Bowfire is not a typical violin concert
March 5, 2013
Bowfire is a high-energy violin ensemble that combines string masters of classical, Celtic, bluegrass, jazz and rock violin.
The group strives to play on a high level, but also aims to entertain at a high level, said founder and director Lenny Solomon.
"I call it a ‘new direction in string performance because we have brought all these musicians together on one stage,’" Solomon said during a phone call from a show stop in Springfield, Mass.
When the group plays the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 8, it will be the first time it has played in the Intermountain West.
"We haven’t had a chance to play in that part of the world, yet, and we’re looking forward to it," Solomon said. "We hope parents will bring their children, because we show we can have oodles of fun while making a musical statement, and that will, hopefully, get their children to pick up instruments or practice more."
The roots of Bowfire began growing when Solomon was a child.
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His father was the principal violist for the Toronto Symphony for 42 years.
"That involved a lot of violins and it was something that I gravitated to at an early age, and violin lessons were inevitable," Solomon said.
However, in his teens, the emerging musician discovered pop music and the electric violin.
"That really turned me on to the possibilities beyond classical music," Solomon said. "I thought then it would be a good idea to learn as many styles as I could."
So he delved into pop, rock, jazz, country, bluegrass, Celtic and Klezmer music.
"I had the opportunity to play with so many different styles of great musicians, and I met a lot of fiddlers and violinists along the way," he said.
Those experiences stuck with Solomon, and in the summer of 2000, he decided to use his connections to form Bowfire.
"I thought it would be a great idea at one point to get my favorite players in a room, lock the door and do a workshop for a while to see what would come out," he said. "That’s how it all started."
Everyone he talked with loved the idea.
"I chose people with a broad range, regardless if they were specialists in their field of Celtic fiddling or classical playing," Solomon said. "They, in turn, were open to the idea of sharing the stage with jazz violinists."
For 13 years, Bowfire has toured the world and performed for audiences in Asia and North America.
It even performed in the Bahamas for one of the actors who played James Bond.
"I got a call two summers ago, from Stefan Connery, who is Sean Connery’s son," Solomon said. "It turned out that Sean is a big fan of Bowfire and Stefan hired us as a gift for his dad’s 80th birthday party."
The group played a private party for the Connerys and their friends.
At one point the band played a fiddle version of the "James Bond Theme," which was originally written in 1962 by Monty Norma.
"Once he heard that, Sean jumped up and step-danced with our dancers," Solomon said with a laugh. "It was a fabulous night. Sean is a gracious human being and it was a sight to see us shoulder-to-shoulder with James Bond on the dance floor."
The song is featured on the Bowfire’s CD, "New Flame," which was released last month. When the group comes to Park City, it will showcase some of the new songs.
"We are playing a lot of that material for audiences now, and we’re heading in a new direction," Solomon said. "We’re keeping with the spirit that we have brought to the stage."
that, the concertmaster means the show not only features "world-class" violinists, but an array of musicians and dancers as well.
"We are taking 11 performers on this tour," he said. "There are six violinists, a cellist, and a backline ensemble including bass, drums, piano and guitar. The musicians I have collected are among the best to be found anywhere, so purists of bluegrass or classical and general audiences who can’t make that distinction can really say that the music and the show are good and they can be entertained."
The concert will spotlight each fiddler, but also feature mixture of talents.
"Throughout the years, we have either written or commissioned pieces that blend and connect the different styles together," Solomon said. "For instance, one tune we perform is called ‘Fiddler in the Hood,’ and it combines Celtic melodies with hip-hop rhythm in a very cool way."
There will also be singing and dancing.
"One of our fiddlers is a great singer and two of them are incredible step dancers so there is a moment during the show where they step dance and fiddle at the same time," Solomon said. "I say this over and over again, but every night us mere human beings who just play violin watch this amazing feat of amazing coordination."
A few years ago, Solomon added specialized lighting and set design to "elevate the performance."
"We wanted to move from a concert experience to more of a show in a theatrical sense," he explained. "We were careful that the new elements didn’t take away from the musicality, because we wanted the production values to highlight further what music we bring to the stage."
The Park City Performing Arts Foundation will present Bowfire on Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and are available by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org . For more information, visit http://www.bowfire.com.
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