Lis­ten Up James M. Keller on the trav­el­ing woes of vi­o­lin­ist Rachel Bar­ton Pine


The Al­bu­querque-based New Mex­ico Phil­har­monic is now ap­proach­ing the end of its fifth sea­son, hav­ing risen from the ashes of the New Mex­ico Sym­phony shortly af­ter that pre­de­ces­sor went bank­rupt in April 2011. Al­though the ros­ter of mu­si­cians largely car­ried over from the old orches­tra, the Phil­har­monic is ob­vi­ously op­er­at­ing un­der strict fi­nan­cial con­straints. They can’t be blamed for want­ing to be­gin their con­cert on April 30 at Pope­joy Hall (on the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico cam­pus) with a fundrais­ing video, but tech­ni­cal glitches kept send­ing the thing awry, and then the chair­man of the board made a speech, and then they gave a plaque to the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, and so on. As a re­sult, a con­cert sched­uled for 6 p.m. didn’t get un­der­way un­til 6:24 p.m., and I doubt that any­body viewed the or­ga­ni­za­tion as more pro­fes­sional for it.

Guest con­duc­tor Fawzi Haimor, who re­cently com­pleted a stint as res­i­dent con­duc­tor at the Pitts­burgh Sym­phony, proved a lithe and lis­some pres­ence on the podium. He opened the con­cert with a spir­ited read­ing of Brahms’ Aca­demic Fes­ti­val Over­ture. One wished he had not given quite so free a rein to the per­cus­sion, an in­stru­men­tal fam­ily Brahms al­ways viewed with sus­pi­cion; here, they swamped the rest of the en­sem­ble to­ward the work’s end. In any case, the au­di­to­rium didn’t show off the orches­tra to ad­van­tage, lend­ing a harsh sheen over­all and par­tic­u­lar shrill­ness to the trum­pets. Saint-Saëns’ Sym­phony No. 3, the Or­gan Sym­phony, ben­e­fited from markedly finer in­ter­pre­ta­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. The first half of the open­ing move­ment snow­balled in sweep and mo­men­tum, of­ten pul­sat­ing with emo­tion. In that move­ment’s sec­ond sec­tion, which rather re­sem­bles an ex­tended tenor aria from a French lyric opera, Saint-Saëns had the bril­liant idea to have the vi­o­lins, vi­o­las, and cel­los sing out the tune in uni­son against the gen­tle mur­mur­ing of the or­gan. The string play­ers rose to the oc­ca­sion, achiev­ing im­pres­sive warmth of sound. The or­gan was an elec­tronic in­stru­ment that filled the bill per­fectly well in that slow sec­tion but lacked the rich­ness, vol­ume, or at­tack to truly suc­ceed at its fa­mous C-ma­jor solo chord in the mid­dle of the sec­ond move­ment, which in this in­car­na­tion can not have lifted any lis­ten­ers off their seats. There was noth­ing to be done about it; an orches­tra can’t just wave a magic wand and make a mag­nif­i­cent pipe or­gan ap­pear. What could have been im­proved, though, is what fol­lowed im­me­di­ately, the sparkling ob­bli­gato of arpeg­giated chords played by pi­ano four-hands as the strings an­nounce the sus­tained notes of the cho­rale theme of the fi­nal sec­tion. The pi­ano just didn’t cut through the strings, and thus was sac­ri­ficed one of the most mag­i­cal mo­ments of 19th- cen­tury or­ches­tra­tion. But on the whole, this was a wor­thy in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a score that is both de­mand­ing and re­ward­ing.

In between t he t wo sym­phonic works came Beethoven’s Vi­o­lin Con­certo with soloist Rachel Bar­ton Pine. She of­fered an ad­mirable per­for­mance — pure, pre­cise, and ro­bust in tone, se­cure in tech­ni­cal de­tails. It was also a read­ing with a dis­tinc­tive point of view, which Pine made clear at her en­trance: the in­di­vid­ual notes of an as­cend­ing dom­i­nant-seventh chord, each tone at­tacked via the same note an oc­tave be­low, writ­ten as a grace note. Usu­ally these grace notes are played quite short, serv­ing prin­ci­pally to in­ten­sify the at­tack. Pine, how­ever, made more of those lowe­roc­tave tones, draw­ing them out just enough to give them promi­nence as part of the melody. It lent this en­trance an un­hur­ried char­ac­ter, and that turned out to be a key to her clearly plot­ted in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Her tem­pos were not unusu­ally slow, but her ap­proach to ar­tic­u­la­tion and phras­ing made the f low of the piece seem re­laxed, never seek­ing out vis­ceral punch. On the whole, her con­cep­tion served the piece well, pre­sent­ing it as an Apol­lo­nian mon­u­ment, a piece al­lied with the Triple Con­certo, its im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor in Beethoven’s con­certo lineup.

