Tessa Lark, Korngold, and the Joy of Live Music

January 18, 2019, 10:27 PM · I honestly did not want to like her. She’s so young, so talented, so pretty. And, if that weren’t enough, she gets to play on a G.P. Maggini violin. But, as the saying goes, when Tessa Lark took the stage last night at the spectacular Tennessee Theatre with the Knoxville Symphony, she had me at hello. Here was a performer who exuded comfort being center stage. Her demeanor indicated this would not be your average concerto performance — and that started by not programming your average concerto. The work I was anxiously waiting to hear was Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major (Opus 35).

Tessa Lark and Aram Demirjian
Violinist Tessa Lark and conductor Aram Demirjian, backstage after the concert.

During my years of serious violin study, this work was never on my radar. It was certainly not part of the standard concerto repertoire we were conditioned to study. In fact, this was the first live performance of the piece I have heard. To my ears, the work proved to be a truly magical, miraculous combination of Vienna and Hollywood, by a composer with roots in both locales.

Before the music…

I was shocked and delighted when Ms. Lark and conductor Aram Demirjian both took the stage with microphones in hand, ready to speak about the concerto. Maestro Demirjian clearly knew the piece would be new to most of us in the audience, and he took the opportunity to familiarize us with the concerto’s genesis and major themes. Lark played each theme, sans orchestra, and also spoke about the work’s first performance and the circumstances leading up to Heifetz stepping in as the debut soloist. By the time the piece began, the audience had learned these fun facts: The concerto was dedicated to Gustav Mahler’s widow; Heifetz loved and championed the work; its gorgeous themes were gleaned from various Korngold movie scores; and, The New York Times originally panned it as being "too Hollywood."

A concerto begins…

Before I get into the specifics of the performance, let me state that I am not a critic nor do I aspire to be one. My mother used to refer to herself as a "professional listener." I believe I fall into that category as well. I’m related to three conductors and have attended their performances from childhood on. I’m not qualified to dissect or analyze music in the manner of an academician or critic. But I do know what I like and what moves me. And Ms. Lark’s performance of the Korngold concerto succeeded on both counts.

Lark played with a wondrous combination of passion and precision. Her familiarity with the piece made it appear she was generating it organically. There was no pretense nor posturing in her playing. The coordination between Lark and Demirjian was almost balletic in nature. In the final movement there was a brief duet between Lark and concertmaster William Schaub, and the connection between the two violinists made for one of those musical moments you only experience in a live performance.

In a recent article, I discussed Seiji Ozawa’s concept of musical "conversations" within an orchestra. Lark is a master of musical conversation, both in her playing and her overall body language. It was always clear what she was saying and the orchestra responded in kind.

Applause, applause, applause…

A few years back, a vote was taken on V.com about whether it’s ever appropriate to clap between movements of a concerto or symphony. Laurie Niles wrote at the time, "Of course, some movements end with such bombast, they seem to beg for an ovation. I'm not bothered in the least by applause at the end of the marathon first movement of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, for example." We had a similar moment of bombast last night and I, too, was not bothered by the reaction. The resounding climax at the end of the first movement of the Korngold resulted in a spontaneous eruption of applause. (Myself included, and I know better!) It simply couldn’t be helped. Lark appeared to appreciate the acknowledgement and even gave a slight nod and wink to the orchestra. She held the somber mood between the second and third movements, however, and you could have heard a pin drop.

The ovation following the entire concerto was enthusiastic and prolonged. Clearly, we wanted more. And we got it. Just when I thought there might be some unaccompanied Bach in my future, Lark surprised us yet again. She teed up a bluegrass number by telling us she’s from the neighboring state of Kentucky. She then proceeded to play and sing a marvelous tune. Her powerful alto rang out in the theater as she bent both knees and assumed the traditional fiddler’s stance. This young woman is comfortable in her own skin and crystal clear about who she is. Nothing captures an audience more than putting your own stamp on a performance. And Ms. Lark did just that. She was a joy to watch, as well as to hear.

