Note please that the program previewed here, Rachel Barton Pine at Rockport Music on Jan. 20, has been postponed due to injury.
Changes are coming to classical music. Necessary changes. The inclusion of women—onstage, on the podium and in the repertory—is transforming ensembles and programs. The drive to make the art form more diverse, and recognize its contributors of all backgrounds, has finally gained momentum.
Violinist Rachel Barton Pines’s teaching and performing project, Music by Black Composers (MBC), is an essential, grass-roots part of that change. MBC’s initial publication, Violin Volume I, provides string students with music exclusively by Black classical composers. Pine’s recent album, “Blues Dialogues,” brings her own playing to bear on some of that repertory.
And her concert at the Shalin Liu Performance Center this Sunday, a presentation of Rockport Music, continues exploring some of the music. Accompanied by pianist Matthew Hagle, Pine will play Saint-Georges’s second sonata and a suite by William Grant Still, along with sonatas by Beethoven (“Kreutzer”) and Brahms (the Fifth, in E-flat major).
MBC is no “now I get it” venture by Pine: her first recording 20 years ago included music by Afro-Caribbean and Afro-European composers. “I wasn’t thinking about any of the social justice aspect or anything like that,” Pine says. “But after the record came out, I started getting a huge number of requests—‘Where can I find repertoire like this, for kids of different levels?’
“The researcher in me was inspired,” Pine says. “I quickly discovered that most of this music is out of print, or only exists in manuscript. So, in 2001, MBC started creating curricular materials, and information about repertoire and history.”
All of it is part of Pine’s database (musicbyblackcomposers.org), which includes more than 900 works by more than 350 composers. The new violin book is a beginner project, with accompanying coloring book and timeline poster. The volume is destined to be the first of many, along with sheet music for the other orchestra instruments, “graded by difficulty from beginner to advanced concerto-level playing,” she says.
It’s a rich area of investigation: the number of works by Black composers that are ignored or underperformed is staggering. Along the way Pine has partnered with Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, the Dallas Symphony’s Young Strings program and Project STEP in Boston.
The Saint-Georges sonata that Pine will play Sunday has an elegant history. French composer Joseph Bologne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was known as “Le Mozart Noir.” He worked in France during the late 1700s, writing prodigiously, with numerous operas, string quartets, and violin concertos.
“He was a master swordsman,” Pine says. “I think that his virtuosic use of the bow is inspired by fencing. His aesthetic is gracious, focusing on pure beauty. This sonata has moments that allow us to add our own spontaneous decorations. It’s is a fun way to make every performance personal.
“The goal is that through exposure to these composers, future generations will expect and demand that music be ethnically diverse, a full representation of the human experience.”
Violinist Rachel Barton Pine, accompanied by pianist Matthew Hagle, performs music of Saint-Georges, Beethoven, Brahms and Still on Sunday, Jan. 20 at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.