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Not your father's string quartet; Stringfever's musical history lesson ranges from classical to rock 'n' roll.

Byline: Richard Duckett

A string quartet of classically trained English musicians (actually, three brothers and a cousin) will be playing at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts on Thursday. They certainly know their musical history.

But wait, did I just hear a yawn being stifled?

Hold on to your seat.

The ensemble is called Stringfever, and Thursday's performance is sure to include "The History of Music ... in Five Minutes." No more, no less. Violectras (five- and six-string electric violins), viola and a cello will be taking the ultimate musical express train ride from classical and chorales, to John Cage, musical show tunes and rock. It should be sort of feverish. "I can guarantee it will be something no one has ever seen before," Ralph Broadbent of Stringfever said about their Thursday appearance.

From putting on a 30-minute experimental performance mainly just for fun five years ago, Stringfever has grown to a full-time performing group known for both mesmerizing and amusing its audiences with literally electric 90-minute shows. Besides distilling the history of more than 300 years of famous music into 300 seconds ("it's a little snippet of every music style you can think of," Broadbent said), they also offer a rendition of Ravel's "Bolero," with the four musicians playing on one cello simultaneously. They also like to challenge the audience to "name the film" as they blaze through 20 movie themes. There can be reflective moments, such as an arrangement of Albinoni's "Adagio," but then it is likely to be on to doing some interesting things with the 007 James Bond theme. Expect vocalization, too.

Besides 36-year-old Ralph Broadbent (six-string violectra and the middle brother), Stringfever is composed of Giles Broadbent (gypsy violin, five-string violectra and older brother), Neal Broadbent (bass, five-string violectra, and younger brother), and Graham Broadbent (viola, five-string violectra, vocals and cousin).

The Broadbent brothers also have a younger sister and a family line (or should that be string) of musical involvement. Their paternal grandfather was an organist, choirmaster and singer, while their father was a music master at Rugby School in Rugby, Warwickshire, England, where the boys grew up. He taught them violin. "Two uncles played professionally, and when we were very young we would go and see them perform," Ralph Broadbent said. "We grew up with a classical background, but I think we always wanted to do something unconventional."

Ralph and Giles studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and Graham was at the Royal College of Music. While students, Ralph and Giles toured Europe in a camper van, and performed as buskers, or street musicians, to pay for their expenses while also broadening and expanding their musical horizons. After college, the three brothers found work playing in orchestras at theaters in London's West End. They were also session musicians for artists such as Paul McCartney, Groove Armada, and Travis and Dido.

Along the way they made the acquaintanceship of David Bruce-Johnson, a Canadian living in Birmingham, England, and maker of the violectra. The Broadbents became fascinated with the array of sounds the instrument(s) could create. When a West End production of "My Fair Lady" closed, the brothers found themselves with time, and violectras, on their hands. The idea for Stringfever started to tune in.

"It's gone from strength to strength," Ralph Broadbent said about the group during a telephone interview from London just before Christmas. They were scheduled to leave for the U.S. just after the New Year. They've toured this country before, and the first appearance of the current trip will be today in Madison Square Garden at the New York Knicks basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs. Then it is on to Worcester.

Asked if, given the group's classical background, Stringfever has ever considered putting on a straight classical string quartet concert, Ralph Broadbent said, "That's not our main aim at the moment. The next project, we want to start working on some original music."

Ralph Broadbent does most of the initial musical arrangements for Stringfever, "but then they all get knocked into shape by the rest of the band."

Are there ever any arguments in the Broadbent/Stringfever ensemble?

"Not one, ever," Ralph Broadbent deadpanned.

"We do, in truth, have our moments. But we have a great attitude. With family you quickly kiss and make up. I think it's a very nice way to work. We all get on very well. It's very nice to combine your working life with your family life." With lots of strings attached.

Stringfever

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester

How much: $28 and $35. (877) 571-7460; www.the hanovertheatre.org

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Stringfever, clockwise from top left: brothers Giles, Ralph and Neal Broadbent and their cousin, Graham Broadbent.
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT & LIFESTYLE
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 4, 2011
Words:799
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