Violinist to rock debut album at Janesville bar

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Ann Fiore
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

JANESVILLE—As music director and conductor of the Rock River Philharmonic, Rob Tomaro normally doesn't do gigs at the Back Bar.

Every rule has its exception, and classical musicians deserve to step out of their repertoire now and then.

Tomaro will perform at the local rock/metal venue Thursday, June 12, to help his friend Susan Aquila debut her new album, “Broken Angel.”

“This band can really crank it up,” said Tomaro, who plays electric guitar in the Susan Aquila Band. One of the album's hit songs, “Intervention,” is “pretty crunchy and loud live. It'll fit in.”

Tomaro has stepped out of classical music before; he's well known in the area as a composer and jazz musician.

Aquila, a respected violinist from New York City, also is no stranger to Rock County. She has performed several times with the Beloit Janesville Symphony, the Philharmonic's predecessor.

And she wields a unique rock instrument: a purple Viper six-string electric violin.

She and Tomaro met in 2009 in the Big Apple while having dinner with a mutual friend. They collaborated on their first piece that night and have worked on other music for the symphony. The pair also released a jazz-rock album, “Planet Z.”

At their manager's urging, they decided to amp up the volume.

Tomaro began writing rock songs in 2012, and all the tracks on “Broken Angel” are his.

Aquila called the album “quite a departure” from her regular work, which has included gigs with orchestras and rock musicians, from Paul McCartney to Metallica.

For one thing, it's her first time singing. For another, the songs are personal.

“It really expresses what I want to say about the human condition, about feeling beaten down by life, feeling like you have no options,” she said. “But one day you look back and, oh yeah, I went through all those things, but I'm glad for it…

“Growth is a painful process,” she said. “It feels better when you're on the other end, but don't despair when you're in your darkest hour.”

Aquila plays her electric violin on 10 of the 12 rock tracks. Her 1926 acoustic violin soars on the two ballads.

Tomaro said “Intervention” has hit the Reverbnation Top 40 and has gotten play on Sirius XM Radio. He said he's happy to write songs while Aquila tinkers with the tempo, emotion and atmosphere.

“It's been a wonderful collaboration so far,” he said.

Aquila agreed: “We're just a really good team. I'm just thrilled and lucky to have him writing songs for me. He says what's in my heart.”

“Broken Angel” has another local connection: The video for the song “The 120” was shot at Janesville's Kutter Harley-Davidson.

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