Tulsa Symphony's 'Red' concert to feature virtuoso fiddler Mark O'Connor
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Sunday, February 03, 2013
2/03/13 at 7:28 AM
This week will be something of a journey through the past, present and future of Mark O'Connor.
O'Connor, the virtuoso fiddler and prolific composer whose music blends practically every form of American music into a highly artistic yet accessible whole, will be the guest of the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra for its "Red" concert of all-American music.
Before that, he will be taking part in the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame gala, which this year is inducting the man O'Connor credits as perhaps his most important mentor, Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson.
In between these two activities, O'Connor will be overseeing a series of workshops with young fiddlers and violinists, focusing on the O'Connor Method, his newly developed way of teaching young musicians to play.
"It's going to be a busy week," O'Connor said, speaking by phone from his apartment in New York City.
O'Connor, however, is used to being busy. He's released nearly 40 albums, ranging from the high-intensity bluegrass of the band Strength in Numbers (which featured Tulsa native Edgar Meyer on bass) to the early 20th century jazz of "Hot Swing," from the best-selling classical album "Applachian Waltz" with Meyer and Yo-yo Ma, to the choral work "Folk Mass."
As a composer, he's written songs, chamber music pieces and symphonic works, including the Double Violin Concerto that he will perform with violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins as part of the Tulsa Symphony program that also includes Charles Ives' Symphony No. 1 and Michael Daughterty's "Route 66."
O'Connor composed the Double Violin Concerto in 2000, and revised it in 2008.
"I usually don't rework compositions very often," O'Connor said. "But if I think I can make it better, I will. In the case of the Double Violin Concerto, I've done some tweaking of the third movement. It proved to be a little too difficult for some orchestras to play.
"So I took most of the difficult music of that movement and divided it between the soloists," he said. "It makes the soloists work a little harder. But because it's different from the recording, I thought it necessary to put on the score that it's been revised."
O'Connor recorded the work with violinist Nadia Salero-Sonnenberg, and "we played it for as long as she wanted to book it," he said. "It's been performed 35 times around the country."
Sometimes O'Connor's partner in the work is the concertmaster of the orchestra with whom he is to perform, a prospect that can be "a little scary from my perspective because I've never worked with this person before. But on the other hand, he or she has to be good enough of a player to be concertmaster, and if the conductor is confident enough to do the piece, it usually works out."
Hall-Tompkins has been collaborating with O'Connor for the past three years on several projects, including being a member of the Mark O'Connor String Quartet.
"One of the things I wanted to do when I moved to New York eight years ago," O'Connor said, "was to be able to meet a lot of the young string players that were coming out of the music schools here. Kelly was one of the ones I met. She came to a concert I did, we met and talked about music - she had been aware of my music for some time, it seemed - and she's been a great collaborator on the concerto we'll be doing in Tulsa."
O'Connor, Hall-Tompkins and another violinist, Melissa Tong, will be conducting the two days of workshops with music students from Tulsa Public Schools and the University of Tulsa.
"It's really going to be more like a miniature version of the Fiddle Camps I've done for years," O'Connor said.
The workshops are being offered through the Tulsa Symphony's educational program, led by Kathy Rad, who is a certified instructor in the O'Connor Method.
The workshops were underwritten in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
O'Connor spent the better part of a decade developing the O'Connor Method, which the New Yorker magazine described as "an American grown rival to the Suzuki method" of violin instruction.
"There were a lot of things I wanted to put forward in this," O'Connor said. "First of all, I wanted to feature American music - American literature, musical styles and history, which is completely neglected in the Suzuki method.
"Then, in addition, I wanted it to feature a creative component, something that would educate young string players to be able to improvise, to be more creative with their materials," he said. "That's also not something that is included in any other teaching method."
The Thursday workshops will be held at Will Rogers High School, with O'Connor, Hall-Tompkins and Tong working with students from the Kendall-Whittier, Remington and Robertson elementary schools, and Carver Middle School along with students from Rogers Middle and High schools.
The Friday workshops will be held at the University of Tulsa.
O'Connor was inducted into the Tulsa-based National Fiddlers Hall of Fame in 2009, and he acknowledges that it gives him something of an odd feeling to have received this honor ahead of Benny Thomasson, who O'Connor holds as a mentor, and a great deal more. Thomasson died in 1984.
"It's going to be a very emotional night for me, I know, and I'm bracing myself for it," he said. "But it will be wonderful to be able to honor Benny and acknowledge him in such a public way. He truly was like another parent to me."
O'Connor was born in Seattle in 1961. He began playing the fiddle at age 11, and two years later became the youngest person to win the Grand Master Fiddler Championship, winning out over players of all ages and skill levels.
O'Connor first met Thomasson when he was 15.
"Our relationship was unique," O'Connor said. "I would stay over at his house, and the lessons would last up to 18 hours. He dedicated those years to me. Then he left for a year but came back. And the fact that he came back - and came back for me - saved me out of a deep depression.
"I couldn't articulate it at the time," he said, "but now it makes sense. He was truly someone I loved. He was like another parent to me, the only one person who was truly looking out for me, in musical terms. I felt like this prodigy stuck out in a field, like some kind of circus thing. Benny was such a calming centerpiece of my musical world.
"I feel like all my subsequent accomplishments are really for him," O'Connor said. "That's why, whenever I talk about music - to journalists, to other musicains - I always talk about Benny. It's a way of keeping him alive and showing how much he meant to me."
Fiddlers Hall of Fame Induction Gala and Dinner
The 2013 National Fiddlers Hall of Fame Induction Gala and Dinner will be held beginning at 6:30 p.m Wednesday at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, 111 E. First St.
This year's inductees are Oklahomans Byron Berline, one of the legendary fiddlers in American roots music from bluegrass to jazz, and Texas Playboy mainstay Curly Lewis, along with the late Tommy Jackson, whose playing was an integral part of country music in the mid-20th century, and the late Benny Thomasson, a master of the Texas-style of old-time fiddling.
Mark O'Connor, himself a 2009 inductee into the hall of fame, will made a special appearance on behalf of Thomasson, who was O'Connor's mentor.
A special award will be presented to the Time Jumpers, the 11-member band of country music stars and session aces that features three fiddlers - Larry Franklin, Joe Spivey and Kenny Sears - along with Oklahoma native Vince Gill and "Riders in the Sky" frontman "Ranger Doug" Green.
Berline and his band will perform during the course of the evening.
Tickets are $30, which includes a buffet dinner, $20 for ceremony and show only, and available by calling 918-281-8600 or online at tulsaworld.com/mytix
“RED,” TULSA SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
with guests Mark O’Connor and Kelly Hall-Tompkins
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Chapman Music
Hall, Tulsa PAC, 101 E.
Original Print Headline: Concert to feature virtuoso fiddler
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
Fiddle player Mark O'Connor. Courtesy