Last year the Cedille Record label re-issued a landmark recording done by the American Violinist Rachel Barton Pine called “Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries.” Originally released in 1997, this re-issue marks 25 years since the CD’s initial release. However this latest release expands on the original program by adding Rachel Barton Pine’s performance of Florence Price’s Violin Concerto no 2 that was originally composed in 1952.
The 1997 original release established Barton Pine as a champion and advocate of music by Black composers. In 2018 she released a CD that featured music for solo violin by composers such as Delores White, Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, William Grant Still and others.
The music of Black composers was something that Pine was exposed to early on while growing up and studying in Chicago. “Growing up as a student in Chicago, I was actually exposed to this repertoire earlier in life, then in those days many other people had the opportunity to be. Michael Morgan the late great African-American conductor was assistant conductor at the Chicago Symphony under Georg Solti and then Barenboim, and he was Principal Conductor of the Chicago Symphony’s, training ensemble that I was lucky to be a part of from age eleven to seventeen. You also had the Chicago Sinfonietta with Maestro Paul Freeman, which was founded for the purpose of presenting diverse concerts with a diverse orchestra... You also had the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble which was going in those days, giving chamber music performances. Chicago had a lot going on back then that other cities weren’t as lucky to have,” explains Barton Pine.
Music of Black composers was also something that Barton Pine actively explored and studied when she was in her twenties. She had worked as the Concert Master of the Chicago Civic Orchestra, when Michael Morgan has programmed a concert of all Black composers. On the program was a violin concerto written by the Black French violinist and composer Joseph Bologne the Chavlier de Saint-George. As Barton –Pine explains, “In the late 90’s when I was making my first concerto record, I didn’t quite feel ready to all the Brahms and Beethoven…Bruch and Mendelssohn and all of those ones. So I decided to look for some lesser known repertoire that might not have been previously recorded…so I thought about this French concerto that I had done, and I went over to the Centre for Black Music Research and I found all this other great stuff from the 18th , 19th and 20th centuries!”
Exposure to all of this unjustly unheard music written by Black composers, planted a creative seed in Baron-Pine that has grown into a passion. She actively tries to program music by Black composers on concerts that she performs, and her recordings of this music have garnered praise from listener’s and reviewers alike. The New York Times states, “Compelling scores by four little-known composers who happen to be black… Rachel Barton handles the concertos’ varied demands with unaffected aplomb, performing this music lovingly rather than dutifully.” Gramophone Magazine has described her recordings as “Terrific performances; fine sound. A fascinating issue.”
The work Rachel Barton Pine and others have done has paid off and Barton Pine is hopeful. “I think audiences are realising…instead of being afraid of, ‘well if I don’t already know it then it’s probably lesser stuff...or if I don’t already know it I might not like it...I might not enjoy discovering something new.’ I think audiences are realising…that wait a sec…this is stuff that would have been part of the canon. The reason we are continuing to play this stuff…the reason for embracing it, is because of its quality first and foremost. If the so-called canon was based on quality alone, these works by composers of colour and women composers would have always been in the canon. If we don’t get all the great music we are all missing out! The classical conversation is less rich without everyone’s participation,” states Barton Pine.
It has now been a little more than 25 years since the initial release of “Violin Concertos by Black Composers Through the Centuries,” but it is never too late to discover and explore this amazing music written by unjustly underrepresented composers. The performances on this recording are beautifully played by Barton Pine and successfully make the case that this music should be staples of the regular violin literature.