Pine, Rachel Barton

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Rachel Barton Pine


Regarded as one of the top young classical violinists of her generation, Rachel Barton Pine has been a strong advocate for breaking down the barriers the separate the classical and popular musical worlds. She has appeared with heavy metal musicians and recorded adaptations of their music, and is always ready to demonstrate her craft on rock radio stations and for audiences of young people. Her classical recordings have likewise been marked by an innovative spirit. Pine has faced severe obstacles at many points in her career, the worst of which was a devastating injury she suffered in a train accident in 1995. Each time, she has bounced back stronger than before.

The obstacle course began with a childhood of poverty on Chicago's north side, where Pine was born Rachel Barton on October 21, 1974. One of three sisters, she was a child prodigy who started playing the violin at age three after she saw older girls in long dresses playing the instrument at her church and asked her mother if she could try it too. Soon she was puttting the name "Rachel Barton, Violinist" on her school assignments. Four years later she was began her performing career with the Chicago String Ensemble. At ten, she appeared as a soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the following year she joined the violin section of the Chicago Civic Orchestra.

Things weren't stable at home, however. Pine's salesman father drifted from job to job, and by the time she was 14, Pine had become her family's main wage earner. She played weddings, orchestra gigs, and any other paying engagements she could find, while continuing her education at home. "I put on a lot of makeup and pretended I was older than I was," she told the Associated Press. "I was responsible for the mortgage, the utilities, the groceries, and there was so much pressure growing up like that." What kept Pine on track were violin lessons with Almita and Roland Vamos, a pair of sympathetic teachers at the Music Center of the North Shore (now the Music Institute of Chicago). "Mr. and Mrs. Vamos always emphasized the human element," she recalled in a Chicago Sun-Times interview. "The Vamoses would always say, 'You're never going to be a great musician by just standing in your room all day practicing. You have to go out, spend time with your friends, date boys.'"

Pine's studies paid off on the tough performance competition circuit, largely centered in Europe, where many young classical musicians begin their careers. She won top prizes at competitions in Budapest, Genoa, Brussels, Vienna, and Montreal, and in 1992, when she was 17, she became the youngest performer ever and the first from the United States, to win the J.S. Bach International Competition in Leipzig, Germany. With the release of her debut album, Homage to Pablo de Sarasate, in 1994, Pine seemed on the way to a stellar career. At the Music Center of the North Shore she had 24 students of her own.

On January 16, 1995, Pine was disembarking from a commuter train run by the Chicago-area Metra agency on her way to teach classes at the school. The doors closed on the strap of her 378-year-old Amati violin case, and Pine was dragged more than 300 feet as the train started. Terrified passengers finally succeeded in alerting the engineer, but her left leg was severed above the knee, and she lost part of her right foot. Pine sued Metra for nearly $30 million, and after an expensive trial and several years of litigation the agency conceded defeat. Pine made large charitable donations from the proceeds of the lawsuit.

The accident could easily have finished Pine's career, but she fought back. Six months later she came on stage in a wheelchair to perform with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, at the city's Grant Park band shell. Four years later, when the Metra trial was over, she was still using a wheelchair at times, but after some 25 surgeries she learned to walk unaided. She performed her arrangement of the U.S. national anthem at a Chicago Bulls professional basketball game, receiving a kiss from Bulls' superstar Michael Jordan for her efforts. "I thought, this is what I became a violinist for," Pine told the Christchurch, New Zealand, Press. She became known for her ability to charm interviewers with her down-to-earth manner. The Metra trial was front-page news in Chicago, but Pine told the Chicago Sun-Times, "I'm very hopeful that this will fade, and I'll be back on the arts page where I belong."

One of the people who sent Pine a card when she was in the hospital was rock guitarist Slash, formerly of the group Guns 'n' Roses. Pine had been a fan of rock, especially in its heavy metal variety, since she was 12, and one new direction that her revived career took was an unusual effort to build bridges between classical and rock audiences. "Classical is more sophisticated," she told the Rocky Mountain News, comparing the rock and classical music she enjoyed. "But there is serious technique in heavy metal, and that degree of spontaneity they have is something that classical musicians should always strive for."

