Classical Concert Series hosts Stringfever

English string quartet performs a variety of awesome pieces with electric violins

Stringfever made a joyous racket at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall last Sunday, February 19, playing a variety of classical, pop, and rock songs on electric musical instruments. A string quartet hailing from the U.K., Stringfever is comprised of three brothers (Giles, Ralph, and Neal Broadbent) and their cousin (Graham Broadbent), who all play a custom-made brand of electric violins (and cello) called Violectras. The group has played at a variety of locations, and Troy was just another stop on its most recent tour.

Each of the Broadbents displayed his unique talents during the performance. Neal, the youngest, played cello and beatboxed throughout many of the songs performed. Graham, jokingly referred to as “our little cousin,” was the biggest of the four, and performed as vocal talent when not otherwise occupied playing his violin. Giles, the oldest, was lead violinist, and Ralph entertained the audience by announcing songs and sharing facts about the pieces chosen.

The show was animated largely by gags and quips, as the quartet made faces, did tricks, and expertly manipulated the sound of its instruments to seem like a variety of different things. Ralph, as emcee, kept a running joke of reminding the audience what their last name was, whether it was in discussing pieces they’d composed or telling stories about their uncle, a violinist in the London Symphony Orchestra.

The quartet kicked off with an impressive medley of 20 different movie themes, ranging from Star Wars to Mission Impossible to The Magnificent Seven to E.T., as Graham quoted famous lines from each to prompt the audience’s realization of what was being performed.

Brahms’ “Hungarian Dance” was impossible not to clap along to, as Giles and Ralph competed as if they were drunken gypsy violinists in a tavern, each showing off different parts and waiting for applause, performing tricks like tossing their bows in the air, and eventually wandering off stage, only to return with a very tall mug of what appeared to be beer that they proceeded to chug, before continuing to play. They continued with a variety of pieces, largely classical, and ended their first set with a rousing interpretation of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” as Graham roared in an impressive Southern accent. The group fiddled along, their Violectras occasionally breaching into electric guitar territory, and they even involved a little pyrotechnic technique.

The second act kicked off with the “Hollerbach Suite” by Grieg, then jumping over to songs from musicals (such as an energetic “To Life” from Fiddler On The Roof) and a poignantly beautiful “Adagio” by Albinoni that left me with chills. I was impressed with Stringfever, not just for their seemingly unending joy at performing (and performing together, they seemed to genuinely enjoy teasing each other and cracking jokes) but for their technique, too. They often branched out into crisp pizzicato, and their expertise with their instruments was apparent.

Some performances put a decidedly different spin on things. For example, when Chuck Berry first performed Roll Over Beethoven in the 1950s, he probably never intended it to become part of a string quartet’s repertoire. For Stringfever, though, Graham flipped his violin 90 degrees and began to strum as if it were suddenly transformed to an electric ukulele. He belted out the words as the others accompanied him.

My favorite of the pieces performed was Ravel’s “Bolero,” in which they recruited two audience members to come onstage and play two of the violins, as the rest of the Broadbents arranged themselves around Neal’s cello and began to play each of the four parts on a single cello. It was an amazing performance, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Stringfever wrapped up with a “History of Music in Five Minutes,” racing through a variety of tunes from the 17th century to today in just under five minutes, ending to applause before returning for another gypsy dance encore. I walked away excited about music and wishing desperately that I’d held out long enough when I used to play the violin to get my hands on an electric one, because, seriously? Electric violins are amazing.

A note on the Music Hall: this is one of those unexpected gems deep in downtown Troy that is fully worth checking out. It’s a wonderful facility, originally built above a bank; the Hall is marked by gilded carvings and ceiling frescoes illustrating the names of famous composers, an old-fashioned hand-crank chandelier hanging from the ceiling, a beautiful and enormous organ taking up most of the back wall above the stage, and a number of theater boxes for better views. The Hall is considered to have among some of the best acoustics in the country, and has been host to many top musical acts in its 100+ years of existence. I’d passed up a number of opportunities to see concerts there during my four years here, and I regret that I didn’t go there sooner.

I found out about Stringfever through the Rensselaer Union Classical Concert Series, which is a year-long push for students to go attend fantastic concerts in the Capital District area. If you haven’t yet taken advantage of this program, you should. Free concert tickets to a variety of events are available to pick up at the Union Administration Office in Union Room 3702, for RPI students with IDs only. Check in the admin office for the rest of the year’s concert schedule.