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Symphony guest violinist also a heavy metal fiddler

Courtesy photo
Rachel Barton Pine will perform Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto in the West Virginia Symphony’s season opener, “Rejoicing in a Kaleidoscope of Sound,” on Friday and Saturday at the Clay Center.

The line dividing classical music and heavy metal music isn’t all that thick — at least, it doesn’t seem so for world-renowned violinist Rachel Barton Pine.

“So many of the serious heavy metal genres were influenced by classical music. A lot of the [heavy metal] guitarists studied or practiced classical pieces,” said Pine, who helps the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra open its new season at the Clay Center this weekend.

That’s not just something the 39-year-old Chicago native has heard, but something she’s seen. For years, Pine played an electric six-string fiddle in the group Earthen Doom.

It was a side project, but as part-time jobs go, she thought it was a good one. Earthen Doom opened for Megadeth, Mayhem and Black Label Society, among others.

“I had the great honor of meeting some of my favorite bands,” she said.

And she was surprised by how many of them were not just classical music fans, but classical music fanatics.

Pine said, “Hanging out with Dan Lombardo, the drummer for Slayer, he showed me his iPod and it’s filled with Rachmaninoff, Berlioz and Liszt.”

Many metal musicians are just fans of good music. If it’s good, it hardly matters whether a piece was written in a drawing room in 17th century Italy or in garage in 20th century New Jersey.

“Classical concerts are so much more nuanced,” she said. “You don’t want to miss a single detail of the performance. The audience is so quiet, you can hear a pin drop — and that’s how it should be.”

“But at a rock concert, when you’re plugged in and playing loud, you know exactly to what degree the crowd is with you. If they’re into it, they’re going to be loud. They’re going to bang their heads, maybe throw the [metal] horns and move closer to the stage.”

Pine has seen all of that and said the experiences in metal have taught her how to be a better communicator with all the music she performs, including classical, which is what she’ll be playing this weekend.

“I’ll be playing the greatest violin concerto written by an American, the concerto by Samuel Barber,” she said. “The first two movements are really gorgeous and lyrical.

“They definitely have that American flavor of the wide-open spaces. The last movement is a wild, virtuoso whirlwind.”

Other works in the symphony’s program, called “Rejoicing in a Kaleidoscope of Sound,” are Strauss’ “Don Juan” and Ravel’s “Mother Goose Suite” and “Daphnis et Chloe, Suite 2.”

Pine will also be teaching a masterclass on violin to young musicians.

“That’s always a pleasure to pass along some of my knowledge to the next generation,” she said.

There won’t be much metal in what she does, however. Earthen Grave won’t be joining her on this trip. The band isn’t really performing together anymore.

“Our drummer moved,” she said. “We could have replaced our drummer, but one of our guitarists is about to move. If we replaced him, it would be a different band.”

Pine said they might get together for the occasional reunion down the road, and that would be great. But it's probably over. 

“We certainly had a good run,” she said.

Reach Bill Lynch

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