An­other as­pect that lent ex­cep­tional in­ter­est was her choice of ca­den­zas. Beethoven did not write ca­den­zas for this piece, leav­ing them to be ex­tem­po­rized by the soloist, which was com­mon prac­tice at that time. He did write ca­den­zas when he trans­lated this work into a pi­ano con­certo, and some­times vi­o­lin­ists adapt those pi­ano ca­den­zas for their in­stru­ment (in­clud­ing in­put from the tim­pani, which Beethoven oddly in­cluded in the pi­ano set­ting). But more of­ten, they play the ca­den­zas writ­ten by vi­o­lin­ist Fritz Kreisler, which were pub­lished in 1928. Now and again, a soloist tries out com­pet­ing ver­sions, of which more than 50 have been pub­lished through the years, mostly by mas­ter vi­o­lin­ists. In fact, Saint- Saëns com­posed a set of ca­den­zas for this con­certo, which he pub­lished in 1898, 12 years af­ter he wrote the Or­gan Sym­phony. It would have been fun to use those in this con­text, but Pine did not dis­ap­point by play­ing orig­i­nal ca­den­zas she her­self had writ­ten, highly vir­tu­osic so­lu­tions that were vast, beau­ti­ful, and played with na­tive au­thor­ity. To con­sole mem­bers of the au­di­ence who might have been dis­ap­pointed by not hear­ing the Kreisler ca­den­zas, she of­fered as an encore a scin­til­lat­ing per­for­mance of Kreisler’s Recita­tivo and Scherzo-Caprice for un­ac­com­pa­nied vi­o­lin, a de­light­ful, f leet-footed piece that Kreisler ded­i­cated to an­other leg­endary vi­o­lin­ist, Eugène Ysaÿe, who was one of his mu­si­cal idols.

There was a back story to this con­cert. Two days ear­lier, her pub­lic- re­la­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive sent out word that “in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed vi­o­lin­ist Rachel Bar­ton Pine was de­nied board­ing her April 27 Amer­i­can Air­lines evening flight #3542 be­cause she

was car­ry­ing on the ‘ex-Bazz­ini ex-Sol­dat’ 1742 Joseph Guarneri ‘del Gesu’ vi­o­lin, on life­time loan to her from an anony­mous pa­tron. The plane was to take her from her home­town Chicago O’Hare In­ter­na­tional Air­port to Al­bu­querque, NM for her en­gage­ment this week­end with the New Mex­ico Phil­har­monic.”

The ac­count con­tin­ued: “Pine was the first pas­sen­ger down the jet bridge. How­ever, the cap­tain (who would not give his name to Pine) re­fused to al­low her to board the plane with the vi­o­lin case be­cause ‘ its di­men­sions were not cor­rect for a carry-on.’ Pine flies over 100,000 miles a year with Amer­i­can Air­lines and has f lown the same plane con­fig­u­ra­tion on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, plac­ing the vi­o­lin case in the over­head com­part­ment. Pine shared with the cap­tain the Amer­i­can Air­lines pol­icy stated on their web­site: ‘ You can travel with small mu­si­cal in­stru­ments as your carry-on item on a first come, first serve ba­sis as long as it: Fits in the over­head bin; or Fits un­der the seat in front of you.’ Ac­cord­ing to Pine, the cap­tain replied, ‘It is not go­ing on be­cause I say so.’ ”

Why, one won­dered, was she trav­el­ing so early to this en­gage­ment? “She was f ly­ing the evening of the 27th to at­tend events the next day with stu­dents in the New Mex­ico Phil­har­monic’s Young Mu­si­cian Ini­tia­tive pro­gram as part of her com­mu­nity out­reach sched­ule. Ac­cord­ing to Pine, agents at the Amer­i­can Air­lines ticket counter were very apolo­getic about the crew’s be­hav­ior and worked closely with Pine to lo­cate and re­book her on a f light op­tion that would get her to Al­bu­querque in time to honor her com­mit­ment to the young mu­si­cians. Rather than a di­rect f light ar­riv­ing at 10:30 p.m. that evening, Pine took a 5 a.m. f light with a con­nec­tion through Phoenix the next day.”

