Lara St. John Plays Free Concert Tuesday in Central Park

June 25, 2017, 2:31 PM · It's summer, and if you are lucky enough to be in New York, that means free concerts in Central Park. Specifically, violinist Lara St. John will bring a mix of familiar and provocative works to the Naumburg Bandshell on Tuesday. And if you aren't in NYC, you can pretend to be, as it will be streamed live on the Internet through WQXR.

Lara will be playing the ever-popular "The Lark Ascending," Ralph Vaughan Williams' gorgeous song of the skylark; as well as the more intense "Maralinga" by Matthew Hindson, a lament over a series of post-WWII nuclear tests the British did in South Australia, to the great detriment of its aboriginal community.

Lara St. John Naumburg Bandshell
Lara St. John in the Naumburg Bandshell.

It's hard to imagine a more pleasant piece for a summer evening than "The Lark Ascending."

"I was trying to figure out the other day, how is this piece so beautiful?" Lara said, speaking over the phone with me last week from New York. "It grabs everybody right away. You just kind of want to look away into the distance and dream...I'm not sure how he does it, but it's such a beautiful piece. We are doing a string version."

Lara's second work of the evening explores the fallout from a series of 1950s nuclear tests that the British did on an area of South Australia, which had devastating effects that were largely ignored. The work is called "Maralinga," by Australian composer named Matthew Hindson, whose violin concerto Lara recorded in 2008.

"Maralinga is a province, a part of South Australia, where the British decided to do nuclear testing in 1956 to 1964, and they did not properly evacuate the aboriginal people," Lara said. "They also gave pretty much no protection to the Australian servicemen, and they swept it all under the rug until about the '90s. There was some sort of secret attempt to clean it up, which made it worse. Matthew had been thinking about this for a long time, and he wrote an incredible piece, originally for violin and piano, orchestrated it in 2011 for my tour with the Australian Chamber Orchestra -- that is the version we're doing. It's a monumental piece. At our first rehearsal, musicians were saying, 'Who is this guy? This piece is unbelievable!' It's not exactly the most uplifting story in the world, but I think it will make a great impression." Here is more about that piece:

Lara will be playing with the Ensemble LPR, named after Le Poisson Rouge, the increasingly popular NYC nightclub that embraces classical music in a casual setting. "They're very eclectic and very popular," Lara said of Le Poisson Rouge. "I find it super-fun to go listen to new music and have some tater tots and wine." Ensemble LPR will begin the show with a new work by violinist Jessie Montgomery, called Starburst (2012). The other two pieces they'll play are Stravinsky's "Dumbarton Oaks" and Britten's "Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge."

As always, playing outdoors has its logistics and challenges. Lara has played four Central Park concerts, the last being in 2012 with Pablo Ziegler for the 25th anniversary of Piazzolla's Central Park concert.

"I've been very lucky all four times, I've had beautiful days," Lara said. "Obviously, if it rains, you do have a bit of a problem. Because even though the audience always brings umbrellas, sometimes the rain starts getting into the mechanicals, and you can't do that much."

For the concert, the performers are microphoned, just a bit. "It's just enough so that people can hear, way off in the little hills, on the benches way over there and down the mall," she said. "It's right at that beautiful mall, where all the painters are."

Lara uses a DPA supercardiod microphone with a gooseneck extension. "It's not a pick-up, it's a mic," Lara said. "A pick-up makes even a Strad sound like some plastic fiddle; I really don't like pickups. It only picks up the vibrations, without the tone. I use mics, and I actually got a new one, it's a cardiod, it's sort of like a little gooseneck and it kind of goes right over the left 'f' hole. It can't hurt the violin -- obviously that would be the worst possible situation. But that goes through to the board and then they send it out to the world. It works pretty well because you can really hear the show from at least a half a mile away."

The added benefit of a little amplification: "It attracts passers-by, people who might not normally go to such a concert."

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m.; here's the information, with the link to the livestream.

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