Femmes electrify violins for classic rock show

Jimi Hendrix’s version of the “Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock made Nina DiGregorio stand up and take notice.

DiGregorio started playing violin at age 9 and studied the classical repertoire most young violinists do. But after hearing Hendrix’s rendition when she was 13 years old, “I was completely enamored,” she said. “I want to make my violin sound the same way.”

She did. She continued on a traditional path, earning a master’s degree in violin performance from the University of Nevada Las Vegas, but she also explored ways to use her instrument in a rock setting.

“From the time I was 13 years old, I was writing my own arrangements of rock songs for string quartets,” DiGregorio said.

When DiGregorio’s Femmes of Rock featuring Bella Electric Strings comes to Packard Music Hall on Dec. 7, the arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” in the setlist is one she created as a teenager.

That Zeppelin song will be joined by favorites by The Beatles, Queen, Metallica, Van Halen and others.

Each concert features four female violin and / or cello players backed by a guitar, bass and drums. A rotating lineup of a dozen women are used for the different gigs under the Femmes of Rock / Bella Electric Strings banner.

“When I audition performers, I ask them to send a clip performing something classical, and I send them one of my arrangements to improv a solo over it,” DiGregorio said.

The one who can do both gets the job.

DiGregorio has worked with a wide variety of musicians over the years. She spent two years as violinist in Toni Braxton’s band and appears on the DVDs “I Am … Yours” by Beyonce,” “Amore Under the Desert Sky” by Andrea Bocelli and “David Foster and Friends with Josh Groban, Michael Buble, Boz Scaggs and Peter Cetera.

Bella Electric Strings competed on the first season of “America’s Got Talent,” and DiGregorio has played with such acts as Stevie Wonder, Cheap Trick, Cee-Lo Green, Smokey Robinson and Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

To create a rock sound, those electronic violins are run through a guitar effects processor, which can help make a four-string violin with a bow sound like an electric guitar with a wah-wah pedal.

Still, the musicians have to adapt their playing to recreate some techniques, DiGregorio said. Because violins have a rounded bridge instead of a flat neck like a guitar, the musicians need to manipulate a bow to mimic the rapid tapping technique used by Eddie Van Halen and other rock / metal guitarists.

“You have to get a little creative,” she said.

DiGregorio stressed the word “Rock” in the name Femmes of Rock indicates the atmosphere of the live show.

“It’s definitely a rock concert vibe,” she said. “We encourage the audience to get up and want them dancing and singing with us.”


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