Wherever she goes, violinist Rachel Barton Pine tries to turn people into classical music lovers.
This weekend, the Chicago native might turn some classical musical fans into heavy metal fans.
As part of her performance today with the McHenry County Youth Orchestra at the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake, she’ll premiere her arrangement of “Master of Puppets” by Metallica.
She’s never before performed the piece with a full orchestra.
And it’s safe to say performing heavy metal is likely a first for members of the orchestra, many of whom grew up as fans of the 35-year-old Pine.
Playing the violin since age 3, Pine made her professional debut at the age of 7 with the Chicago String Ensemble.
She now performs with orchestras throughout the world.
She’s become an ambassador for classical music, performing heavy metal works by Metallica, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin on rock radio stations in an attempt to reach new audiences.
“It’s not your sort of dumb rock ’n’ roll,” she said of the Metallica piece. “It really does lend itself to being interpreted by an orchestra.”
To prepare for the performance, Pine came a week earlier than expected to meet and rehearse with the orchestra.
She offered some time for a question-and-answer session with the roughly 100 students as well as a master’s class Saturday for several of the members.
She said she tries to bring as much of an educational experience to her performances as she can.
“It’s not just about me being here to play a concert,” she said.
Among those taking part in the master’s class, Kyle Norell of Cary first saw Pine in concert when he was 3 years old.
Now 17, he and the rest of his fellow orchestra members were awe-struck to simply be in the same room with her.
“To have someone of that experience come and play with us, it’s a real honor,” Norell said.
Several asked for autographs after a recent rehearsal.
“What instrument do you play?” Pine asked a young boy as he handed her a poster to sign.
“Violin,” he said nervously.
“Oh, how old are you?” she asked.
“Four,” he said, then hesitated. “No, I mean 5.”
Most in the orchestra had the following reaction when Executive Director Cathy Ames told them Pine was coming:
“How did you get her?” they asked. “She’s a superstar.”
Ames sought out Pine to help highlight the group’s 30th anniversary.
“I said to our music director, ‘We need something big.’” Ames said.
She contacted Pine’s agent, found out she was available and it all went from there, she said.
“It’s huge,” Ames said. “Honestly, I don’t know how many youth orchestras she’s performed with, if she’s performed with any. She is world-renowned.”
At age 17, Pine became the youngest and the first American gold medal winner at the J.S. Bach International Competition in Germany.
She said she knew she wanted to be a professional violinist at the age of 5.
As a child, she said, she never missed a day of practice, even when she had the flu.
“My parents thought I was weird,” she said. “They were like, ‘Don’t you want to put that thing down and go ride a bike?’”
A blossoming career came to a halt temporarily when at the age of 20 in 1995, Pine was severely injured in a Metra rail accident.
With her violin and other bags strapped over her shoulder, she was exiting the train in Winnetka, where she taught lessons. The doors closed on the strap of her violin case.
Pinned to the train, Pine was dragged several hundred feet before being pulled underneath. One leg was severed, the other severely mangled. Despite the now notorious experience, she eventually returned to her career and has gone on to win more awards, honors and acclaim.
And she’s inspired many, including 12-year-old Chelsea Coetzee of Cary, also a part of the master’s class.
“Just seeing the way she plays, just watching her play in person... it’s such a big experience,” she said. One of Pine’s goals always has been to promote a love of music in youth. She tells them to practice daily and with focus.
“The most important thing is to really enjoy making music,” she said. “The best way to enjoy it is to practice.”
Music helps people become more creative, offers a way for students to come together indiscriminately, she said. When playing together, she said, “you all say the same thing.”
“When you learn math, there is no such thing as being more right,” she said.
“With music you can always strive for so much more ... You can apply that to whatever profession you get into.”