Music Series at BerkleeAmerican Roots: Mark O'Connor at Berklee
With Mark O'Connor, one of the most talented and imaginative artists working in music today, Berklee celebrates American roots music in a big way. O'Connor will perform—along with Berklee faculty members Matt Glaser and John McGann—with small bluegrass groups, the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra, and the Berklee Jazz/World String Orchestra, all of which are composed of Berklee students.
A product of America's rich aural folk tradition as well as classical and flamenco music, Mark O'Connor's creative journey began at the feet of a pair of musical giants. The first was the folk fiddler and innovator who created the modern era of American fiddling in the 1940s, Benny Thomasson; the second, French jazz violinist, Stephane Grappelli. Between these musical extremes, O'Connor absorbed knowledge and influence from the multitude of musical styles and genres he studied. Now, at age 47, he has melded and shaped these influences into a new American classical music, and a vision of an entirely American school of string playing. As the Los Angeles Times noted, he has "crossed over so many boundaries, that his style is purely personal."
O'Connor's first recording for the Sony Classical record label, Appalachia Waltz, was a collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer. The works O'Connor composed for the disc, including its title track, gained worldwide recognition for him as a leading proponent of a new American musical idiom. His follow-up release, Appalachian Journey, received a Grammy Award in 2001. With more than 200 performances, his first full length orchestral score Fiddle Concerto has become the most-performed modern violin concerto. Fanfare for the Volunteer, recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Steven Mercurio, was released by Sony Classical in 1999. In 2000, O'Connor premiered his fourth violin concerto The American Seasons: Seasons of an American Life, at Troy Music Hall in Troy, New York; the work was commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the hall's concert series, and was recorded with the Metamorphosen chamber orchestra and released in 2001. In August 2000, O'Connor's third concerto, Double Violin Concerto, received its premiere with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the second violin soloist and the Chicago Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach conducting. In 2003, O'Connor and Salerno-Sonnenberg recorded the work with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Orchestra. In J2001, O'Connor released Hot Swing! a tribute to his great friend and mentor, the legendary French jazz master, Stephane Grappelli. Released on his own OMAC label, the CD was recorded live with Frank Vignola on guitar and Jon Burr on bass. A new Hot Swing CD entitled Live In New York has been released, as well as a new group line-up for concerts with original member Frank Vignola on guitar, and new to the ensemble, guitarist Julian Lage, and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. In 2003, O'Connor completed his fifth concerto, Double Concerto for violin and cello ("For the Heroes") and often performs the piece with cellist Maya Beiser and Symphony Orchestra. Also in 2003, O'Connor was commissioned by the Academy of St. Martin the Fields to compose a concerto for violin and chamber orchestra. Violin Concerto No. 6 "Old Brass" takes its inspiration from a Beaufort, South Carolina plantation designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The recording conducted by Joel Smirnoff was released in March, 2009. O'Connor has also formed a piano trio to perform his "Poets and Prophets" composition inspired by the music of Johnny Cash. He often performs it in a collaborative concert concept with Cash's daughter, Rosanne Cash. O'Connor has recently formed other ensembles including a String Quartet concert entitled Evening of Strings with chamber music legends Ida Kavafian, Paul Neubauer and Matt Haimovitz, performing O'Connor's music exclusively. O'Connor recently brought back to the stage his solo recital, a one-man unaccompanied violin concert which features his six caprices and three improvisations as the centerpieces of the tour de force performance.
As word of his considerable compositional talents has spread, O'Connor's musical works have been embraced by a variety of performers. Yo-Yo Ma has recorded the solo cello version of "Appalachia Waltz" and frequently performs it in recital. Renee Fleming has performed and recorded vocal arrangements O'Connor composed for her. The Eroica Trio performs his Poets and Prophets Piano Trio No. 1 regularly, a piece they commissioned from him in 2003. Sharon Isbin has recorded his duet for violin and guitar, several top classical violinists are performing his "Caprices" in recital, his flute concerto "The Fallen" has been performed by a number of flutists and is slated for recording by Carla Auld, Dance troupes, including Twyla Tharp Dance Co., the New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, are staging and choreographing to O'Connor's expressive American music, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra recently recorded his new Americana Symphony.
Mr. O'Connor regularly gives two-day residencies, lectures, demonstrations, or teaches workshops at a variety of prestigious musical programs. Some of his recent hosts include Juilliard School of Music, Harvard, Rice University, SUNY Fredonia, University Of Texas, Curtis Institute, Berklee College of Music, Eastman School of Music, Tanglewood, and Aspen Summer Festival. O'Connor will be the artist in residence at UCLA for the 2008-2009 season. He is the founder and president of the internationally recognized Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp and Strings Conference as well as the new Mark O'Connor String Camp. The Mark O'Connor String Institute at UCLA debuted this past summer. O'Connor resides in New York City.