“The Violin Alone” features Eric Funk

Documentary premieres at Ellen Theatre and on Montana PBS

New & Notable

“The Violin Alone,” explores the collaboration between two modern visionaries, Vilmos Oláh, a Hungarian violin virtuoso, and Eric Funk, a contemporary classical composer from the heart of Montana, that has resulted in a new piece of music unlike anything written before.

Bozeman filmmaker Scott Sterling’s extraordinary portrait of this revolutionary work had its world premiere at 7 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Ellen Theatre in Bozeman; its broadcast premiere follows at 8 p.m. Jan. 9 on MontanaPBS. The film will also be shown during the Flathead Lake International Cinemafest, Jan. 20-22 in Polson.

“Vili: Concerto for Violin Alone,” the work crafted by Funk, is an extreme concerto that pushes the boundaries of music and our notion of the possible. Oláh must play the solo and orchestra parts simultaneously.

The work represents a seemingly impossible task: he must emulate flutes, oboes, clarinet, and timpani, and must move his bow towards the bridge in an exact position to capture crisp brass punch of a trumpet fanfare. He must navigate idiomatic techniques that composer Eric Funk considered theoretically possible, but probably impossible.

In the third movement, his right hand is bowing the solo part while his left-hand ring finger is playing pizzicato to form the pulsing rhythmic accompaniment.

Funk first heard Oláh play in a recital in Bozeman, where he discovered the artist’s virtuosity, timbrel range and idiomatic technique. “This man is an orchestra all by himself,” says Funk.

That recital became the inspiration for the composer to write a concerto for the violin alone, specifically for Oláh.

"The Violin Alone"
Montana composer Eric Funk collaborates with a Hungarian violinist

Creating a whole new vision of what the 21st century classical concerto might become, this new composition forecasts the emergence of a “new music genome.” According to Funk, the potential impacts are comparable in spirit to the once-deemed unplayable violin masterworks of late 18th century composer Niccolo Paganini. Today, Paganini’s compositions are standard repertoire for professional players worldwide.

This brave, new solo violin concerto is a reflection of the violinist, the composer, and the unquenchable human spirit of Eastern Europe. When facing endless occupations, wars, and suffering, the Hungarian people have continually risen to prevail while revealing a richness of feeling, a wealth of soul, and indelible spirit.

It is this powerful force that Funk captures in a work that requires courage, perseverance, and phenomenal technical skill, creating a vehicle where one man alone can stand as a collective.

Emmy Award-winning MontanaPBS senior producer Sterling produced and directed “The Violin Alone.” His work includes directing and producing 12 seasons of MontanaPBS’s acclaimed music series, “11th & Grant with Eric Funk,” and award-winning documentaries such as “Fort Peck Dam.” He has also contributed his skills as colorist and finishing editor to notable MontanaPBS films such as “Indian Relay,” “Finding Traction,” “Class C: The Only Game in Town,” “Wolves in Paradise,” and “Bard in the Backcountry.”

Sterling led a team of award-winning filmmakers to Budapest to capture the unusual collaboration between the Hungarian virtuoso and Montana composer, and has spent the last four years crafting a unique story that will resonate with music aficionados and anyone that appreciates artistic endeavor.

For more information, visit www.montanapbs.org.