EMBRACING A BRACE OF WOMEN ON VIOLINS
by Ron Vazzano
When you think of the violin, it’s usually in terms of something classical, something staid— even to the point of being stodgy—melodious, though somewhat somber, and often evocative of a lament in the key of bittersweet. For me, something along the lines of “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Unger from the hit 1990 PBS mini-series “The Civil War,” readily comes to mind. (Was that 25 years ago already?). All in all, a beautiful instrument to behold, especially when beheld by a virtuoso who can make even an Alpha male weep.
On the other end of the scale, associations might be in the context of bluegrass or hoe down music, and at such times, thought of as a fiddle. Is there a difference between a violin and a fiddle? Not really, though it is a subject open to much discussion, debate and lots of wry commentary. A few one-liners I ran across on line:
- When you are buying one, it’s a fiddle. When you are selling one, it’s a violin.
- $125 per hour and a tuxedo.
- You can’t play a violin barefoot.
- A violin has strings, and a fiddle has strangs.
- You’ll never find a violinist with a mullet.
- A violin sings, but a fiddle dances.
- It’s a matter of style. If you have style, it’s a fiddle.
And the people playing it? We tend to think male, with hall-of-fame names like Isaac Stern, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin and Itzak Perlman. In short, we think of violin players (though not fiddlers), as being of rather serious temperament and often rooted in European and “foreign” traditions. What you might call your father’s or grandfather’s violinists. That has changed.
Nowhere is that more in evidence for me, than with two violinists on the New York scene these days, who are turning the instrument and their performance on it, into something that shatters the glass of any stereotypes and preconceived notions.
No, Deni Bonet and Annette Homann are not your father’s fiddlers.
As one music critic noted on a new generation of violinists in this mold, “they are on the whole, female, ultra-virtuosic, career-focused and glamorous besides.” To which I would add specific to these two women, possessing a sense of total performance—including everything from the addition of body movement and choreography, to their banter in between pieces—wit, irony, and sexy besides.
Deni Bonet is a classically trained violinist, whose rather impressive “liner notes” from her website read:
- Deni has recorded and performed with Cyndi Lauper, R.E.M., Sarah McLachlin among many others…
- performed at Carnegie Hall, the United Nations, and just recently at the White House for President Obama and the First Lady
- Her music has been featured on HBO, NBC, American Airlines, several film and modern dance projects, and has been described by the Wall Street Journal as “like Cheryl Crow meets the B-52’s.”
Her unique style is fully on display in a video produced for her single “One in a Million” that was released along with her latest album It’s all good.
I caught her at a gig at the Rockwood Music Hall in downtown Manhattan last month, in a night paying homage to “The Musical History of the Lower East Side,” a musical show created by Charles R. Hale. Deni made even a Stephen Foster medley sound hip. And I had the pleasure over a year ago, of performing a spoken word piece in tandem with arrangements she composed and played specific to a collaboration entitled “Unrequited Love.”
Annette Homann, classically trained and born in Germany :
- Has been performing since the age of six
- She has toured throughout Europe, China, Central America, Canada and the U.S. and at various venues…
- Including Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall, Alice Tully Hall, Symphony Space, New World Stages, and Brooklyn Bowl
- Her extended techniques, and singing combining elements of bluegrass, blues, pop and classical with a theatrical vibe—the violin used in non-traditional ways, often replacing the guitar, and sometimes percussion— are in evidence on her recent CD, “Heimatgefühle” (German for “feelings of home”).
I got to see her live last month at a private art gallery event sponsored by Artists Without Walls in Chelsea. Her performance in covering Adele’s Skyfall, the theme song of the 2012 James Bond film of the same name, was at once both sexy and witty (and barefoot, defying a previously noted one- liner). It brought down the house.
And while I have not caught a live performance of so called “hip-hop” violinist Lindsey Stirling, whose Crystallize video on YouTube has gotten an unfathomable 119,000,000 views since uploaded in February of 2012 (is that a misprint?), Deni and Annette are every bit as good and dynamic in my book. (And Muse-Letter). And does Lindsey Stirling drop by McSorely’s Old Ale House on a rainy spring afternoon, take out her violin in the backroom and play? Annette has.
I wonder what Itzak Perlman thinks about all of this sort of thing?
Ron Vazzano, a writer, poet and actor, has been a frequent contributor to this website as well as performer at Artist Without Walls monthly showcases. You can read his column Muse Letter by clicking here.