Fiddlin' Frenzy

When composer Johann Sebastian Bach was penning his Concerto in D Major for the violin in 1719, he probably didn't expect high-flying musicians to leap, spin and do back flips as they played the masterwork. But when it comes to the violin extravaganza known as Barrage, standing still isn't an option.

"It's a fusion of song, music, dance and theater, all centered around an ageless instrument: the violin," says Barrage co-founder and producer Anthony Moore.

The Barrage concept started in Canada in 1996, when five music-teacher friends gathered in a dusty storage room in downtown Calgary with a lofty goal: They sought to create a contemporary violin/ fiddle project -- sort of a Stomp-meets-Riverdance hybrid. "We were all strings players trained as classical musicians," says Moore. "But we also all loved fiddle music and how much fun you can have with it."

Out of that meeting came the idea behind Barrage: fast fingers and flying feet in a combination of music, athleticism, showmanship and choreography. "We wanted to fuse energetic movements with playing music," recalls Moore, "but we were having trouble coming up with a name. We couldn't find anything that really struck us. So we were flipping through the dictionary late one night and stumbled on the word 'barrage,' which was defined as 'a repetition of energy in a short time over one area.' It was exactly how people kept describing our performances, so we knew that it was perfect."

Their first show, A Violin Sings, A Fiddle Dances, earned the players strong reviews. This weekend marks the troupe's third visit to Denver, this time to present Vagabond Tales, the story of a musical wanderer who travels through different cultures and time periods with a magical steamer trunk as a source of inspiration. "When we explore Chinese music, we play the violin with chopsticks," notes Moore. "It's a great theme for us to explore many different cultures and eras, all through the violin."

Although it's difficult to categorize a Barrage performance, Moore guarantees that the one-act Vagabond Tales is appropriate for all ages. "It's a neat way to traverse the world musically and bring a variety of styles to the stage," he says. The production (which reportedly does not use steel-reinforced instruments during acrobatics) is currently touring almost forty North American cities.

Upon a stage set to look like a gypsy camp, the ninety-minute presentation features seven violinists and vocalists, as well as guitarists, bassists, drummers and percussionists, all assaulting their instruments at a frenzied pace. At times, violin bows are wielded like swords or transformed into props for a scene.

"It's really a challenging performance for the players," says Moore, who has done somersaults and handstands while playing his instrument. "It's like Cirque du Soleil, except with violins. It's really a full-on theatrical production."

In addition to its traveling show, the troupe, which is made up mostly of young musicians in their twenties, has released several CDs and a movie; Barrage also sponsors fiddle camps for music students and teachers.

"We want to show young musicians that there are a lot of different careers that you can explore with the violin," says Moore. "It doesn't have to be just a classical instrument."

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Julie Dunn
Contact: Julie Dunn