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5x5 Five Minutes, Five Questions Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn

Unique Love Affair February 12, 2016 at 1:00 a.m.
Elizabeth Pitcairn bought the Stradivarius “Red Violin,” made in 1720, at a Christie’s auction when she was just 16.

Elizabeth Pitcairn is a celebrated violin virtuoso, but she couldn't do it without her "partner," a 1720 "Red Mendelssohn" Stradivarius violin. On Saturday, she joins the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra for John Corigliano's "The Red Violin." Here, she answers five questions for What's Up! readers:

Photo by Courtesy Photo
Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn says she is “eternally grateful” to her family for making it possible for her to own a 1720 Stradivarius violin.

Q. What inspired you to play violin?


‘The Red Violin’

With Elizabeth Pitcairn

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE — Arend Arts Center in Bentonville

COST — $35 at the door


BONUS — Pitcairn will be in the lobby signing CDs and photos after the concert.

A. When I was 3 years old, my mother -- a Juilliard trained cellist -- says I was drawn to the violin watching her piano trio rehearse, and afterwards announced I wanted to play the violin! I've always loved the high notes. My whole family is very musical: My brother played the cello, and my father is a baritone. My paternal grandfather, the Rev. Theodore Pitcairn, was a benefactor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, and my father and I inherited perfect pitch from his mother, my paternal Dutch grandmother. Everyone was very supportive, but my mother is the one who spent thousands of hours practicing with me, drove me to my lessons and competitions, and instilled the confidence that I could achieve my dreams of becoming a violin soloist.

Q. How did you happen to come into possession of the Red Violin?

A. The Stradivarius "Red Violin" of 1720 happened to come up for auction at Christie's of London in November of 1990.

I was 16 years old at the time and playing solo recitals and concertos. It was clearly my passion in life, and because of the rising prices of instruments, there was a sense of urgency at that time to not miss this opportunity of a lifetime. I was excused from high school for a day to fly to London and granted special permission to play the violin for 20 minutes. It was love at first note. The following year I moved to Los Angeles to study with world renowned professor Robert Lipsett. The violin and I have had quite a touring life together ever since, and I am eternally grateful to my family for making this wonderful partnership possible.

Q. What does it mean to you to have that relationship with an instrument?

A. When I play, my violin feels as though it becomes an extension of my being. Its qualities continue to inspire me to reach for the ultimate musical standards. The best feeling in the world is that moment in which we are performing together, and the violin is responding by delivering the voice of my ultimate passion, and I feel as though I exist to be a conduit for the intensity of expression of music and the intentions of the composer.

Q. What do you hope to bring to the APO audience?

A. I hope very much that they will enjoy hearing the magnificent piece by John Corigliano called 'The Red Violin Chaconne,' which he composed while writing the movie score. I've been performing it for 16 years and always find something new and fascinating every time. Although the Stradivarius can't tell us what it has seen and heard over the last 294 years, I feel that during this piece it has a voice and is speaking to us. I am really looking forward to being in residence for almost a week [too].

Q. What is your long-term musical dream?

A. Ah, good question! I'm living my life's dream right now, which is to see the world with my violin.

But an even bigger dream is to make a difference in international youth and education. That is why I balance my career with my other passion, the Luzerne Music Center in the Adirondack Mountains of New York near Saratoga Springs and Lake George. This is a summer program for young international musicians ages 9 to 18 which I attended. We are currently accepting applications for the winter registration process, and we welcome middle and high school students from Arkansas to apply. I spend much of my time performing benefits with the Stradivarius Red Violin to help all kinds of organizations and also to raise scholarships for students from all economic backgrounds to attend Luzerne Music Center, of which I am the president and artistic director.

We have a world class faculty for private lessons on every string, wind, brass and percussion instrument, as well as a piano and chamber music and orchestral program. Luzerne Music Center's proximity to the the Philadelphia Orchestra summer concerts and masterclasses, in the atmosphere of a true summer camp, makes for a very fun and special summer experience. (

-- Becca Martin-Brown

[email protected]

NAN What's Up on 02/12/2016

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