Fiddling With Genres

Rachel Barton Pine channels the complexities of thrash metal when playing classical music

She’s a fan of Metallica, performs in a thrash/metal doom band called Earthen Grave, and yet, her first calling is as a classical violinist. Rachel Barton Pine is a woman who makes it her business to build bridges between genres, between generations and cultures—and so it’s fitting, she says, that she’s coming to Vegas.

“Every once in a while I’ll get someone who asks me, ‘Have you ever played Vegas?’ which is not really the city that comes to mind when you think of classical music,” says Pine, 37. “But now I’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, as a matter of fact, I have.’” She’ll be playing her 269-year-old violin with the Las Vegas Philharmonic on Nov. 19, making it her goal to “reach that person in the last row” with a musical passion inspired by her rock-star heroes: Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer, while playing the classical works of Aaron Copland, Alexander Glazunov and Robert Schumann.

She was 5 when she knew that she was destined to be a violinist. She’d seen women in her church playing the violin and instantly fell in love with the instrument. She spent her entire childhood being classically trained and debuted with the Chicago Symphony at age 10. When she hit her teen years, Pine would come home from eight hours of violin practice and rock out to metal on her radio.

“I thought I enjoyed heavy metal because it was so different from classical—it was a relief—and I didn’t have to analyze it and think about how it was put together architecturally,” she says. “But what I came to discover was that speed metal and thrash metal are quite sophisticated in the harmonies and melodies, and are heavily influenced by classical.”

Exploring this kind of musical cross-pollination became a major element in her career. While she’s played classical music halls all over the world, she’s also played bars and festivals, jumping in on folk and fiddle, metal and rock. She makes it a point to visit high schools where she conducts workshops for aspiring musicians—she’s scheduled to conduct a master class for violin at Clark High School on Nov. 17.

“I teach them how to listen to music, I ask them what they think or feel when they listen to me play,” she says. “I tell them how classical has been an influence for many rock stars.”

It works the other way around, too. “When I’m onstage [at a classical concert], I try to do what my favorite rock stars do. They give 110 percent. They reach that person in the last row. They have this kind of energy onstage that’s just a blast,” the genre-bender says.

“In classical, you are very worried about the precision that is demanded, it’s like a figure-skater nailing jumps—you need technical virtuosity. But I think you have to be musically alive, too, and it’s hard to get past being completely accurate. So I try to leave the practicing backstage, and do my [music] with 200-percent intensity.”