Columbus Indiana Philharmonic

Review: Rachel Barton Pine

Rachel Barton Pine_72by Priscilla Weaver

Courtesy of The Republic

The crowd that gathered at Columbus North High School’s Erne Auditorium on Sept. 13 was in for quite a treat with the Philharmonic’s first concert of the season, featuring internationally-acclaimed violinist Rachel Barton Pine under the direction of Maestro David Bowden.

For Pine, the 7:30 p.m. concert was the culminating event in a busy week of activity in Columbus. Not only did she rehearse with the Philharmonic, but she also generously spent time visiting the hospital, various schools and a retirement center, in addition to giving Columbus residents a taste of her other love — rock music — in a concert at The Commons on Sept. 11.

Pine was featured with the Philharmonic in not one but two concertos: “Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Henri Vieuxtemps’ “Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Minor.”

The evening began with Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Danse Bacchanale,” a raucous piece taken from the final act of his opera “Samson and Delilah.” Every section of the orchestra demonstrated its skill in the cleanly executed performance, though the percussion, led by principal Brian McNulty, deserve an extra round of applause. Bowden kept the dynamics and tempo under control in a piece that can easily become unchecked, and the results were an exciting way to start the concert.

“Danse Bacchanale” was followed by the Mozart concerto, and it quickly became apparent in the first movement that Pine has an impeccable understanding of phrasing, using just the right amount of flexibility to ease in and out of a musical idea. She also proved to be a master of emotions; this was subtly evident in the entire work but most clearly seen in the episodes of the final rondo, where she took listeners on a journey through anguish, happiness and everything in between in a matter of minutes. The cadenzas — Pine’s own — demonstrated her improvisational prowess, a skill that no doubt serves her well both on the classical stage and when playing with her heavy metal band.

The second half of the concert again featured the orchestra in “The Accursed Huntsman” by César Franck. Thanks to Bowden’s verbal introduction, it was easy to follow this piece’s storyline of an arrogant count who decided to ignore the summons of church bells and instead go hunting. Once the huntsman was (presumably) caught by the demons and duly punished, Pine returned to the stage for another concerto. The Vieuxtemps showcased her flawless technical skill. She never sounded mechanical, but seamlessly shifted in and out of fiery, virtuosic passagework.

Both the Philharmonic and Bowden deserve recognition for a successful performance of a very rarely heard and unfamiliar piece. The ensemble was unified and, for the most part, well-balanced with the solo violin.

Pine received a standing ovation and came back for not one but two encores. The first, her own “Introduction, Theme, and Variations on God Defend New Zealand,” exhibited again her virtuosity and creativity. She then returned one last time for a rich rendition of Johannes Brahms’ famous lullaby, first explaining to the audience her instrument’s personal connection to the great composer (he selected it for a friend). The lullaby reminded one of what Pine does best: connecting to and inspiring listeners of all ages and experiences. If this is indicative of the new Philharmonic season, I am on board.

Priscilla Weaver is a doctoral student in organ performance at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and also serves as organist and choir director at First Lutheran Church, Columbus.