Rachel Barton Pine

She’s probably my favorite working violinist at the moment, with Mark Wood in a photo finish for second place. She’s very ecumenical in her love of music, and insatiable. She creates herself as an expert in anything that interests her. I don’t think she knows how to be a dilettante. And her interpretations and approaches to music are incredibly alive, blood-filled, and meaty. She tears into music like a cheetah into a Thompson’s gazelle or a highwayman into a barrel of stout. She revels in it. Every piece of music she touches breathes and sweats and lives.

Yeah yeah, train accident. I know. That’s the sort of preposterous event that’s so far beyond the imagination of any sane human being that the only thing that can be done is to stand powerless before it and then attempt to reassemble oneself afterwards, a process that never stops.

It’s her life before that accident that impresses me. We all hear a great deal about so-and-so brilliant prodigy in one thing or another, and somehow it’s never remarked on or even noticed that all of these supposedly brilliant kids just happen to have surgeons and college professors for parents who know exactly what to do with a bright kid, and who just happen to have been best friends with Dorothy Delay. It gets old.

Pine wasn’t one of those. Her family had no connections, no random friendships with the faculty of Juilliard, no “just so happens” coffee brunches with Riccardo Muti. Her family had no connections and less money, with phone and electric service getting cut off constantly, constant moving, and a mother that feared that violin was a rich kid’s hobby. And Pine latched onto the thing and made herself a violinist. She created herself by sheer force of will from the ground up, long before that accident.

Yeah yeah, train accident. Given the force of character and unstoppable nature of the woman, amply demonstrated long before that day, that train was bound to lose that fight. And it did. Nothing stops Pine. As much as her brilliance, her bullheadedness humbles and amazes me.