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‘Electrifying’ violin concert lights up Scotiabank Northern Lights Music Festival

The Auditorio de la Ribera was packed for the Scotiabank Northern Lights Music Festival’s “Concerto for One” by Tracy Silverman, on Sunday, February 23.  Silverman, the inventor of a remarkable instrument, put it best when he described the evening as a “six string solo electric violin concert.”

He opened with the second movement from “Between the Kiss and the Chaos,” his second electric violin concerto, which was commissioned and premiered in 2010 by the Wichita Symphony, with Silverman as soloist. 

The audience thoroughly enjoyed it, and his easy interaction with them soon had people calling out suggestions, when asked to name the piece. It transpired that it was entitled “Matisse.” The concerto is comprised of five movements inspired by five artists’ works: Michelangelo: David, Matisse: La Danse, O’Keeffe: Red Poppy, Van Gogh: The Starry Night and Picasso: Guernica.

Next came Carlos Santana’s “Europa” (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile).  Silverman does not use live accompaniment nor pre-recorded backing tracks, instead he records looping layers of melody, via his “digital Looping Pedal,” during the performance, which is very effective and adds a whole new visual and accoustic dimension.

He explained that after graduating from Juilliard, with his eclectic taste in music he became concerned that the violin was being left behind due to modern music’s preoccupation with the electric guitar. This provoked him to experiment, resulting in the addition of two more strings and ultimately the invention of a brand new instrument – the very versatile electric violin.

As the inventor, Silverman says he felt it was his mission to develop a repertoire. This was greatly assisted when Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams wrote his electric violin concerto, “The Dharma at Big Sur” expressly for him. It was originally composed for the opening of the Disney Hall, Los Angeles, with the electric violin solo by Silverman.  Divided into two movements, “A New Day” and “Sri Moonshine” they are homages to Lou Harrison and Terry Riley respectively and Ajijic’s audience was treated to part of the first movement.

Next came a “Choro” written by Silverman, reminiscent of the Brazilian popular instrumental music genre. Full of syncopated rhythm, melody and subtle modulations, it closed the first half on a lively note.

After intermission, “’Olive Branch” was followed by part of “The First Electric Violin Concerto No. 1.” This commissioned work was originally performed as the ballet “Espaces” with Silverman performing live with the Curitiba Symphony for five nights at the packed Teatro Guira, Brazil.

Silverman then used the loop pedal to lay down the bass rhythm and other tracks, before letting rip with Charlie Parker’s “Dee Dee’s Dance.” It was fascinating to watch him assemble the required elements – as solos in a kind of harmony of musical “ideas” stacked on top of each other –  and then play them back at will, as his accompaniment.

Talking the audience through this piece of equipment: distortions, sustain, wah-wah, chorus, digital delay and reverb, he demonstrated several of its more unusual features. The audience was intrigued and very appreciative.

Strong rapport with the audience continued with someone asking where he lived. When he replied, “Nashville,” Peter Luciano asked for Jay Ungar’s “Ashokan Farewell” and Silverman obliged with several bars.

Gershwin’s “Bess You is My Woman Now” was unaccompanied and followed by Hendrix’s  1983 (“A Merman I Should Turn to Be”), which involved multiple loops. Both were superb.

All too soon this unforgettable experience was over and Silverman was thanking Scotiabank, the organizers and his parents, with a special mention for Ricardo Perez, the festival’s production manager: “The hardest-working guy in show biz.”

Closing with “Mojo Perpetuo,” the standing ovation lasted for several minutes. When someone shouted, “When are you coming back?” the unequivocal response, “Soon,”  generated further applause.