I’m im­pressed. By Pine, that is.

It has be­come a de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar story, this business of mu­si­cians be­ing for­bid­den to take their in­stru­ments on air­planes or meet­ing with calamity when they do. In 2013, Wu Man, the world’s fore­most player of the pipa (a Chi­nese lute), was un­able to fit her in­stru­ment in the over­head com­part­ment for a f light on US Airways (which was merg­ing about then with Amer­i­can Air­lines), so a f light at­ten­dant took the in­stru­ment and dropped it — ac­ci­den­tally, one imag­ines, but the neck snapped off, ren­der­ing the $50,000 pipa worth­less. In 2014, Ni­cholas Kendall and Zachary De Pue, mem­bers of the en­sem­ble Time for Three, which per­formed in Santa Fe a sea­son ago, were de­nied en­try to their f light on US Airways be­cause they re­fused to stow their fine fid­dles in the bag­gage hold — in­stru­ments that should have been al­lowed in the cabin ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s pol­icy; they struck back with a protest video that went vi­ral. Cel­lists have larger in­stru­ments, of course, and many of them sim­ply buy an ex­tra seat for the cello. One who doesn’t — or at least didn’t — was the German vir­tu­oso Al­ban Ger­hardt, who toured with his cello in an ex­tra-strong case he felt com­fort­able check­ing. In 2013, he trav­eled from Ber­lin to Washington’s Dulles Air­port, re­trieved the case to take through U.S. Cus­toms in­spec­tion, and rechecked it for a con­tin­u­ing f light to Chicago. When he ar­rived at O’Hare, he dis­cov­ered that the case had been gone through by TSA of­fi­cials who had not re­placed his 19th-cen­tury bow prop­erly and man­aged to snap it in half when they closed the case. Value of bow: $20,000.

Pine her­self has been sim­i­larly in­con­ve­nienced be­fore. This past Septem­ber, she and her fam­ily slept overnight on the f loor at Phoenix Sky Har­bor In­ter­na­tional Air­port be­cause she was un­will­ing to gate-check her Guarneri into the lug­gage hold af­ter US Airways in­formed her they could not ac­com­mo­date it in an over­head bin. I can’t say I blame her. This par­tic­u­lar vi­o­lin once belonged to the 19th-cen­tury Aus­trian vi­o­lin­ist Marie Sol­dat, who was a cham­pion of Jo­hannes Brahms’ Vi­o­lin Con­certo. Pine is fond of re­count­ing that when it came time for Sol­dat to grad­u­ate to a top-level vi­o­lin, Brahms him­self hooked her up with a wealthy mu­sic lover who would foot the bill, and he per­son­ally se­lected this vi­o­lin for the pa­tron to buy for her use. To­day there ex­ist only about 135 vi­o­lins built by Guarneri del Gesù, whose in­stru­ments have been the fa­vorites of such vi­o­lin­ists as Pa­ganini, Kreisler, and Heifetz. They don’t come cheap; in 2012, a record was set when a Guarneri del Gesù from 1741 (the “ex-Vieux­temps”) sold for about $16 mil­lion.

In Pine’s case, the April 27 in­ci­dent was merely a mat­ter of in­con­ve­nience rather than of de­struc­tion. It is pos­si­ble that the Amer­i­can Air­lines cap­tain had a good rea­son to deny en­try to her vi­o­lin and its case, but it is also pos­si­ble that he didn’t. Ei­ther way, he might have shown more con­sid­er­a­tion. Space must have been avail­able, since Pine was the first pas­sen­ger down the ramp. She projects a sweet per­son­al­ity, and it would be hard to imag­ine that she could have seemed threat­en­ing to the cap­tain. It wouldn’t ap­pear to have been a ter­ror­ism is­sue, since she ob­vi­ously had cleared the TSA in­spec­tion point. Al­though Pine prefers not to speak about it, I want to add that do­ing what she does is a pri­ori more dif­fi­cult for her than it would be for most of us, since in 1995 a hor­rific ac­ci­dent on a Chicago com­muter train man­gled one of her legs badly and caused her to trade in the other one for a pros­the­sis. I men­tion it be­cause, al­though the cap­tain could not have known that his pas­sen­ger was a fa­mous con­cert vi­o­lin­ist who was giv­ing up her time in or­der to en­cour­age school­child­ren in a state where ed­u­ca­tional re­sources are slen­der, he could not have over­looked that this par­tic­u­lar cus­tomer was a mid­dle-aged woman who was walking not quite as steadily as most peo­ple and he might have gone an ex­tra inch to as­sist her.

