“We Just LOVE This Show!” StringFever LIVE! at UCPAC
On Saturday March 4, 2017, we arrive at the historic Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) in downtown Rahway for our chance to see one of England’s most entertaining musical exports since The Fab Four: String Fever.
We’d been asked to park in the lot behind the theater, but when we get there, we find there aren’t any spaces available — except for one which is blocked with a large orange cone.
Leaving our vehicle in the fire lane, we attempt to inquire about the parking situation with a young man who happens to be standing behind the theater.
“Do you work here?” we ask.
“I guess you could say that,” he replies in a thick British accent.
“Wait a minute. You don’t work for the theater,” we exclaim, “You’re in StringFever! We recognize you from your ‘History of Music in Five Minutes’ video on YouTube!”
“Nice to meet you,” the young man replies. “I’m Neal.”
Neal directs us inside the theater where we’re told a parking spot has been saved just for us. And when we exit back into the cold, we’re surprised and delighted to see that Neal has already moved the orange cone for us!
At this point, we make our way backstage at UCPAC for an interview with all four members of String Fever — a family string quartet which consists of three brothers and a cousin, all with the name Broadbent.
In addition to Neal Broadbent, 30, there’s also eldest brother Giles Broadbent 45, middle brother Ralph Broadbent, 43, and cousin Graham Broadbent, 40.
The Broadbents explain to us that, unlike most string quartets, each member of their unique family quartet plays a different colored electric string instrument.
Oldest brother Giles plays a blue 5-string violin. Ralph — the group’s emcee — sports a 6-string gray violin. While also functioning as the group’s beatboxer, Neal performs on a red 5-string red cello. Last but not least, cousin Graham performs on a navy 5-string viola.
Given the fact that most violins, violas, and cellos have only four strings, we ask the Broadbents why they prefer these instruments.
“For the extra range,” responds Ralph, explaining that these custom instruments enable them to “play more notes” than their conventional counterparts.
And why did they choose to play electric instruments in the first place, we wonder?
Because, according to Ralph, as young musicians, they started out as “street performers,” in places where they needed to be able to compete with louder groups performing nearby. As a result, they purchased a set of hand-made electric instruments, the likes of which they still enjoy playing today.
Wondering how they got from playing street corners in Britain to performing in concert halls around the globe, Ralph explains that when a music agent put out a call for an act to play a party, StringFever was born.
The group also took a giant step forward when their “History of Music in Five Minutes” video went viral on the internet.
When asked what types of music they like, each member of StringFever gives us a different response. Whereas youngest member Neal likes “disco and rock and roll,” middle brother Ralph enjoys everything from “classical music to Elvis.” Cousin Graham, however, discloses he likes pretty much “anything,” and oldest member Giles agrees with Graham, going on to stipulate, “as long as it’s good!”
As the de facto arranger of the group’s music, middle brother Ralph tells us how he creates StringFever’s famous medleys revealing, “Once you have a concept — like ‘Disney songs’”— you look for a “good beginning,” a “good ending,” and then plug in whatever songs “make it work.”
With regards to the humor for which the group is universally known, the members of StringFever suggest it simply comes out of their personalities and their talents.
By way of example, elder brother Giles retrieves his laptop to show us something, as Neil — who’d stepped out for a moment — gleefully dances by the interview room door.
With a huge smile on his face, Giles shares with us a sneak preview of a video the group recently shot in the mountains of Europe.
Explains Giles, “I happened to discover that I could play the violin while skiing, and that’s what inspired this video.”
And, sure enough, a quick look at Giles’ computer screen shows all four Broadbents playing their famous colorful instruments briskly traveling down ski trails on skis!
Ralph tells us that tonight is an auspicious occasion for StringFever as it is the first night of their thirteenth US tour in eight years.
The guys go on to inform us that, although they once played a private party in New Jersey, tonight’s concert at UCPAC is their first ever public performance in the Garden State!
