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Why Is Bruch's First Violin Concerto a Happy Milestone for Young Violinists?

Composer Max Bruch (1838 to 1920)

Max Bruch’s first violin concerto, composed in 1866, has the right mix of passion and intimacy to engage classical music newcomers in the 21st century. So says Soloist Rachel Barton Pine, who learned it when she was very young and continues to love it today. 

You can hear Bruch's First Violin Concerto on WRTI, Sunday, October 28 at 1 pm, when soloist Joshua Bell joins The Philadelphia Orchestra in a concert of music recorded at Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center.

Bruch, who wrote his first violin concerto in 1866, probably never thought of it as child's play.  But since she was very young, violinist Rachel Barton Pine has loved the concerto, which she learned when she was 8 years old. 

"The Bruch or Mendelssohn is typically the first romantic, ‘grown-up concerto’ you’re given. For me. it was the Bruch. "

She was 11 when she performed it as soloist with The Chicago Symphony; she’s played it countless times since. But not necessarily the same way twice -- a point she makes when talking about classical music to people new to the genre. Classical musicians have their own ways of improvising, even when they are playing the notes on the page. 

"When I’m demonstrating, I’ll use the opening cadenza, after a few measures of orchestral, the violin plays a little statement unaccompanied.  You have alot of room for personalizing your interpretation! You can make it alouder or softer, speed up, slow down, use different fingering, different tone colors. And so what we do with the music is our classical improvisation."

The Bruch also shows the range of vivid emotions classical music can express. Consider, she says, the second movement.

"It  goes from the most delicate moments to the most overwhelming, cathartic moments.  It almost sounds as if it could be telling a story, what you might think of as a movie scene or something like that."

Also a teacher and conductor, Max Bruch led The Liverpool Philharmonic from 1880 to 83. Writing in the Brahmsian tradition, he composed over 200 works.

"He was a very sincere person; you can her this in his music - the best of German mid-romanticism," says Rachel Barton Pine. "Absolutely gorgeous." 

Rachel Barton Pine paired Bruch's first violin concerto with Elgar's violin concerto on her 2018 CD with the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Andrew Litton.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.