That Pine caught a f light at five in the morn­ing rather than dis­ap­point the school­child­ren in Al­bu­querque seems char­ac­ter­is­tic. She takes her phi­lan­thropy se­ri­ously. In 2001, she founded the non­profit Rachel Bar­ton Pine Foun­da­tion to do a va­ri­ety of good works. It is as­sem­bling and mak­ing avail­able The String Stu­dent’s Li­brary of Mu­sic by Black Com­posers, which aims to “be es­pe­cially valu­able in mo­ti­vat­ing mi­nor­ity young­sters to be­gin their mu­si­cal ed­u­ca­tion or to progress” — to quote the foun­da­tion’s web­site. It es­tab­lished an In­stru­ment Loan Pro­gram that “al­lows young artists to ben­e­fit from the use of high- qual­ity in­stru­ments that oth­er­wise would not be avail­able to them.” It of­fers Grants for Ed­u­ca­tion and Ca­reer, which help young artists with unglam­orous but nec­es­sary ex­penses like ac­com­pa­nists’ fees, travel costs to com­pe­ti­tions, and au­di­tion record­ing ses­sions. It has de­vel­oped a Global Heart­Strings pro­gram to pro­vide ba­sic mu­si­cal sup­plies — strings, rosin, reeds, and sim­i­lar things that make in­stru­ments us­able — for aspir­ing clas­si­cal mu­si­cians in places where such ma­te­ri­als are hard to ob­tain, such as Haiti, Kenya, Ghana, and Nige­ria.

Not­with­stand­ing the tem­po­rary fric­tion in their re­la­tion­ship, it seems that Amer­i­can Air­lines has a lot in com­mon with Rachel Bar­ton Pine. The com­pany’s web­site in­cludes a page ti­tled “Amer­ica’s Global Giv­ing strat­egy” which states: “At Amer­i­can, we use our scale and con­nect­ed­ness to in­flu­ence wide­spread char­i­ta­ble ac­tion through di­rect phil­an­thropic con­tri­bu­tions. … We re­fer to our char­i­ta­ble ef­forts, col­lec­tively, as Global Giv­ing.” Then they spell out five ar­eas in which their phil­an­thropic ac­tiv­i­ties fall, of which the very first is: “Amer­i­can Air­lines Kids in NeedSM — Sup­port­ing chil­dren, their fam­i­lies and or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to im­prov­ing their qual­ity of life.” It con­tin­ues: “To achieve the most pow­er­ful im­pacts in each of our key giv­ing ar­eas, we in­te­grate our cor­po­rate char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tives with the ef­forts of our em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers.”

The in­ter­na­tional press has been giv­ing Amer­i­can Air­lines a good deal of pub­lic­ity about what hap­pened on April 27. Al­though it has been said that there’s no such thing as bad pub­lic­ity, I would wa­ger that Wil­liam Douglas Parker, the chair­man and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Amer­i­can Air­lines Group Inc. (the world’s largest air­line), might like to turn things around. Such a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity this would be for Amer­i­can Air­lines to make a gen­er­ous mone­tary con­tri­bu­tion to the Rachel Bar­ton Pine Foun­da­tion, which is car­ry­ing out ex­actly the kind of kid-friendly work the com­pany seeks to sup­port glob­ally, not to men­tion that it would be an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of in­te­grat­ing its char­i­ta­ble ini­tia­tives with those of its cus­tomers. In a per­fect world, Mr. Parker might ar­range for Amer­i­can Air­lines’ check to be handed to Ms. Pine by the Amer­i­can Air­lines cap­tain who so for­tu­itously brought these two char­i­ta­ble en­ter­prises to­gether in the first place. I would ask Mr. Parker to let us know just as soon as plans fall into place, be­cause we at The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can are very ea­ger to let our read­ers know about the happy end­ing of a story that be­gan so shame­fully.

It has be­come a de­press­ingly fa­mil­iar story, this business of mu­si­cians be­ing for­bid­den to take their in­stru­ments on air­planes or meet­ing with calamity when they do.

Global Heart­Strings

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