Sunday, October 19, 2008

Paul Liberatore: Hot Buttered Rum's Redner shakes up Vivaldi's classic

Just before violinist Aaron Redner was to go on stage the other night at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colo., with his band, Hot Buttered Rum, he was on his cell phone, talking excitedly about playing Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons" next week in Mill Valley.

"I find myself in a band that travels nonstop and has lots of followers, and that's great," he told me. "But I've been feeling a need to tap back into my classical roots."

By classical roots he means the master's degree in classical violin performance he earned from the New England Conservatory in Boston before joining Hot Buttered Rum, spending the past six years on the jam band circuit with groups such as Phish and String Cheese Incident and the Yonder Mountain String Band.

As a side project that will take advantage of his classical training, the 37-year-old Tam High grad has come up with an idea for a crossover concert at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre during a break in Hot Buttered Rum's busy touring schedule.

Next Thursday night he'll be joined by some of the finest young classical musicians in the North Bay in an interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons," a timeless favorite that most people are familiar with in some form or another. We've all heard strains of it in movies and commercials and have probably hummed it in the shower without knowing it.

"That's why I picked this piece, because it's almost like pop music, " Redner explained. "I'm still going to play all the notes, but there's room
for interpretation and improvisation more than there is in most classical music."

For this one-off gig, he's assembled a classical string quartet filled out by guitar, bass and harpsichord. He's enlisted the likes of Karen Shinozaki, who grew up in Terra Linda and performs with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, and violinist Michelle Maruyama, who appeared at the Nano Mugen Festival in Japan recently with Third Eye Blind.

"I'm surrounding myself with huge talent and trying to stay relaxed in the middle of it," he said, noting that he's encouraging them to shed their classical music conformity, urging them "to think of themselves as a band."

During breaks between the movements in "The Four Seasons," various aggregations, including all the members of Hot Buttered Rum, are primed to jam on jazz, bluegrass and swing renditions of seasonal songs like "Autumn Leaves" and "Summertime." Making sure this doesn't resemble a traditional classical concert in any way shape or form, Redner's even got an interpretive dancer in the mix.

"People in the jam band world are saying how much they love this piece, which I didn't expect," he said, referring to the Vivaldi. "And classical music fans are going to hear some jazz standards in this show, and some swing and some bluegrass - music they might not go out of their way to hear normally."

During his college years, Redner was on track for a career with a chamber group or symphony orchestra. Then, as he put it, "I got kidnapped by this band, the Grateful Dead. And I decided I loved playing music that people could dance to in a communal atmosphere. That was lacking in my classical music experience."

Even six years later, though, his classical jones has been hard to kick. During Hot Buttered Rum shows, he's known for playing a Beethoven sonata in the middle of a bluegrass tune.

"I've been trying to do that more and more," he said. "Fans are starting to expect it."

With this concert, which Redner hopes will be the first of many, he joins a classical crossover movement pioneered by virtuosos like Edgar Meyer, Joshua Bell, Bela Fleck, Mark O'Connor, Chris Thile and Mike Marshall, who produced the last Hot Buttered Rum album.

"In order to do this kind of thing and not sound like a dilettante, you have to do your homework," he said.

As a resident of San Anselmo, he said there are a lot of beautiful places to do that.

"I go over the Bolinas-Fairfax Road, stop beside one of the lakes and practice my butt off," he said. "When I'm up on Mount Tam in the open air, I try to create music that fits that perfection. I don't want to be guilty of air pollution."


- What: Hot Buttered Rum's Aaron Redner's "The Four Seasons," acoustic

- When: 8 p.m. Oct. 23

- Where: 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley

- Tickets: $20, $15 students/seniors

- Information: 383-9600

Photo Info: Aaron Redner of Hot Buttered Rum leads a group of equally musical friends in an excursion into the classical world of Vivaldi, with surprisingly modern results. (Dave Fleischman)

Paul Liberatore can be reached at
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