violin recital featuring several challenging and beautiful masterpieces.

Pine is an accomplished soloist from Chicago who has performed all over the world. She spends most of her time traveling around the United States; in the next few months, she will hold concerts in Oregon, California, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland, Illinois and New Mexico.

Pine played Saturday’s concert for a crowded hall. Tickets were sold at reasonable prices so as not to discourage people of all sorts from coming to hear the music. Many of the students in attendance were dressed in formal wear, prepared to attend the President’s Ball, which took place later that night.

The sounds of violin and piano projected strongly to the back seats of the chapel. Each of Pine’s four main musical selections offered a change in character that demonstrated her wide range of expression as a player. Passive and active listeners all found something to admire, whether it was her technique, her stage presence or her bright purple dress.

The first piece was Mozart’s “Violin Sonata in B-flat major, K. 454.” In each of its three movements, Pine emphasized the contrasting emotions and found each elegantly-shaped phrase. Beginning with this sonata was a good way to set the tone of the concert without giving away the extremes of virtuosity found in the later works.

In addition to her skills as an instrumentalist, Pine is known for her charm and her ability to connect with audiences. Before each piece, she lowered her violin and gave a few interesting background facts to help people appreciate the music. She made the briefings accessible for newcomers to classical music as well as interesting for trained musicians.

During the performance, Pine stood next to her thoughtful accompanist, Matthew Hagle. Hagle was the backbone of every piece, supporting Pine as needed and entering the spotlight himself when the music called for it. Unfortunately, he received no individual recognition, but he stood to smile and bow with Pine after each piece concluded.

The other pieces she played continued the theme of alternating emotional content. Pine froze the audience in place with Prokofiev’s “Sonata in F minor, Op. 80.” The composer himself described one of the passages as “winds blowing through a graveyard.” He wanted listeners to be transported to places of torment and despair.

Next, she played Brahms’ “Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 100,” a warm piece that showcases the violin’s strength in playing romantic music. Finally, Ravel’’s flavorful “Tzigane,” which requires the utmost technical ability, brought the concert to its conclusion.

While professional violinists can pull large sounds out of most instruments, Pine’s instrument is special. Her violin was made in 1742 by Joseph Guarnerius del Gesu. As she explained from the stage, Brahms himself hand-selected this instrument for one of his performer friends, Marie Soldat-Roeger.

While the pieces formed a cohesive concert program, they were actually selected based on other criteria. Associate Professor of Music Samantha George worked with Pine to select pieces that are currently being studied by violin students in her studio. The morning of the concert, Pine hosted a master class, and offered insight and advice for students.

After a short encore piece, Brahms’ famous “Lullaby” and multiple standing ovations, Pine exited the stage, leaving people to discuss their favorite aspects of the memorable performance.