Mark O’Connor Presents Improv Concerto Style
In the world of classical music, little is left to chance. Tempos, dynamics, cadenzas are all well-rehearsed. In Mark O’Connor’s world, things can be a little more fluid.
Mark O’Connor is a musician with a foot in two worlds. Americana, American Roots music, or whatever you want to call it, is in O’Connor’s blood. O’Connor has another foot firmly planted in the classical world, writing music with an “American accent.”
He cites the influences of folk fiddler and innovator Benny Thomasson, who created the modern era of American fiddling, along with French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, considered one of the greatest improvisers in the history of the violin, as helping shape his musical language.
Appalachia Waltz was O’Connor’s first recording for the Sony Classical label. His collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer was an instant hit.
The follow-up recording, Appalachian Journey, won a Grammy in 2001. In an era when new classical music can have a difficult time getting noticed, his Fiddle Concerto, which was his first full-length orchestral score, has received over 200 performances.
He has gone on to write string trios and quartets, many orchestral selections, and several other concertos, including the Triple Concerto March of the Gypsy Fiddler for violin, cello, piano and orchestra, which was given it’s world premiere by the Ahn Trio with ProMusica Chamber Orchestra in 2009.
Now, O’Connor has pulled the two musical worlds even closer together, by writing an Improvised Violin Concerto. The orchestral score is written out, but the solo part, while containing chord changes, tempo markings, and time signatures, has not a single note. Some of the prompts for the soloist are “smoldering embers,” “percolating,” capillary fringe” and “permafrost.”
O’Connor has played the concerto about a dozen times. He gives it it’s first New York performance this coming weekend.
Read more: Improvisation has a New Sound (Wall Street Journal)
Watch: Mark O’Connor, Yo Yo Ma, and Edgar Meyer