And at this very moment, waiting out in the auditorium for StringFever’s New Jersey concert debut is a devoted crowd of music lovers who’ve made their way to Rahway’s beautiful Union County Performing Arts Center. Completed in 1928, the venue was beautifully restored in the 1980s with such amenities soft velvet red draperies and a magnificent chandelier. It is now listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places and boasts an historic 500-pipe organ as well as a great view from every seat in the house.
Opening for StringFever tonight at UCPAC are several groups of student musicians from the Rahway Public School system under the direction of string teachers Sofya Kitenberg and Sergei Panov.
Says UCPAC executive director, Brian Remo, having local students perform on the same stage as world-class professionals is “a perfect example of our mission statement.” According to Remo, UCPAC strives to be a community resource which encourages “cultural and educational opportunities for people of all ages” and also attempts to “showcase both established as well as emerging local performers and artists.”
Altogether, four orchestral groups from the Rahway Public Schools take a turn in the UCPAC spotlight tonight: an elementary school orchestra, a seventh grade orchestra, an eighth grade orchestra, and a high school orchestra.
After the individual groups have performed, members of all four groups take their places on the stage for a combined number with tonight’s headliners, StringFever! Performing “Stand By Me,” the students and pros at UCPAC show the audience exactly what being a part of a community is all about.
Following animated applause,the youngsters make their way off the stage, Ralph saying, “It’s so inspirational to see kids playing live music!”
Welcoming the Jersey crowd, Ralph says, “We arrived from England today. It’s 1:30 in the morning in London right now,” he adds, “but we played in London last night!”
Going on to announce, “This is our first time in New Jersey,” Ralph and the group open their portion of the evening’s festivities with the third movement of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons entitled “Summer.”
For their sizzling rendition of this classic piece of music, the group is rewarded with cheers and applause.
Ralph introduces the members of the group, referring to older brother Giles as “the boss,” Neil as “the youngest,” and Graham as their “little cousin” — despite his towering height. At this point, Ralph is described by another Broadbent as “debonaire ‘cuz he still has some hair.”
Moving on to a string version of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” the group wails, each musician adding effects to their electronic string instruments via the use of electronic effects boxes placed at their feet.
Famous for their medleys, StringFever performs a collection of songs from movies including themes from Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Godfather, ET, and The Deer Hunter, Neal sporting antlers created by his hands just for laughs.
Next up is another medley, the group’s Opera medley. With this compilation, the Broadbents demonstrate their superior skill and musicianship with an expressive interpretation of classic opera melodies. On this piece, Ralph’s excellent arrangement makes the group sound more like a full orchestra than a string quartet, the sound swirling up and around the room.
StringFever is proud to perform a piece which was written by their relative, Niles Broadbent, a violinist in the London Symphony for 35 years. Entitled “Silent Movie,” Neal plays his cello like a guitar, strumming and chording. During one section the group adds a little Spanish flair, flirting with dynamics and softly caressing the music as it blankets the audience like a love song.
Moving on to one of many highlights of the evening, StringFever plays the Charlie Daniels Band country classic, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” On this foot-stompin’ number, cousin Graham gets the spotlight as he does a wonderful job performing the lead vocal with a humorous yet convincing Southern twang.
The audience is shocked when fire literally comes shooting out of Giles’ bow as he plays the lead fiddle part with lightning speed!
On the next number, “The Lark,” there’s a high-pitched squeaking on the violin which the group reveals is supposed to imitate the sound of a lark.
After this, controlled chaos ensues as Ralph pushes Graham away with his head when it’s his turn to play; then, the two cousins swap and play each other’s instruments. Next, Giles steals Neal’s cello and gives him his violin; as they play, another Broadbent with an instrument in hand is seen leaping through the air. Then, Neil plays two violins at once as Graham lifts Neil’s cello and plays it like a guitar. Getting faster and more frenetic as the song continues, eldest brother Giles comes to the foot of the stage, making his instrument chirp and squawk as it intermittently squeaks and sings like a lark.
After excited applause, the group leaves the stage for a short intermission. At this time, we have a chance to chat with instrumental music teacher Sergei Panov who calls the evening’s pairing of the Rahway string students and StringFever an “incredible opportunity” which “the kids will remember forever.”
