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Mark O‘Connor Likes to Fiddle Around

Ross Boissoneau - June 30th, 2005
Time was when traditional music – that amalgam of country, bluegrass, swing and folk – got short shrift from the musical cognoscenti.
Then Mark O’Connor came along, and things have never been quite the same.
Not that the nonpareil fiddler would ever claim complete credit for this musical turnaround, but the evidence is compelling: There are his albums with Edgar Meyer and Yo Yo Ma. There’s his status within the musical community, where he performs with symphony orchestras. His Hot Swing trio revives the spirit of the legendary jazz music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli. And now his latest release, the “Double Violin Concerto” with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, takes things a step further, with his compositions and his playing taking center stage alongside one of the country’s top young violinists.
“Nothing has changed that much except I’ve been able to build my repertoire,” said O’Connor rather modestly, who says his ability to concentrate on composing and collaborating with other players is a great treat.
“I’ve been composing since I was a kid,” he added.
That he has. He composed nearly every tune on his many albums. On earlier albums, such as “Meanings Of” or “Stone From Which The Arch Was Made,” O’Connor played, well, pretty much everything: fiddle, of course, as well as guitar, banjo, bass, keyboards, pretty much everything except drums. These new agey albums were somewhat in contrast to his solo bluegrass work, his jazzgrass albums as part of David Grisman’s group, and his short stint with fusion favorites the Dixie Dregs.
Still just in his early 40s, O’Connor feels he is just coming into his own. Even after exploring so many different genres, he continues to seek new means of musical expression. Yet he continues to champion the traditional style he grew up with as a National Junior Fiddle Champion, even as it grows into something different.
“I did okay with class this past weekend at Julliard,” he says, noting slyly how he held his own with the likes of his predecessor, the renowned Itzhak Perlman. He looks at his current playlist as some of the best music he’s ever written and is effusive in his praise of his fellow musicians.
“This is music I’ve redone from the original versions. I’ve adapted violin, cello and bass for violin, viola and cello, and I’m very, very happy with the result,” O’Connor said. “Natalie and Carla (cellist Natalie Haas and violist Carla Cook, the members of his Appalachia String Trio) are two of the finest string players I’ve ever played with. It’s the kind of sound and tone and beauty you just dream about.”
During his residency at Interlochen, O’Connor will perform with his Appalachia Waltz trio (June 30) as well as the World Youth Symphony Orchestra (July 3). Tickets for both shows are available by calling the Interlochen box office at 276-8800.

 
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