(BELOW: At 5:08 is a the bluegrass number that Tessa did as an encore)

Fashion police…

Speaking of watching her, I feel compelled to comment on Ms. Lark's attire. I mention this not as a point of style, but because I find many concert gowns to be distracting and performers often seem uncomfortable wearing them. The gown Ms. Lark wore was simply stunning and seemed perfectly suited to her style as well as the music she was performing. It was a long-sleeved black gown, covered with a beautiful floral design. The bodice was fitted and the skirt flowed. The gown added a dimension to her performance by moving in tandem with the sweep of the music. It was another aspect of her presentation that seemed genuine and deliberate.

Nothing like a live performance…

The opportunity to hear Tessa Lark play the Korngold concerto in a live performance is what got me out of the comfort of my home on a cold and rainy winter’s evening. Driving home after this wonderful concert, I thought about how tempted I had been to simply stay inside with a book. I’m so glad I didn’t.

I have a renewed sense of gratitude for people who seemingly show up for everything. Those energetic folks who populate our concert halls, opera houses, and other performing venues are my heroes. As audiences for classical music continue to diminish, I take heart in young performers like Tessa Lark and Aram Demirjian who strive to offer live performances that are riveting, informative, and inspirational. They are the ones who make it worth our while to get out of the house and into the theater.

You might also like:

Replies

January 20, 2019 at 02:10 AM · Such a wonderful article about what must have been a stellar performance. Ms Skinner always draws me in with her honest and relatable comments. Thank you for reminding us all of the excitement of live performance.

January 20, 2019 at 04:01 PM · I've been a fan of hers since I first saw her in this video:

January 20, 2019 at 05:31 PM · Sounds like the Knoxville audience was treated to a very special experience. Congrats to Maestro Demirjian for programming the work and to Tessa for mastering Korngold's challenges.

January 20, 2019 at 09:40 PM · Another beautiful article Diana. Thank you. This makes me so excited about the future of music during a time, as you say, that audiences for classical music continue to diminish. The audience is another character in the event. The musicians and audience feed off each other. Based on what I just read, it sounded like that happened here. And without the “professional listeners” where would we be? It sounds like Ms. Lark is ensuring the next generation of audience. I certainly hope there were lots of younger folks there.

I love that the Maestro spoke about the piece first. It’s like going to an opera for the first time – research it and you’ll appreciate it so much more. I think in general, we have to give Maestri more credit. When you say the orchestra responded to everything she “said” and how the coordination between Lark and Demirjian was almost balletic, it’s the Maestro at the helm and he, as you wrote in a previous article, causes the orchestra to breathe with her. I once stage managed a huge production of La Bohème conducted without a score by Maestro David Effron. 96 in the cast, huge orchestra, huge set. In the middle of a dress rehearsal as he was conducting Act II and cueing all the singers, I overheard him say to one of the winds “That should have been an E flat.” Let me point out that it wasn’t in a section where the winds had a solo where it would have been obvious.

Thanks also for sharing the video. Being the father of a very talented daughter, I found it very emotional watching him play with his daughter. I wish I could hear some of the Korngold also.

Yes, getting out of the house to go to a concert or opera is sometimes tough. But I’m always so happy once I’m there. For those few hours, I’m far away in a place where everything that’s going on today doesn’t exist.

I also thought it was fascinating about the violin she had and how she came to get it. I just did some research on that.

Based upon how you described Ms. Lark, it sounds like Korngold’s Concerto fits her to a tee. I’ve never heard it, but you can be sure I will now look into it. And the NY Times calling it “too Hollywood”? That is an enigma.

As for applause at the end of a movement, I’m with you – if it deserves it, why not do it. We do it at the end of an aria so often. If “it couldn’t be helped,” that says everything about the performance.

As you say, what moves you is all that counts. Isn’t that what music does.

January 20, 2019 at 09:41 PM · Korngold’s violin concerto is one of my favorites. I wish it were performed more often.

January 20, 2019 at 10:03 PM · To 213: Thank you so much for your kind comment!

