Y ou might expect Tim Fain to be a little protective of his violin. After all, it was crafted by an Italian named Francesco Gobetti in 1717.
That’s almost 60 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed. And oh, yeah—that violin is worth about $3.5 million. So you won’t see Fain checking it in with the rest of his luggage as he travels to this year’s Festival Mozaic in San Luis Obispo.
“I’m definitely always aware when I’m traveling,” said Fain, who carries the violin with him onboard his flights.
Even more nerve-wracking is the fact that Fain doesn’t actually own the instrument. It was loaned to him by a Buffalo, N.Y., couple, Clement and Karen Arrison, through the Stradivari Society of Chicago. And if you don’t think there’s any pressure in borrowing a $3.5 million violin, consider the fact that Philipe Quint, another violinist, accidentally left a $4 million violin lent to him by the Arrisons in the back of a New York City cab in 2008. (The cabbie returned the instrument to Quint, who cried in relief.)
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Still, Fain downplays the pressure.
“I don’t find myself really thinking about it as having a value, necessarily,” Fain said. “But that it’s completely irreplaceable.”
Of course, there’s a reason why Fain was chosen to play the instrument — and a reason why he’s the key performer at the San Luis Obispo festival on its 40th anniversary. The Santa Monica native, who now lives in New York, is a
highly heralded violinist, one who’s not afraid to mix rock, jazz and other influences into his classical performances.
You can see Fain perform several times during the festival, performing solo, as a chamber music performer and as a member of the festival orchestra.
The son of two scientists —his mother has a PhD in biology, his father is a physiologist—Fain took to music at an early age, partly due to the influence of his mother, a cellist.
As a child, Fain was making drums out of Quaker Oats boxes and stringed instruments out of rubber bands. By age 4 he was already taking piano lessons.
“At that point, I think I really just wanted to explore my piano teacher’s backyard,” Fain said. “But I did start learning how to read and write music from a very early age. It was just something I wanted to do. I was just fascinated with anything having to do with music.”
In high school, he played guitar and bass in a rock band. But the violin was always there. Later, he studied music at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Julliard School in New York City. Since then he has performed as a soloist and chamber musician around the world.
While he is comfortable playing Brahms and Beethoven, Fain also likes to play music written by contemporary composers, such as Philip Glass, who is currently writing a piece for Fain that will incorporate video, dance and spoken- word performances.
“He really shook things up in the classical world,” Fain said, “because of his interest in pop music and pop art — everybody from Andy Warhol to Paul McCartney. He’s worked with David Bowie — everybody. He believes that pop music is very important to classical music. It’s not something that should be separated.”
Fain lives by that approach as well. Recently, he performed a piece with rocker Rob Thomas at the Lincoln Center in New York.
“I thought some of his tunes worked very beautifully with strings,” Fain said.
Known for making music accessible, Fain said violin music isn’t always classical music.
“What is classical music? If I’m playing electric violin and totally rocking out in a song, is that classical music or is that just a violin playing rock?” he mused. “Definitely you could say playing Mozart’s ‘Violin Concerto’ is classical music. But then again, I’ve written my own cadenza for this piece, and it definitely brings in a much more American sound when I’m playing by myself in extended solos.”
While Fain is open to playing all kinds of music on the violin, the centuries-old instrument he’s playing was certainly created for classical music. And when Fain plays it, he’s definitely aware of its history.
“Sometimes you have the feeling that you’re communicating with an old soul,” he said.
While he’ll surely be careful not to drop the violin, performing on it is actually good for the instrument, he said.
“There are some studies that suggest that the instruments do actually last longer when they are played.”
Reach Patrick S. Pemberton at 781-7903.