This week Rachel Barton Pine performed Vivaldi's The Four Seasons with the Wichita Symphony and Maestro Dan Hege (I seem to be playing quite a few violin concertos with Maestro Hege this season).
I have been looking forward to this concert all season. The Four Seasons feel like the classic rock of classical music. They are so famous, so beloved, and so riveting I'm pretty sure they still hold the record as the most recorded piece(s) ever. In preparation for this week, I have been listening to them pretty much non-stop. They are the soundtrack to my driving, research, work in the music library, and social media scrolling. They make me want to rock out and dance around.
This program consisted of all Baroque music. Pretty much all of the super famous stuff that you might hear at a wedding, and play in Suzuki recitals. Handel's Water Music and Bach's Suite No.3 made up the first half of the program.
To put a cherry on top of an already exciting week, we string players were loaned baroque bows for the performance. That doesn't happen very often! True confessions: I've never performed with a Baroque bow. It feels pretty different, and I was not convinced about it until Rachel gave us a demonstration and explained some of the unique sound qualities that our modern bows just don't execute particularly well.
Our concerts featured seasonal photography of Kansas by photographer Larry Schwarm.
This concert was also a quasi-lecture where Rachel would explain some of the effects in each season and perform a few demonstrations before playing the work. It was super cool! I really appreciated hearing her descriptions and then emulating that effect - bird calls, bagpipes, dogs, raindrops, the wind, bugs, storms - you name it! All of those sounds you hear outdoors throughout the year as performed by an orchestra.
Here is the explanation of Le Quattro Stagioni found on britannica.com
The Four Seasons is the best known of Vivaldi's works. Unusually for the time, Vivaldi published the concerti with accompanying poems (possibly written by Vivaldi himself) that elucidated what it was about those seasons that his music was intended to evoke. It provides one of the earliest and most detailed examples of what was later called program music - music with a narrative element.
Vivaldi took great pains to relate his music to the texts of the poems, translating the poetic lines themselves directly into the music on the page.
His arrangement is as follows:
Spring (Concerto No. 1 in E Major)
Spring has arrived with joy
Welcomed by the birds with happy songs,
And the brooks, amidst gentle breezes,
Murmur sweetly as they flow.
The sky is caped in black, and
Thunder and lightning herald a storm
When they fall silent, the birds
Take up again their delightful songs.
Largo e pianissimo sempre
And in the pleasant, blossom-filled meadow,
To the gentle murmur of leaves and plants,
The goatherd sleeps, his faithful dog beside him.
To the merry sounds of a rustic bagpipe,
Nymphs and shepherds dance in their beloved spot
When Spring appears in plendour.
Summer (Concerto No. 2 in G Minor)
Allegro non molto
Under the merciless sun of the season
Languishes man and flock, the pine tree burns.
The cuckoo begins to sing and at once
Join in the turtledove and the goldfinch.
A gentle breeze blows, but Boreas
Is roused to combat suddenly with his neighbour,
And the shepherd weeps because overhead
Hangs the fearsome storm, and his destiny.
His tired limbs are robbed of rest
By his fear of the lightning and the frightful thunder
And by the flies and hornets in furious swarms.
Alas, his fears come true:
There is thunder and lightning in the heavens
And the hail cuts down the tall ears of grain.
Autumn (Concerto No. 3 in F Major)
The peasant celebrates with dancing and singing
The pleasure of the rich harvest,
And full of the liquor of Bacchus
They end their merrymaking with a sleep.
All are made to leave off dancing and singing
By the air which, now mild, gives pleasure
And by the season, which invites many
To find their pleasure in a sweet sleep.
The hunters set out at dawn, off to the hunt,
With horns and guns and dogs they venture out.
The beast flees and they are close on its trail.
Already terrified and wearied by the great noise
Of the guns and dogs, and wounded as well
It tries feebly to escape, but is bested and dies.
Winter (Concerto No. 4 in F Minor)
Allegro non molto
Frozen and shivering in the icy snow,
In the severe blasts of a terrible wind
To run stamping one’s feet each moment,
One’s teeth chattering through the cold.
To spend quiet and happy times by the fire
While outside the rain soaks everyone.
To walk on the ice with tentative steps,
Going carefully for fear of falling.
To go in haste, slide, and fall down to the ground,
To go again on the ice and run,
In case the ice cracks and opens.
To hear leaving their iron-gated house Sirocco,
Boreas, and all the winds in battle—
This is winter, but it brings joy.
I don't know who the dude playing 'Winter' is, but that video is NEXT LEVEL
On a somewhat related note - does everyone remember Vanessa Mae's Album Storm? I was reminiscing about this album and her white electric violin with a violinista colleague - oh the 90s (and techno)! How special!
Rachel Barton Pine
I first came across Rachel Barton Pine when I was a student in Minnesota. At the time, I was playing in a band and feeling a little alone in the "classically trained violinist wanting to pursue more than a traditional music career" category. I was browsing Myspace (I know, right? Who even remembers that) for violinists who play in bands and found Rachel. I was so intrigued....and very confused. She plays metal like classical music and classical music like metal. It is insane!
I bet you didn't think a Guarneri Del Jesu could play metal like that! Pretty crazy right?
Her bio includes pretty much everything. I was going to include an excerpt but it is so long and insane that it would take up too much room. She is the recipient of numerous awards, winner of many competitions, and performs as a soloist and recitalist all over the world, as part of the metal band Earthen Grave, and as part of Trio Settecento.
She records music in a variety of different genres and time periods. If you scroll through Spotify you can find recordings of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas, lesser known repertoire associated with American virtuoso Maude Powell, the Viola D'amore concertos of Vivaldi, violin concertos composed by African-American composers, the sonatas of Handel, etc. Not your typical fare.
Another recording of Rachel's that I love is this one of Deliver My Soul by David Baker. I studied with David Baker at the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop several summers ago and learned so much! He is the original jazz cellist, and long time faculty member at Indiana University. Sadly, Baker passed away last year. Not many people seem to know this work, but I think it is fantastic and I hope it makes its way onto more recital programs in the future.
I really love Rachel's investment in the obscure and lesser known. I admire a famous virtuoso who has the interest, diligence, and enthusiasm for the less-than-pop classical music. When she speaks about performing Baroque music, and using a Baroque bow it is with experience and full understanding. She is academic but not stale. It is exciting AND informed. It is so refreshing!
Back to that Viola D'Amore reference I threw in there....
Rachel performed her encore on a Viola D'Amore and at rehearsal she invited us to come and try it. It was AWESOME! I want one now! (also, fangirl moment - she was so approachable and nice, it was really cool).
So after all that, yeah - this concert put a skip in my step. I am going to buy the Urtext of the Bach solo sonatas and partitas, I'm now eyeing a Baroque bow online, and want to play in a band again...any takers?
When I grow up I want to be Rachel Barton Pine. Did I mention she's also a redhead? (It must be a sign!)
I hope you enjoyed this post! Leave your comments below.