Electronic violinist and composer Tracy Silverman sets out to create one of the more engaging creations for the often ignored instruments in contemporary classical music since Nico Muhly’s 2011 concerto for the electric violin. Broken between two parts, Silverman’s second violin concerto “Between the Kiss and Chaos” and the “Axis and Orbits,” Silverman’s compositional record with support from indie-darlings Calder Quartet is a showcase for the electric violin that’s rarely been done in such a lavish way before.
The one thing to get out of the way is the electric violin is not for everyone. Classical purists will often scoff at the unorthodox methods by which its integrated whereas contemporary listeners are generally put off by the sometimes overzealous sound the instrument tends to scream. Silverman applies two train of thoughts in his use of the electric violin that can be best compared to electric guitarists the late Steve Ray Vaughan and U2’s The Edge. One is full throttle, blaring and loud, thunderous with every rift, while the other (Edge) relying more on a distinctive ambient, somewhat-delayed echoing style. What Silverman accomplishes on Between the Kiss and the Chaos is a penchant for marrying these two drastically different uses of the electric violin in what accumulates for a very vivid and exceptionally loud statement.
The five part violin concerto “Between the Kiss and the Chaos” will be considered the highlight for electric violin purists and its hard not to hear why. Silverman is stylistically flamboyant in his use of the instrument, at points completely drowning out the Calder Quartet. Silverman does not shy away from the pompous and occasional manufactured sound of the electric violin – at times appearing to possibly transition into solos when in fact he’s really at levels much higher than the quartet’s backing. Of the violin concerto, the first and second parts, “Michaelangelo – David” and “O-Keefe – Red Poppy” are standout selections for its merging of the Calder Quartet’s subtle integration alongside Silverman’s raucous strings. Two drastically different levels of energy yet balanced and perfected. The violin concerto ends on the exceptionally fantastic closure “Picasso – Guernica,” with Silverman blaring and bellowing the electric violin to extended, held notes in a riveting movement of strings.
Whereas “Between the Kiss and the Chaos” is a showcase for how lavish the electric violin can be, the second half of the LP, “Axis and Orbits” is more of a display for how gentle the electric violin can come into play. Here is where Silverman is at his best when it comes to perfecting the integration of the electric violin. Particularly on the first and third parts, Silverman is smoother with the strings, avoiding the raunchy chords that electric violins can provide a rough overlay over other instruments. There is a slither and sleekness to much of the “Axis and Orbits” that separates Silverman’s electric violin from all else and gives it a much edgier and up-to-date sound.
There’s no shaking the stigma that comes with the electric violin. For those who shiver at its screechiness and brashness, Between the Kiss and the Chaos won’t be for them. Silverman brings an audacity to the electric violin and is proud to exemplify the magnitude it can carry. The audacity at which Silverman brings, a practical shredding of the violin per se, is to be commended. There are moments when the electric violin “solos” appear so forced in and deliberately out of place with other parts of the first violin concerto, so much so that “Axis and Orbits” appears more natural and fluid. But for all its worth, Between the Kiss and the Chaos is the best showpiece in recent memory for the electric violin and the most convincing statement for taking it with more seriousness and credibility than its ever been given. Its the justification the instrument has been severely lacking but rightfully due.
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