Bach to the Future: Charm, humour and staggering musical chops
By Lyndsey Wong
On October 28th, the Kelowna Community Concert Association brought us “Bach To The Future”, a quartet based in St. Louis and Nashville. As the name implies, Bach was indeed represented (actually, two of them), as were Beethoven and Liszt. Standard fare for the KCCA demographic, right?
When the ensemble stepped on stage with cellphones in hand, filming the crowd for their “Bach-umentary” (and their pianist in a hoodie with a keytar), I knew it was going to be very different from any concert I had attended before.
Michael Silverman, keyboardist, pianist and composer, has a résumé any musician would envy. With 14 number-one albums across various genres, music in hundreds of film and television productions, and six billion downloads and streams across various platforms, he remains the most downloaded solo pianist in the world.
He and his brother, Rob Silverman, an accomplished drummer and educator, have founded several music festivals, including the Chesterfield Wine and Jazz Festival, the University City Jazz Festival, and the St. Louis Winter Jazz Festival. In addition to being one of the most downloaded solo percussionists, Rob is the author of several best-selling drum set instructional books.
In 2007, the pair founded Autumn Hill Records and have recorded more than 900 albums of their own, in addition to those of countless other artists. It seems they have played with everyone, including heavy-hitting jazz musicians such as members of the late Chick Corea’s band.
Not surprisingly, both parents were classical musicians. Being raised in St. Louis meant the brothers were also exposed to a world of blues, rock and jazz, amongst other genres. Their bass player, the talented Matt Bollinger, grew up with the brothers and has been making music with them since childhood. Although Michael is responsible for most of the arrangements, Matt was instrumental (no pun intended) in the formation of the group with his idea of re-imagining classical works for the six-string electric bass.
The Silverman brothers were long-time admirers of Tracy Silverman’s work, and six years ago they brought this highly-accomplished violinist into their group. Not only a formidable performer, he was also a pioneer in the development of the electric six-string violin. A graduate of The Juilliard School, he was named one of only a hundred distinguished alumni and his performance on Saturday left no doubt of his outstanding technique and musicianship.
During the show Michael largely served as the emcee, announcing that this was both the beginning and the end of their Canadian tour, seeing how it was a stand-alone concert. He then successfully revived an age-old gag, saying, “Let me introduce the band!” before proceeding to introduce the band members to each other, resulting in much chuckling throughout the crowd.
Even before playing, he had won over the audience with his comedic nature and understated charisma. It’s not often that you get to laugh in a show involving Baroque music.
The first number was one of Bach’s most popular works, “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”, but with an Afro-Cuban feel. Apart from there being four highly proficient musicians on stage, it was instantly clear that this band was completely gelled and thoroughly enjoying playing as a group.
A highlight of the night was “Re-Invention 13” (based on the piece by J.S. Bach) where we were first introduced to the Zendrum, an electronic drum-guitar played only by the hands. I had never seen one before and, had I closed my eyes, I could have sworn their drummer was playing a whole electronic kit. Between Rob’s deftness on the relatively small instrument and Michael’s
alternation between the keytar (a keyboard strapped across the body like a guitar) and the piano, this piece was not only entertaining aurally but visually as well.
After Michael’s playful quotation of “The Pink Panther Theme” in his solo, Rob joined his brother and the two began an amusing bit, repeatedly pushing each other off the bench while playing — essentially duelling on one piano. This impressed and delighted the audience, with laughter and applause all around.
Although it was not the last song listed on the program, their “final'' number of the night (which, when announced, was a comedic “nudge-nudge wink-wink” to demand an encore) was their arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — in the style of Carlos Santana. Here, the band especially shone, mostly notably Rob with a display of his outstanding talents as a rock drummer. Two minutes into his solo, he threw his drumsticks across the room, the lights went out, and he was suddenly using blue LED drumsticks in the dark. All without missing a beat.
Although the average age of the audience might have been in their seventies, you would not have guessed it with the level of cheering and hollering that occurred.
Other numbers included Tracy’s original electric violin solo, skillfully played with a loop pedal, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 in the style of Bugs Bunny, and their crowd-pleasing medley of “Star Wars”.
There was a strong rock undertone in their arrangements, and Matt deserves attention for his prowess in anchoring the band, providing a steady pulse and groove through each number. When asked who their heaviest music influence was, the Silverman brothers quickly responded, “Rush.”
This was the KCCA’s second show in the new space, the Evangel Church Auditorium on Gordon Drive, and the lighting and sound were perfect for this act. Although they always bring in phenomenal groups from around the world, it's safe to say that “Bach to The Future” is a stand-out with their ability to inject new life into classical pieces we know so well, using their arsenal of charm, humour, creativity and staggering musical chops.
This was the most fun I have had at a concert and you can bet I will be Bach for more!
Lyndsey Wong, M.D. was trained as a coloratura soprano and was awarded Distinction in the ARCT exam for Piano Performance. She works as a singer and actor on stage and screen, and has been a Music Director and vocal coach for multiple theatre productions.