We also have an opportunity to chat with the current Mayor of Rahway, Samson Steinman, who calls this a “wonderful night in Union County at UCPAC.” Despite the fact that other school districts around the state and around the country no longer have string programs for their youngest children, Steinman understands the value of an elementary through high school string program as it not only teaches children how to appreciate music, but it also teaches them diligence, teamwork, and cooperation. As such, he’s made it a point to keep Rahway’s school string program strong, much to the delight of the audience at UCPAC tonight.
After intermission, StringFever opens Act II with yet another movement from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: “Winter,” each member watching one another as, together, they happily skate through the piece.
Next up is StringFever’s delightful Disney medley featuring tunes like “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Be Our Guest,” “Hi Ho,” and many more, cellist Neal keeping perfect time as the group’s beatboxer.
As the famous melodies waft through the theater, listeners are left to visualize images in their minds’ eyes of scenes from famous Disney movies forever etched into their memories or to events from their lives which happen to be associated with these well-known songs. Kids in the audience simply clap along to pieces they love including The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life” and Mary Poppins’ “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”
And if music is the international language, then this group of Brits does a wonderful job here in America performing Russian melodies when they play a sampling of Tchaikovsky’s compositions including the “1812 Overture” and “Waltz of the Flowers.”
Another highlight of the evening is StringFever’s outstanding performance of Samuel Barber’s gorgeous “Adagio for Strings.” Enabling the tone color of their individual instruments to shine, Giles, Ralph, Graham, and Neal make the music soar and cry, creating poignant beauty in a touching moment of instrumental intimacy.
Going from the sublime to the hilarious, the group puts their unique spin on Ravel’s “Bolero.” In this piece, the group invites two random members of the audience — Rose, a student, and Julia, a mom — up to the stage. At this point, all four members of StringFever play the piece on a single instrument — Neil’s cello — except for the final note which is played in unison by Rose and Julia on electric violins!
To conclude the evening’s festivities, StringFever plays the group’s signature work, “The History of Music in Five Minutes.” With this contemporary musical masterpiece, the Broadbents knock the audience’s socks off with their clever arrangement and flawless performance of such timeless pieces as “Greensleeves,” The Hallelujah Chorus,” “The Entertainer,” “Summertime,” “In the Mood,” “Hound Dog,” “Stayin’ Alive,” “Billie Jean,” and many more!
The audience on its feet cheering for more, StringFever takes a bow and goes on to play a rollicking encore of Gypsy music, delighting the audience with their unique personalities and impeccable musicality.
Following the show, in the lobby, we spot Rose who was selected by the group to join them on stage for Ravel’s “Bolero.”
About her impromptu performance, Rose, 10, from South Amboy, reveals, “I was both nervous and excited.” With regards to the rest of the evening’s presentation, Rose declares, “the music was cool and I thought StringFever was so funny. I especially liked it when fire shot out of Giles’ bow!”
We also chat with Amanda from Rahway, also 10, who had an opportunity to play violin with StringFever tonight.
“It was very exciting,” asserts Amanda, who’s been playing her instrument for over two years.
Amanda’s mom, Melissa, calls the show, “really good,” going on to note, “and the kids were really good, too!”
Acknowledging how surprised she was to find that StringFever has the unusual ability to play contemporary music on traditional instruments, Melissa exclaims, “I never expected they could play so many kinds of music on violins and such!”
Amanda’s dad, Oidel, calls StringFever’s program tonight, “a fabulous performance,” and this feeling is also echoed by Amanda’s sister, Cecilia, 14, who adds, “It was a good experience to hear such different kinds of sounds.”
Concludes Maura, one of Amanda’s contemporaries, “We just LOVE this show!”
To learn more about StringFever — including information on upcoming performances and recordings — please go to www.stringfeverusa.com. For more on future programming at UCPAC — including American Rapture: A Rock and Soul Revue “Reunion” on March 25, 2017 and country superstar LeAnn Rimes on April 30, 2017 — please go to www.ucpac.org.