The Susanville Symphony Society delivers spectacular concerts and Maestro Ben Wade frequently brings phenomenal guest musicians to Lassen County. Most recently it was Elizabeth Pitcairn and her Red Mendelssohn Stradivarius.
When Pitcairn performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor on her 300 year-old violin to a packed audience at Susanville Assembly of God, listeners knew they were experiencing something special.
The characteristic sound of the Stradivarius violins has been described as “a woody, round, and brilliant tone, full of charm and singing quality.” Of course the quality of sound produced is dependent upon the talent of the musician. And, Pitcairn plays her instrument, well, as they say, “like a fiddle.”
Her relationship with the Stradivarius began 30 years ago at age 16, and her instruction with the violin began at just age 3. Musical talent certainly runs in her family, but she works very hard at mastering her musical skills, rehearsing as many as six hours a day. At one point in her career, she even practiced a staccato bow stroke every day for two years to master it.
The experience of hearing Pitcairn elicit rich sometimes-haunting melodies from her red violin is difficult to put into words. Suffice it to say, the experience is one of moving between enchantment and amazement. Pitcairn engages one’s heartstrings as she elicits a composition from her old friend, known affectionately as “Felix.”
In addition to her mastery of the instrument, and her gorgeous physicality and stage presence as a performer, Pitcairn is a gifted storyteller. Her recounting of her experiences draws in the listener, painting a picture of events — both anecdotal and historical. Pitcairn weaves a rich and unique tapestry of music and knowledge for fans to savor.
The experience extended beyond her encore. Pitcairn made herself available to greet fans and take photos with audience members after the concert. She wasn’t even selling anything (although her CDs are available). She provided free 8×10 photos for any and all to treasure, staying to sign them until every last person was acknowledged.
Many fans were visibly trembling with excitement as they drew nearer to Pitcairn. Color rose in the cheeks of her admirers, and eyes glistened as they hoped for a chance to speak with the keeper of the red violin.
No matter how many more waited in queue, time stood still for the individual who approached Pitcairn as she engaged them in conversation, expressing authentic appreciation for their interest. Children, who stood on tiptoe peering over the tabletop, were granted the same gracious reception.
And, children abounded at her concert — at least 20 under the age of 10 or so and many more teens due to Susanville Symphony’s generosity of free admission for children 18 and younger. Twenty tiny tots were present and nary a peep out of them during the entire concert. It seems our symphony can tame the little ones.
Pitcairn’s passion for the violin is obvious, but her dedication to fledgling musicians and youth is an essential part of who she is as well. It is evident that she derives joy and meaning from teaching others. For example, here is her take on owning a Mendelssohn Stradivarius.
“It has extraordinary quality of tone, ease of execution and power of projection that separates it from other violins,” according to Pitcairn. “My other favorite part of owning this violin is the ability to put it in the hands of a serious young violinist and watch the way their eyes light up — ‘Oh, wow!’ is about all they can get out, but a few moments of hearing that special Strad sound under the ear is enough to remember forever.”
She owns one of the most famous violins in the world, and her favorite part is being able to share it with other musicians and with her audience. That says it all.
Pitcairn has performed at Carnegie Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall and in many countries around the world including China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Romania, Switzerland, Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Bulgaria, Russia, Slovenia and the Netherlands. She has toured Austria, the Czech Republic and Poland.
After her performance at Susanville Assembly of God, she left to embark on a tour through Russia, Ukraine, Croatia and more. Yet, Pitcairn was recently asked where she enjoyed performing most. Her answer conveys her affinity for people and her desire to enhance the lives of others through her music. Pitcairn declared the small burg of Susanville her favorite venue.