Pitcairn juggles playing, teaching, Luzerne Chamber post
LAKE LUZERNE Violinist Elizabeth Pitcairn is slowly becoming a ubiquitous presence in the Capital Region. Two years ago she was named artistic director of the Luzerne Music Center and its Chamber Music Festival, where she was a frequent guest.
She also appeared in recital that summer at the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival and last May was the soloist with the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra. She recently was named as Luzerne Center’s CEO and this summer she’ll also perform on July 8 and 22 in the Luzerne Chamber Music Festival series.
Many people, however, may not know that for more than 25 years, Pitcairn, who is now 40, has had an international performing career and for at least 11 years, was a dedicated teacher at the famed Colburn School in Los Angeles.
Born into a musical family — her mother was a Juilliard School-trained cellist, her father studied opera, and several of her cousins play in the Colorado Symphony, the Calder Quartet or the indie rock band Airborne Toxic Event — Pitcairn made her debut at 14 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Rather than attend conservatories on the East Coast, she headed to California and the University of Southern California, where she would eventually teach. She also became a regular participant at summer festivals, such as the Marlboro Music Festival.
But a budding violin soloist needs a great instrument to play on. In 1990, her grandfather bought her one of the world’s most legendary instruments, the Red “Mendelssohn” Stradivarius of 1720. The violin is so named because of its unique reddish color and because descendants of composer Felix Mendelssohn bought it after it was discovered after having been missing for 200 years. Since the release in 1997 of the movie “The Red Violin,” which was supposedly inspired by her violin, many of her performances have been linked to both the film and the John Corigliano score, which won the Oscar for Best Film Score.
Despite being on the road most of the time, Pitcairn was home in Palm Springs for a few days this month to chat.
Q: How do you juggle your international career, teaching in Los Angeles and at the Luzerne Music Center?
A: I work like a dog. Most of the time I’m on the road, from one month to three months, but every couple of days I get back to L.A. When I go to Luzerne, I’m not traveling for two whole months. It’s unheard of.
And now I only teach as an assistant to my professor at the Colburn School. I do classes and some outreach. For 11 years I was a dedicated teacher at USC and Colburn. But I had a dream that was to be on the road soloing. I’m now living that and it’s great.
Q: Most musicians don’t get into the administrative side of things. How did all that happen?
A: In 2008, Bert Phillips [the founder and co-director of Luzerne with his wife, pianist Toby Blumenthal] asked me. I was too young then. But I grew by serving on the board. And Bert took me under his wing. He took me around to fundraising events and I got over my fear of asking people for money. And as a violinist, I’d always done fundraisers, so it was right up my alley. Then I was made artistic director and now I’m CEO and artistic director. My job is to make the camp run. It’s a huge job.
Q: How have these responsibilities changed your life?
A: Luzerne is the perfect balance. It’s multidimensional. Just walking on stage is not enough and I found I had administrative talents. And, I haven’t got kids, but these 200 children are now mine. I’ve found that the better you plan, the better things will run. And this year, it’s less stressful. It’s not less work but I’ve learned to streamline things.
Q: What’s your vision for Luzerne?
A: I have a 10-year goal for the camp to be redone and rebuilt. For it to be a real 21st century venue with a new dining hall, new camp layout, and I want to polish the festival. More parents are telling us how much their kids enjoy the camp and want to come back. I want to have great artists here. That’s why I asked composer Richard Danielpour to come to talk [Aug. 9] and have a whole evening of the faculty playing his works. We’re also having our third barbecue [today], which has proved very popular. It will be with Time for Three. It was always a dream to have them here. We’ve even bought a tractor and have hired a wonderful new cook.
It’s like a big family here. Toby is thrilled with the direction the camp is taking and I work from morning until night with Bill Schulman, the camp’s director. It’s an unbelievable workload, but it’s incredibly satisfying.
Q: What happens after Luzerne?
A: I head to London and Germany for recitals, then it’s four days in L.A., a Beethoven Concerto four times in Nevada, chamber music in South Carolina, then Switzerland, Italy, and back to the Wittner Finetune-Pegs factory in Germany for a demonstration of their pegs. They give better tuning. Then it’s recitals in New York City, Pennsylvania and chamber music in Hawaii and the Bahamas. Lots to do.
The Luzerne Chamber Music Festival is 7:30 p.m. every Monday beginning July 8 through Aug. 19 except for the BBQ (4 p.m. today) and the summer gala with Triple Play (5 p.m. July 28). For more information, check www.luzernemusic.org or call 696-2771.