Lauded by the BBC as “the greatest living exponent of the electric violin”, Tracy Silverman’s groundbreaking work with the 6-string electric violin defies musical boundaries. The world’s first concert electric violinist, Silverman has been the subject of two major orchestral commissions, both composed specifically for and with Tracy: Pulitzer winner John Adams’ “The Dharma at Big Sur”, premiered with the LA Philharmonic at the gala opening of Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003 and recorded with the BBC Symphony on Nonesuch Records with John Adams conducting; and legendary “Father of Minimalism” Terry Riley’s “The Palmian Chord Ryddle” which Silverman premiered with the Nashville Symphony in Carnegie Hall on May 12, 2012.
Formerly first violinist with the innovative Turtle Island String Quartet, Silverman was named one of 100 distinguished alumni by The Juilliard School. Shortly after graduating in 1980, Silverman built one of the first-ever 6-string violins and set his own course as a musical pioneer, designing and performing on an instrument that did not previously exist.
Silverman’s eclectic career has spanned work with the world’s finest symphonies and conductors, including Marin Alsop, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Neemi Jarvi; the rock band Guster; jazz legend Billy Taylor; Brazilian percussionist Airto and many others.
Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Adams’ electric violin concerto, “The Dharma at Big Sur”, single-handedly legitimized the electric violin in 2003 and Silverman has performed it at New York’s Avery Fisher Hall, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Royal Albert Hall in London, Palais des Beaux Artes in Brussels, Adelaide Festival Theater in Australia, The Brucknerhaus in Linz, Austria and the Cabrillo Festival, among many others. In the liner notes, Adams writes, “Tracy has developed his own unique style of violin playing–a marvel of expressiveness. The closest thing to a genuine collaboration I’ve ever done with a performer”. At the premier, Mark Swed of the LA Times raved, “Inspiring. Silverman is in a class of his own.” The Chicago Tribune’s John von Rhein wrote of Silverman’s “blazing virtuosity. You will be astonished that anybody can play a fiddle like that.” “Fleet agility and tangy expressivity with wailing hints of Jimi Hendrix,” raved Anthony Tommasini, New York Times.
While developing this new instrument, Silverman discovered that he had also developed a new approach to string playing. “The additional 2 lower strings open up a door not just to an additional lower register but also, surprisingly, to a new approach to using the bow. The possibility of playing the violin as a chordal instrument like the guitar forced me to imagine a more rhythmic way of using the bow which I call ‘Strum Bowing’.”
“My voice as an electric violinist comes from the fact that I have always been interested in non-classical music—rock, jazz, music from India, Africa and Brazil. I entered Juilliard wanting to be the next Jasha Heifetz but I left wanting to be the next Jimi Hendrix. It was actually fortuitous that I couldn’t play guitar or saxophone and was limited to finding a way to get all those sounds out of a violin instead. My musical odyssey has brought me full circle—from classical roots to rock and jazz and brazilian and indian music and now back to the classical world again with these concertos by John Adams and Terry Riley and Nico Muhly—made all the more sweet for the long journey I took. It took me years to forget everything I learned at Juilliard.”
A link between the classical and vernacular worlds, Silverman is also an in-demand composer with commissions and performances with orchestras all over the world. Silverman’s “Electric Violin Concerto” has been described by the Wichita Eagle as “the ideal piece for today’s symphony”, and has been choreographed in it’s entirety by Henrique Rodovalho in a fully mounted production with the Bale Teatro Guaira in Curitiba, Brazil. Silverman’s 2nd electric violin concerto, “Between the Kiss and the Chaos”, premiered in 2010 with the Wichita Symphony and will be released on CD in 2012 with Silverman’s string quartet arrangement featuring the Calder Quartet.
Silverman has recorded with a virtual who’s who of the new music, jazz and rock world and established a long-standing relationship with Windham Hill Records, where he appears on dozens of compilation CD’s. His 1999 self-produced Windham Hill release, “Trip to the Sun”, has become a cult favorite which Billboard Magazine heralded as “the most adventurous Windham Hill album ever.” Other collaborators include Indian tabla master Zakir Hussein, violinists Rachel Barton Pine and Daniel Bernard Roumain, pop pianist Jim Brickman, singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, alt-country band Big and Rich, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones percussionist Roy “Futureman” Wooten, Tuck and Patty, classical guitarist Eliot Fisk, Irish rock star Bob Geldof, and as a soloist with major orchestras.
“I had an amazing teacher named Deborah Schwartz when I was in my teens and I learned almost everything I know about the violin from her. Then I studied with Lewis Kaplan and the legendary Ivan Galamian at Juilliard. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many great musicians of every kind.”
An international touring artist, Tracy has performed at major concert venues from Sao Paulo to Vienna, from Carnegie Hall to the Hollywood Bowl. In 1999 he was awarded Artist in Residence status by the city of Hamburg, Germany and is a frequent concert attraction in Brazil. The Rhein Zeitung wrote “technically brilliant to the fingertips, but overthrowing all the usual preconceived ideas”. The London Times raved, “His deep engagement with the music coursed through his strong, supple virtuosity.”
Silverman produced and performs on Jim Brickman’s hit CD’s “Simple Things”, “Lovesongs and Lullabies”, “Escape”, “Homecoming”, “Beautiful World” and on 5 of Jim’s popular TV Specials. His many appearances on national radio and television include NPR’s Performance Today, Minnesota Public Radio’s St. Paul Sunday, many appearances on A Prairie Home Companion and was featured as a violinist and record producer on CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood. He has taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, and at the MacPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis and regularly gives workshops all over the world, including the Stanford Jazz Workshop, Jazz in July at Amherst, Oberlin Conservatory and many others. Silverman has long been a favorite instructor at the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp and he currently holds teaching positions in jazz violin and composition at Belmont University and Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music in his home of Nashville, TN.
Tracy is currently touring internationally as a soloist with orchestras, with his solo one-man concerts, with his rock ensemble, “Eclectica”, and with Three Part Invention with pianist Philip Aaberg and cellist Mike Block. He lives with his wife and 4 children in Nashville, TN.