Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Stringfever’s show reinvigorates the concert experience November 10, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 10:17 pm
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I discovered Stringfever on YouTube and on Monday 8 November went to see their show at Epsom Playhouse Theatre.

While the audience mainly consisted of the mature middle-class, there was a notable scattering of ‘young’ people: either teenagers coming with their parents or young professionals coming in groups of friends. I counted roughly 20 ‘young’ people out of an audience of around 300. Their manager Trevor Eyles emphasised the band’s broad appeal as they perform in venues from retirement homes to colleges.

I was struck by the slick nature of the show. The fact that they tour with the same programme has enabled them to produce a highly polished performance, particularly in regards to stage presence. The repertoire was confidently memorised which in turn meant that they were able to play out to the audience with an assortment of facial expressions and stage antics. Though the shiny suits and patent black shoes are not to my taste, their matching outfits turned the performance in a show with all aspects are taken into consideration.

Stringfever also successful communicated with the audience. This was evident in the spoken introductions to the repertoire as well as the musicians’ ability to portray they individual and distinct characters on stage. I think Ralph Broadbent’s dialogues were well balanced between informative and accessible. He introduced the works simply by giving a bit of background information like the piece’s original orchestration and then slowly incorporated any composers’ names or technical terms before giving the full formal name of the composition. I enjoyed how Neal Broadbent helped bridge the music and the dialogue by sustaining a pulse on the cello. Furthermore the false clap was very tactfully dealt with to diffuse any air that it mattered if you clapped in the wrong place.

Stringfever are aware of the tastes of their audiences and will alter the content of the programme accordingly. At Epsom there was a balance of the classical and popular including film titles and rock numbers. Humour played a strong part in the show such as the beer drinking test demonstrating how the solo violinists are trying to out do each other in Brahms’ Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5. However, this was matched by moments of seriousness where the music was not over performed such as their arrangement of Barber’s Adagio for Strings. I was also impressed by their incorporation of new music in the programme by non-threatening introducing them as ‘three original pieces by three original people’. It demonstrated that there is some very accessible new music out there and introduced in the right light it doesn’t scare audiences away.

I also appreciated how the audiences’ listening was focused. Particularly at the beginning of the show the audience were set different tasks of what to listen for whether it was to identify the film music or listening out for the high squeaks that represented birdsong in The Lark. This helped concentrate the audiences’ attention so that they stayed fully engaged with the music. The constantly changing music styles also kept the audience on their toes. The History of Music in 5mins was reminiscent of listening to the introductions of an album on shuffle. I would also argue that while String fever’s stage antics may appear like a bit of fun on the surface, at time they did actually reinforce the meaning of the music. For example in Ravel’s Bolero a musician dramatically entered the stage to highlight his new musical entrance.

Stringfever’s show is a refreshing alternative to the conventional concert experience. While I personally prefer an acoustic sound, what they do, they do very well.

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