OLD LYME — The first performance of the 2022-23 season of Musical Masterworks will begin with Tessa Lark’s Jig and Pop, a four-minute violin solo that Lark said is “meant to open the curtains with a smile.”
Lark, a renowned violinist recently named the new artistic director of Musical Masterworks, said that starting the season off with Jig and Pop was meant to pay homage to her first performance at Musical Masterworks, when she played a 15-minute solo piece by Bach.
It’s also a signal, she said, of the direction she wants to take things in the future.
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“It is just an indication and a nod to respecting the tradition of Musical Masterworks while bringing in an individual element to the programming,” she said.
Lark began her career at age 16 performing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and has performed with multiple orchestras and symphonies since, including ones in Buffalo, Louisville, Knoxville and Seattle. Her recording of the violin concerto Sky was nominated for a Grammy in 2020. Other recordings include the album Fantasy, which includes fantasias from a variety of composers, including herself, and Inventions, an album of recordings by Lark and her fiance, bass player Michael Thurber.
Her most recent album, “The Stradgrass Sessions,” was released this past summer.
The first Musical Masterworks concert under Lark’s direction will be a mix of more modern and contemporary pieces — like her own — and traditional classical composers.
Jig and Pop will be followed by a performance of “American Haiku” — a viola-and-cello duo that shifts between rapid playing, plucking and longer, slower moments where the viola takes on an almost mournful quality.
The concert also includes pieces by Gershwin, Strauss and Brahms.
“It was actually the Brahms G Minor piano quartet that I was really gung-ho on programming because it’s exciting, it’s epic,” said Lark.
Lark said that she’s seen a shift in both the U.S. and Europe toward an appreciation for local music and local performance, one that was helped along by the pandemic. In Europe, she said, there’s a push to hire more local performers because of the environmental impacts of flying performers in from overseas. In the United States, she said, she’s seen a greater interest in Americana, American folk music and jazz.
“[Folk music] is much more inviting because of its simplicity. And that’s by design. It’s music for folks, and it’s music that is meant to bring communities together. So I think it would be in the interest of classical musicians and their programming to introduce more elements of folk music and other styles of music to be more welcoming to any type of audience member,” she said.
Lark herself grew up in Kentucky, and her father played bluegrass music, elements of which have made it into her own compositions. (Jig and Pop, for example, includes some Scotch-Irish fiddling). She said that her upbringing with music helped her view it as an interactive art that brought people together.
“With folk music in particular, somebody who just started an instrument that day can sit right next to a legend and play the same tune together, and they’re both just as valid as the other. And that’s how I grew up in music. It’s for everybody and it’s a connector with all walks of life.”
Another passion for Lark is to bring more music education to children by working in collaboration with local schools. She said that children are able to get more out of musical performances when teachers are able to prepare them in advance for the performance. This year, the musical ensemble Decoda will work with students in Groton on musical composition and is helping the Waterford Country School establish its own music program.
Lark said learning music does more than simply give children another skill — it’s full of life lessons.
“Being a musician, a classical musician, and what it takes to do that — you can’t help but make a good human being from that,” said Lark. “You have to be disciplined. You have to have a good work ethic … you have to be able to listen in a deep and active way and be empathetic and make decisions together and know how to make disagreements and come to solutions with folks of different mindsets.”
Upcoming Musical Masterworks concerts will include pieces from Bach, Rossini, Debussy, Dvorak, Strauss, Haydn and Mendelsson, as well as original compositions by the musicians who come to perform, including Lark herself, Flautist Alex Sopp, Harpist Charles Overton, and bassist Edgar Meyer.
Lark said she wanted to feature more music by player-composers, or musicians who also wrote their own music to perform.
“Classical music is so powerful no matter when it is written, and will always remain relevant because of the human expression element,” said Lark. “So that’s always going to be there, but just having living, breathing people in this tradition that are creating new things, I think is our ticket.”
Lark also said that the attraction of music for young people in particular isn’t about genre or style.
“What people are really wanting to see is quality music and passion,” she said. “For generations there have been famous artists who’ve said, ‘There are only two kinds of music. There’s good music and bad music, and we play the good kind.’ And I think that’s true more than ever right now.”
And Lark said that even when they were playing music written by others, the tradition of classical music did give young musicians a chance to bring their own flair to a performance.
“I think it’s crucial for young artists and all artists to really honor their uniqueness and individuality despite us playing music that is composed by others,” she said. “And all that requires is young artists staying true to who they are — whether that be somebody who is an incredible interpreter of preexisting music, or if somebody enjoys cooking and they’re a great cook and they could actually pair their musical training with cooking. Just any way that is honest and true to these individuals, I think, is the way in.”
The season’s first concert will be held on October 22 at 5 p.m. and October 23 at 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. More information can be found here.