Few violinists can claim to be film stars. Jascha Heifetz had a few roles in the 1930s and 40s. Joshua Bell was a body double in “The Red Violin," from 1999. Tim Fain is a violinist who has had an actual on-screen role, and accompanying Natalie Portman no less, in the 2010 thriller "Black Swan."
The intense, dance-rehearsal scene featured Portman (and her body double) dancing to Fain’s performance of a Bach partita and a version of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (his left hand even gets an extended close-up shot).
Fain told the assembled audience at his WQXR Café Concert that he repeated the scene some 60 times, as director Darren Aronofsky captured every possible angle. “What you see me playing on screen is what you hear in most instances,” he explained.
“What we did on that was we filmed 20 rehearsal takes and 20 more takes with Natalie's double and then at the end of the day it was 'let's get everybody off the set here and just record music.' So we'd have a few times in the space while we have it fresh right there. It ended up sounding good enough that we'd use it right in the movie.”
Fain grew up in Los Angeles, studied violin at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School, and won an Avery Fisher Career Grant. Before "Black Swan" he was featured as the violin double for Richard Gere in the 2005 family-in-crisis drama "Bee Season." "Richard Gere knew his stuff, which is not surprising,” noted Fain. “He actually called me off on one little place where I was using a little more vibrato in my performance than he was doing on screen.”
Fain got the "Black Swan" gig thanks to his friendship with Benjamin Millepied, who served as the movie's choreographer; Fain was an on-stage violinist in the 2005 New York City Ballet piece "Double Aria," which Millepied choreographed.
The choreographer worked with Fain on the violinist’s latest project too, a multimedia violin recital called "Portals," with which he is currently touring (it comes to the Copland House in Mount Kisco on May 20). Billed as a "musical exploration of the human longing for connection in the digital age," it blends films by Kate Hackett, a piano accompaniment by Nicholas Britell, and readings by Fred Child of some of Leonard Cohen’s poems.
At the center of "Portals" is Philip Glass's Partita for Solo Violin. Fain performed the 35-minute work at the Met Museum on April 21 (Q2 Music has a stream of the performance), and he presented a portion of it in the WQXR Café. "We worked so intensely on the piece to get it just so,” he said of his collaboration with Glass. “Now it feels like it fits my hands so wonderfully.”
Video: Amy Pearl; Audio: Edward Haber; Production & Text: Brian Wise