The Bowfire Group: Strings On Fire

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The Bowfire Group
Beacon Theater
New York City
April 24, 2008

My first impression of the group was that this was certainly a different and very original presentation. The performance also featured a plethora of music and dance styles—Irish (Celtic and bluegrass music) jigs, jazz dance, classical music, rock, Broadway presentations and, at times, pure drama as well.

The raison d'etre of this group could well be that the violin is a fun instrument and can be used to play all sorts of music in a way that makes for fun and happiness. The instrument itself is one of the oldest (mature) instruments. It hasn't changed in size or form since circa 1700! But Bowfire is typical of how ancient yet modern the instrument could be. For instance, Lenny Solomon, Bowfire's Artistic Director played his electric violin and jazz violinist, Stephane Allard played one that was green in color, but all the other members of the group—skilled violinists, one and all—played the traditional, burnished ones.

The concert opened not with a concerto, but with a rocking performance by Lenny Solomon, who stood on stage, like Miles did with his back to the audience, playing an electric violin. This was followed by one played when the whole group plucking their violin strings—playing pizzicato—as they paraded their way onto the stage. The group then went from rock to Celtic music in short phrases and they returned to the same themes often with interludes from other tunes in their repertoire. It was music, music and more music!

There was seemingly endless applause especially when Stephane Cadman came out and did a stepdancer performance that was just was electrifying! She really became the main attraction for that part of the show. Also, Jon Pilatzke's dancing was riveting—and at times almost comic with his 'Crazy Legs' presentation.

Another star performer was classical violinist, Yi-Jia Susanne Hou. Her tone was exceptional and her phrasing was perfect. She also appeared to be having fun with the folk music she mixed into her classical performance and as a bonus, she enjoyed a few small dramatic interludes during the performance. Then there was George Gao playing the 'erhu,' a classical Chinese fiddle. Gao showed that the instrument he played was equal in tone to the violin; perhaps a shade better at times! The only bone of contention I have is that Gao did not solo enough! The other instrumentalists—Shane Cook, Bogdan Djukic, Ray Legere, Wendy Solomon and Kelli Trottier—all did an excellent job too.

The rhythm section, of course, was the rock-solid foundation of this group! Bill Bridges on guitars; Bernie Senensky, a great jazz pianist and organist from Toronto who also knows the importance of the right chords and positions when backing up a show and percussionist Ben Riley, who set an exquisite rhythmic tone for the group. Finally there was bassist Lew Mele who was featured on several tunes. He played a range of basses—Fender electric bass, fretless jazz bass, upright electric bass and traditional acoustic bass (violin).

If you thought it was not possible to put every genre of music into a show lasting an hour and a half then you should have been there on that April night to hear and see the Bowfire Group do it. Bowfire... they were really on fire!

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