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Electric violinist Tracy Silverman’s “Between the Kiss & Chaos” out Feb. 25

A tireless explorer of what he calls “21st-century violin playing,” Tracy Silverman has been a muse to such composers as Pulitzer Prize-winner John Adams and minimalism icon Terry Riley, who have composed inspired works especially for him and his groundbreaking, genre-bending instrument – the six-string electric violin. Adams calls Silverman’s playing “a marvel of expressiveness,” while Riley has said: “Tracy’s violin is like an orchestra in and of itself.” With his album Between the Kiss and the Chaos – to be released on Feb. 25, 2014, by Delos Records (via Naxos) – Silverman once again demonstrates the vast world of music he can conjure. The album’s title work is a chamber version of his second concerto for electric violin, performed with the acclaimed Calder Quartet. Each of the piece’s five movements is inspired by iconic masterpieces of visual art, from Michelangelo to Matisse. The balance of the album presents Axis and Orbits, a suite of pieces for electric violin and loop pedal. You can see a promotional video for Between the Kiss and Chaos here. Writing about Silverman’s sonic signature, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times described this very electric violinist as having “fleet agility and tangy expressivity, with wailing hints of Jimi Hendrix.”
A native of New York state and currently based in Nashville after years in the Bay Area, Silverman was a longtime member of the Turtle Island String Quartet and was recently named one of the Juilliard School’s “100 Distinguished Alumni.” Upon graduating, Silverman designed one of the first-ever six-string electric violins and set his own course as a pioneering performer, building a repertoire for an instrument that did not previously exist. The sound Silverman has developed on his instrument is like a cross between the acoustic violin and the electric guitar. He has been inspired by the legato richness and kaleidoscopic colors of such Indian violinists as L. Shankar and L. Subramaniam, as well as electric guitarists from Hendrix to Robert Fripp. There’s also the influence of what Silverman calls the “deep emotion” and “gypsy fire” in classical concertos by the likes of Brahms and Sibelius. The quicksilver subtlety of Miles Davis and the raw humanity of singers like Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles have also been keen inspirations. Silverman says: “My voice on the instrument, my sound, comes from years of imitating singers and trying to achieve a kind of abstract human communication, a cry or song on the violin, something we understand viscerally and emotionally, the way we understand the tone and intention of a human voice. I’m not going for pretty or fast, I’m going for honest.”
For the title work of Between the Kiss and the Chaos, Silverman drew visual inspiration not only from Michelangelo and Matisse but also from Van Gogh, Picasso and Georgia O’Keeffe. The piece began as music for a puppet opera with dramatic scenes about the creation of iconic artworks, with the score a sort of “Pictures at an Exhibition.” Silverman later orchestrated the music to create his second concerto for electric violin. This album’s electric violin-plus-string quartet version documents the work’s original instrumentation; the four musicians of the Calder Quartet are ideal collaborators for Silverman, with the group having worked with Terry Riley and other contemporary composers on its own projects. As for the piece’s title, Silverman writes in the album’s extensive, engaging liner notes: “The title is from a lyric to a song I wrote about 20 years ago… I think it’s a good metaphor for the creative process, this tension between the kiss of inspiration and the compulsive chaos of the artistic struggle within people who are desperately trying to get it right on the canvas. It’s about that need to share an idiosyncratic vision. There is something innately human about the need to tell someone, to share your experience, to get someone else to see the world through your eyes.”
For the album’s companion work, the suite Axis and Orbits, Silverman the solo sonic painter taps a palette of digital colors via his array of looping devices – his “electronic band mates,” as he calls them. “By overlapping loops of differing lengths, it’s possible to construct pieces so that there is inherent unpredictability to the way the music unfolds. The harmonies can change in surprising ways and I have to respond creatively in the moment, almost as if I were playing with other musicians.” In his solo performances he calls “Concerto for One,” Silverman performs excerpts of Between the Kiss and the Chaos arranged for solo electric violin and loop pedal, as well as excerpts from the Adams and Riley concertos, a concerto by Kenji Bunch and the violinist’s own first electric violin concerto. You can see a compilation video of various Silverman performances here.
John Adams has written about Silverman’s inspiring, one-of-a-kind quality as a performer, saying: “Tracy has developed his own unique style of violin playing – a marvel of expressiveness, the product of his having digested everything from Stéphane Grappelli to the Indian sarangi to bluegrass, Robert Johnson and Terry Riley. Hearing Tracy Silverman play his six-string electric violin immediately reminded me not only of the great jazz and rock performers and Pakistani qawwali singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (where the real music is in the slide between the notes), but it also made me think of the prose style of Jack Kerouac, so deeply influenced by his listening to the rhythms and melodic arcs of improvised jazz.” Silverman recorded the concerto that Adams composed for him and his electric violin – titled The Dharma at Big Sur – with the composer and the BBC Symphony for Nonesuch. The performances led critic Mark Swed of the Los Angeles Times to call Silverman “inspiring – in a class of his own.”
Last spring, Silverman premiered Bunch’s Embrace, his concerto for electric violin, with the Champlain Philharmonic in Vermont. About the piece, which was commissioned by a consortium of nine orchestras, the violinist says: “It’s a joyful, beautiful work with plenty of room for me to improvise and rock out.” Silverman premiered the Riley concerto – The Palmian Chord Ryddle – at Carnegie Hall in 2012 with the Nashville Symphony under Giancarlo Guerrero, who has called the fiddler “an amazing virtuoso.” Silverman recorded the work live in Nashville, with Naxos to release the album. In the meantime, the Carnegie Hall performance of The Palmian Chord Ryddle can still be streamed at NPR. Such playing is what spurred John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune to write about Silverman: “You will be astonished that anyone can play the violin like that.”
Upcoming engagements
January 31
Stockton, CA: Warren Atherton Auditorium, San Joaquin Delta College
Stockton Symphony
February 1, 2014
Stockton, CA: Warren Atherton Auditorium, San Joaquin Delta College
Stockton Symphony
February 13
Cedar Rapids, IA: Paramount Theatre
Jim Brickman and Friends
February 14
Roanoke, VA: Roanoke Civic Center
Jim Brickman and Friends
February 15
Morristown, NJ: Mayo PAC
Jim Brickman and Friends
February 16
Waterbury, CT: Palace Theater
Jim Brickman and Friends
February 23
Ajijic, Mexico
Solo performance
February 27
Muncie, IN: Pruis Hall, Ball State University
Three Part Invention: Tracy Silverman, Philip Aaberg, Mike Block
February 28
Springfield, OH: Kuss Auditorium, Clark State Performing Arts Center
Three Part Invention: Tracy Silverman, Philip Aaberg, Mike Block
March 29
Anchorage, AK
Anchorage Symphony
April 19
Grass Valley, CA
With Terry Riley
May 17
New York, NY: Avery Fisher Hall
Little Orchestra Society of NY
May 18
New York, NY
TriBeCa New Music Festival
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© 21C Media Group, January 2014


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