Pine opened for Slash at the House of Blues club, and later regaled school audiences with her stories of spending time with rock musicians backstage. In 1997 she released an album, Storming the Citadel, which featured her arrangements of "Stairway to Heaven" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit," among other rock pieces. Her interests also extended to country music and its violin component; she taught yearly at the Nashville, Tennessee, summer music camp of fiddler Mark O'Connor, and performed music in which he had incorporated country and folk fiddling in a classical context.

Even within the strictly classical sphere, Pine was an adventurer. The train accident knocked her off the path to engagements with the world's top orchestras, but instead she sought out unusual music that other performers had overlooked. In 1997 she recorded an album of violin concertos by black composers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and she followed that up with Instrument of the Devil, a disc exploring several centuries' worth of music in which the violin carried demonic overtones. In 2002 she recorded God Defend New Zealand, a set of variations on New Zealand's national anthem, and in 2003 she paired Johannes Brahms's well-known violin concerto with a much-less-often heard concerto by violinist Joseph Joachim, better known for performing Brahms's music than for composing his own.

For the Record . . .

Born Rachel Barton on October 21, 1974, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Terry Allen Barton (a salesman) and Amy Barton (a social worker); married Greg Pine, June 5, 2004. Education: Attended Music Institute of the North Shore (now Chicago Institute of Music), Wilmette, IL.

Appeared with Chicago Symphony Orchestra at age ten; made recording debut with Homage to Pablo de Sarasate, 1994; released Stringendo: Storming the Citadel, album of arrangements of heavy metal music, 1997; released Instrument of the Devil, 1998; toured widely; released Solo Baroque, 2004.

Awards: First prize winner, J.S. Bach International Competition, Leipzig, Germany (youngest and only American winner ever); winner of numerous other violin competitions; Chicago Music Awards, Classical Entertainer of the Year, 2003 and 2004.

Addresses: Record company—Cedille Records, 5255N. Lakewood Ave., Chicago, IL 60646. Website— Rachel Barton Pine Official Website:

Pine may well have gained more recognition than she would have, had her career followed a more usual course. "Anything that happens as you go through life—negative or positive, the death of a loved one, your relationships—molds you as a person," Pine told the Sun-Times. "And who you are as a person is what you bring to your music. In a broad sense, everything in my life goes into my music. Everything." She has made appearances all over the world, and the Sun-Times noted, "It's safe to say her career is booming." She married Greg Pine in June of 2004, and continued to pursue new challenges that year, including a foray into the difficult Baroque-era violin repertory on the albumSolo Baroque. An album of Scottish-influenced works was her next project, and Pine applied to such works as Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy the insights she had gained from another corner of the violin universe—Celtic fiddle music.

Selected discography

Homage to Pablo de Sarasate, Dorian, 1994.

Liszt: Works for Violin and Piano, Dorian, 1997.

Handel: Sonatas for Violin and Continuo, Cedille, 1997.

Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19thCenturies, Cedille, 1997.

Stringendo: Storming the Citadel, 1997.

Instrument of the Devil, Cedille, 1998.

Double Play, Cedille, 1999.

God Defend New Zealand, 2002.

Brahms & Joachim Violin Concertos, Cedille, 2003.

Solo Baroque, Cedille, 2004.



Albuquerque Journal, August 29, 2004, p. F1.

American Record Guide, September-October 1997, p. 141; January-February 1998, p. 126; March-April 1998, p. 260; January-February 1999, p. 230; November-December 2004, p. 182.

Associated Press, September 28, 2004, BC cycle.

Chicago Sun-Times, March 7, 1999, p. 10; September 16, 2001, p. 57; March 5, 2002, p. 54; December 10, 2003, p.4.

Evening Post (Wellington, New Zealand), July 6, 2000, p. 20.

People, July 24, 1995, p. 44.

Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), June 21, 2000, p. 35.

Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), June 4, 2003, p. D11.

Sensible Sound, June 1999, p. 109.


"Fifth Division: September 14, 2001, No. 1-99-2285, Rachel Barton, Plaintiff-Appellee v. Chicago and North Western Transportation Company," FindLaw for Legal Professionals, (November 5, 2004).

"Rachel Barton Pine, violinist," Cedille Records, (November 4, 2004).

"Rachel's Story," Rachel Barton Official Website, (November 4, 2004).

—James M. Manheim