Craig: The video you posted of a very young Tessa is just wonderful! I had not seen it and am so appreciative! (By the way, I became acquainted with Tessa's work here on v.com!)

Laurie: I gave you a bit of misinformation on the bluegrass video. The number she sang as an encore is actually at 3:33. My favorite number on the broader clip is what you noted at 5:08. (Thanks again for all you do to help me behind the scenes with the technological parts of posting!)

Joe: Your comments are wonderful and could be a blog in and of themselves. You are so right about giving more credit to the Maestro. And this one truly understood breathing with the performer! And thank you so much for pointing out that the banjo player in the bluegrass video is Tessa's father. I had completely missed that and it makes watching it all the more enjoyable! And now, enjoy Korngold!!

To 17: Agreed and thank you for commenting!

to 87: It's now one of my favorite concertos as well, and I will keep an eye out for other performances!

January 21, 2019 at 01:57 PM · Thank you for sharing your joy in listening to Tessa and the Knoxville Symphony with us. A great performance stays in our memories for years, and your blog reached so many people around the world. As you said, you don't consider yourself a critic, but I felt your writing went much deeper than what many critics today offer. You reflected the complex and human feelings that music brings out in us. This is more personal than what I often read in the newspaper, and for that I thank you.

January 21, 2019 at 07:56 PM · To 150: What an incredibly kind comment! Thank you so much. Yes, great performances do stay in our memories for years. I still remember hearing pianist Misha Dichter play when I was a teenager. I'd never heard anything like it and the memory has remained with me until this day. Thanks again for such a lovely note.

January 21, 2019 at 08:17 PM · I was disappointed to have to miss this concert, so I especially appreciate your beautiful and thorough description of Tessa Lark's presentation of the Korngold last week. I'm also particularly glad to know that she embraces and still nurtures her Bluegrass side. The YouTube video reminded me all over again what a pleasure it is to hear solid classical violin training applied to those old time fiddle tunes, and her fluidity there hinted at what she must bring to the Romantic violin literature. I'll make sure not to miss the next opportunity to hear her!

January 21, 2019 at 09:12 PM · I sure would like our local (Roanoke) symphony to bring in Tessa Lark as a soloist. Next time I see Maestro Wiley I'll mention it. She'd be perfect for a southwestern Virginia audience, and I think they'd enjoy the Korngold too, although surely she has a whole raft of great concertos in her rep.

Her bluegrass is a terrific extra. Watching the video, though, I had to wonder, "Does she ever really cut loose?" If so, I'd like to see it. Clearly she's enjoying herself, but very much in control too.

In the main picture -- what's that on her ring finger? I don't think the picture's been reversed, so that would be her right hand. It's not there in the video with Bob Frederick.

January 21, 2019 at 09:35 PM · Paul: I agree that Tessa would be a great soloist for your area! She knows how to work a crowd! As for really cutting loose, I have no idea. I suspect her classical training keeps her from going too wild. But she did get really "earthy" in her encore here in Knoxville, so.... As for the right hand, sure looks like a ring to me. (The video, I believe, dates back to 2012.) Many string players wear wedding rings on their right hands. I have no idea if there is any significance to her ring, however! Thanks for commenting!

To 207: Thanks for your comment! Interestingly, I think Tessa's willingness to "embrace and nurture" her Bluegrass side really comes through when she's playing classical. It is absolutely, completely what you'd want and expect from a classical artist, yet there is a freedom and naturalness to her playing that you rarely see from someone who doesn't come from her specific background. I think it's just possibly what gives her an edge and, for me, elevates her playing outside the ordinary.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email

Violinist.com is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Violin Finder
Yamaha Violin Finder

Corilon Violins
Corilon Violins

Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic
Joshua Bell and the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition
Shanghai Isaac Stern International Violin Competition

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases

Fiddlerman.com

Fiddlershop

Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Potter Violins

Pro-Am Strings

Violin Lab

Wangbow Violin Bow Workshop

Subscribe