Tracy Silverman: Bringing ‘Good Dharma’ to the Basement

tracyNashville electric violin phenom Tracy Silverman was rummaging through some old sheet music the other week when he came across a remarkable manuscript.

“It was the handwritten notes for The Dharma at Big Sur that John Adams sent me back in 2003,” says Silverman. “As soon as I saw it I thought it would be cool to play it at my upcoming concert in Nashville.”

Sfutureilverman will perform a solo version of Adams’ Dharma for electric violin and orchestra this Monday night at the Basement. The performance, the violinist’s first in Nashville since he premiered Terry Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle with the Nashville Symphony in May 2012, will also feature Silverman and percussionist Roy “Futureman” Wooten playing everything from Hendrix and Stevie Wonder to Bach and Riley.  Bassist Steve Forrest and saxophonist Jeff Coffin are expected to sit in on a few tunes, making this one of those “it can only happen in Nashville” kinds of concerts.

Adams, arguably America’s foremost contemporary classical composer, composed The Dharma at Big Sur for Silverman to play at the inauguration of Disney Hall in Los Angeles.  Originally, Adams wanted to include a lot of opportunities for Silverman to improvise in Dharma, and he also wanted to tune the piece using an antiquated system called just intonation to give the work a pure, even primal sound. Both of those goals were abandoned.

“John realized he couldn’t include a lot of improvisation in an orchestra piece written for a hundred musicians,” says Silverman. “Similarly, just intonation proved to be impractical for a lot of the orchestra instruments to play.”

dharmaBut Adams’ original intentions are easily realized on Silverman’s six-string electric violin. Silverman will use the magic of his pedal loops to fill in parts usually played by orchestra. And on his fretless violin he can play on the knife-edge of any pitch.

“Since I’m playing solo, I’m free to improvise and to put a lot more of myself into the piece,” says Silverman. “For me, playing the solo version of Dharma is more like covering a song than interpreting a concerto.”

Silverman will project Adams’ handwritten score on a screen during the performance. His concert starts at 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 19 at the Basement, 1604 8th Ave. South. Admission is $5.

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About John Pitcher

John Pitcher is the chief classical music, jazz and dance critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He has been a classical music critic for the Washington Post, the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, National Public Radio’s Performance Today (NPR), ArtNowNashville.com and the Nashville Scene. His writings about music and the arts have also appeared in Symphony Magazine, American Record Guide and Stagebill Magazine, among other publications. Pitcher earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied arts writing with Judith Crist and Phyllis Garland. His work has received the New York State Associated Press award for outstanding classical music criticism.