One recent windy day in New York, violinist Tim Fain sat with his daughter, watching birds that reminded him of Samuel Barber’s “Violin Concerto.”
“We were marvelling at how these birds could effortlessly ride these gusts of wind — seemingly without expending any effort at all,” Fain said. “This piece has a quality of that, in a way, with an almost unending melody that Barber unleashed.”
This quality is easily discernable after playing it for so many years. He said, at this point, he feels like he knows Barber, despite having never met the man. According to Fain, that’s one thing he loves about playing — getting to know each composer’s unique personality.
“[Fain’s] a very, very thoughtful player,” said guest conductor and longtime friend Karina Canellakis.
Fain and Canellakis have known each other for years, having studied at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music and The Juilliard School together. But tonight they take to the Amphitheater stage with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra at 8:15 p.m. for their first appearance together as soloist and conductor, respectively.
Bookended by the overture to Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser and Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 97, Fain will perform that same Barber Violin Concerto. The staple of the violin repertoire occupies just one region of his musical sensibilities. Fain balances his time between performing standards and working with living composers like Philip Glass.
Regarded for his work on the soundtracks for “Black Swan” and “12 Years a Slave,” Fain often strives to blend multimedia aspects with his performance. His recent project, Portals, takes shape as a musical and visual exploration of human connection in the digital age.
At the same time, he regularly appears in concert halls playing traditional Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Bernstein.
“I have dedicated a lot of time and love to new music,” Fain said. “It has been one of the great pleasures finding a nice balance between old and new in my life.”
Sometimes, that balance manifests itself as splitting time between performing music living composers versus traditional composers. Other times, like in his upcoming Swan Remix record, he takes venerable classics such as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and adds a unique twist.
Whatever he performs and whatever interpretation he offers, Fain said his goal is maximize the connection with his audience.
“Any interpreter’s job is to bring these notes — these little black notes on a page — to life in a way that reaches out to people,” Fain said.
Tonight, Fain will work in tandem with Canellakis toward that goal. An accomplished violinist herself, Canellakis spent years performing with the Berlin Philharmonic and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, among others. Now she serves as the assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra while also making various guest appearances across the world. She said the conducting gig crept into her violin career somewhat unexpectedly.
“It just happened to take over my life,” Canellakis said. “It wasn’t planned.”
A lifelong studier, she said the opportunity to geek out over a musical score for hours on end proved deeply attractive. That same approach continues when she raises her baton atop the podium to conduct.
“It’s very cerebral — you can’t produce sound,” she said. “It’s a lot of thinking and mental activity.”
Still, Fain said, tonight’s job will be easier than usual, as he and Canellakis perform as colleagues and friends.
“We’re all sort of traveling through life together,” Fain said. “I think part of what makes it all so meaningful are these relationships and people with whom we’re sharing the journey.”