An Interview with Tim Fain, performing with Philip Glass Feb 25

timWe caught up with violinist Timothy Fain and asked him a few questions about his upcoming Providence performance with Philip Glass for FirstWorks (at the Vets, Feb 25).

What’s it like to work with Philip Glass?

I’ve learned a lot from him, by doing what I love most – performing. We’re learning by doing and doing it together. One of many great aspects of touring with Phil is hanging out with him in between things – he’s a great storyteller, and it’s magic when he comes upon a story, often about the old days when he was working as a plumber or a taxi driver.

Have you been to Rhode Island before?

No, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Providence. And after this, Hawaii will be the only state left I haven’t visited. I spend a lot of time in New York City, and I live in a small town in Western Montana. But I always feel strange if I stay in any one place. I get restless. I want to bring the music everywhere and share it. It’s in the act of giving it away that it really becomes the most wondrous way to live. So I’m excited to come to Providence.

You’ll be doing a talk after the show. Is that a usual thing?

I wouldn’t say it’s a usual thing, but we both love doing those.

How are you feeling at that point? Is the adrenaline high right after a performance, or is it more like time to sleep?

I feel like, ‘Keep it rolling!’ after a great show, when physically things are working, I’m most alive. It’s a great time to write or practice. I think I feel the most free in those minutes. That’s really what I aspire to. And what does it mean to be free? It’s hard to say, but I know I feel it most in those moments and when I’m with my girls (Fain has two young daughters). I think feeling free means feeling no fear, and I see them do it so easily and naturally. And it’s contagious! The music is like that for me.

You’re also doing a presentation at the Mt. Pleasant High School for a younger audience.

I love it when that is part of what I do – reaching out to young people. I’m not really a teacher, and I’m not qualified to be and have great respect for those who are. But I enjoy it immensely – passing along and sharing your love for music is a tremendous feeling. And this may be a little bit odd, but I always feel like I play better after I’ve met with young people. It opens me up in a different way, creatively.

You’ve been living in the world of music since an early age yourself. What was that like?

I’ve been living with music – or maybe it’s been living with me – for quite some time. From the get-go, some of my early memories of living with music are so diverse: Sitting beside my parents’ stereo changing channels constantly, switching between Michael Jackson and Mozart. Music I search out is written by people who want to work that way as artists – people who collaborate and share an aesthetic, but may come from wildly different backgrounds. In the last 10 or 15 years, I’ve been blessed to work with so many people like that, in so many different media.

How would you categorize the style of music you and Philip Glass play together?

I wouldn’t. If you can find the space and time and love to find out who you are, a lot of people might find that they transcend a label. The label might be restrictive – I understand how it’s convenient for record producers and marketing, but the music shouldn’t try [to fit it]. Ultimately, you have to be yourself; everybody else is taken already anyway.

You have your own solo show called “Portals.”

I’m the only live performer – but it’s not really a solo show. It has pre-recorded elements that are audio or visual from other artists, the words of Leonard Cohen, there’s beautiful filmmaking by Kate Hacket. It explores what it means to experience a live performance and still preserve the spontaneity and life of that performance, in concert with so many prepared elements. I feel very free when I perform that show, and I’ve enjoyed bringing it to many venues. We just did it in Paris. It’s been mounted in a barn. It’s been successful in larger and in intimate venues. We did it in a private home once.

How did you come to work with Philip Glass?

Phillip and I met on a show he’d written called Book of Longing. One of the pieces was a very fast violin solo. Under what they call the “nuclear spot” – a single very bright spotlight on a single performer. I was so taken with the piece, I wanted him to write me something bigger, something really monumental. He started to compose. We collaborated, often remotely, as performer and composer. Some time later, there was an amazing 33-minute partita for a solo violin.

When you’re playing, it’s very physical and you’re standing. Do you draw a lot of the visual focus from the piano?

I don’t think so – Phillip’s such a kinetic player – it’s like he’s possessed – really he is, in a way. I am captivated watching Phillip play.

You also worked on the Academy Award-Winning 12 Years a Slave [and numerous other films, even playing on screen in Black Swan]. What was that like? Is it strange to hear your work but not be the one playing?

I worked with Richard Gere on Bee Season, and liked to say I made him sound good and he made me look good. [For 12 Years a Slave] One of the best compliments I got was from a friend who said, ‘I thought the actor was actually playing the violin.’ It’s part of that world. There was also so much else going on in the process and the historical research. In the 1830s, most of the music was heavily Scotch-Irish. We realized we had to bring it forward a few years to make it more American sounding. We had to consider how they would hold the instrument in that era – it’s not the same as now, but it also needed to be recognizable to a modern audience.

Speaking of instruments, tell us a little about the instrument you’ll be playing.

The violin I play on was made by Francesco Gobetti in 1717 for the Medici family. The Arrison family, through the Stradivarius Society of Chicago, makes it possible for me to play it. It’s a tremendous honor. You want a violin that’s able to handle what you want to do with it. You’re going to sound like yourself on any instrument, but the really great instruments – it’s a very personal thing — a relationship, like a collaboration. I’m very fortunate that this instrument has found me.

Read Motif’s interview with FirstWorks’ Executive Artistic Director Kathleen Pletcher: motifri.com/firstworks-brings-philip-glass-to-pvd/.

You can see Philip Glass and Tim Fain performing on Feb 25, 7:30pm at  the Veterans Memorial Theater, 1 Avenue of the Arts, PVD. The performance is part of FirstWorks’ Artistic Icons series and includes an “Artist-Up-Close” talk-back after the show, moderated by Paul Phillips, conductor of the Brown University Orchestra.

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