Violinist Tessa Lark Takes a (Symphonic) Minute

April 8, 2020, 2:07 PM · A year ago, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Tessa Lark perform Korngold’s violin concerto with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Aram Demirjian. It was one of those magical nights in the concert hall that I will simply never forget. I went home and immediately wrote my impressions, ending with: "As audiences for classical music continue to diminish, I take heart in young performers like Tessa and Aram 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 on a rainy night and into the theater."

A Symphonic Minute
Today, listening to these two artists speak in Aram’s quarantine-inspired #SymphonicMinute podcast, I find myself intrigued as they challenge the stereotypical definitions of "classical" versus "new" music, grapple over how to bring different performing styles into the musical arena, and discuss what it takes to brand yourself as a multi-faceted artist. And Tessa takes a minute to play a piece written just for her.

A StradGrass Concerto
Lively. Wistful. Spirited. Adjectives that could easily describe Tessa. Rather, these are the three movements of the stunning violin concerto, "Sky," written especially for her by composer Michael Torke. Tessa’s Kentucky fiddle-playing roots and her pedigree as the daughter of a veteran bluegrass player, paired with her virtuostic technique as a concert violinist, shine through in this uplifting Grammy-nominated recording. Here is the full second movement, from which she took that "minute":

On Meeting Your Heroes
It’s been said that meeting your heroes can be risky. The higher the pedestal you’ve placed them on, the more devastating the fall. I took a chance when I reached out to Tessa last year via her website. I sent her a link to the article I had written about her performance of the Korngold, but I honestly didn’t expect anything more than an auto reply. I share a portion of her lovely response because it truly speaks to those qualities that I believe make her special not just as an artist, but as a human being.

"Thank you for such a positive article and review. Reading your entry truly touched me; media lately seems to be inundated with disgruntled opinions, and though it’s of course always nice to read a good review of a performance of my own, I was simply moved by your willingness to contribute refreshing optimism and positivity to the internet. I have always admired that quality in at large; so, thank you for the elegant levity. Tessa"

Thank YOU, Tessa, for breathing fresh air into the musical world. My fingers are crossed that you and Aram will perform Torke’s concerto together next fall in Tennessee. What better backdrop for some bluegrass-inspired music than the Great Smoky Mountains.

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April 8, 2020 at 11:53 PM · Thanks so much, Diana, for making us aware of this new piece and the interview with Tessa and Aram! One thing I find delightful about the best 21st Century music is its ability to access and weave together elements of so much of the music that has come before, and yet stand alone as something new. This piece absolutely does this. Not only do I hear the bluegrass elements, I think I hear Barber, Copland, and even Vaughan Williams' Lark soaring with Tessa's own spirit. Who knew that these styles could come together so seamlessly in the hands of the right artist?

April 8, 2020 at 11:59 PM · The Torke concerto is really beautiful!

April 9, 2020 at 02:39 AM · I adore Tessa Lark. Such a soulful violin player.

April 9, 2020 at 05:27 AM · How wonderful to find such a talent who is the whole package. I remember your wonderful article about hearing Tessa Lark perform Korngold’s violin concerto with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. It was so nice to see her response to that article here. And thanks for posting the blog with Aram and Tessa. StradGrass - it grabbed me right away. So clever. In her conversation with Aram I loved hearing about cross pollination of styles and crossover music. I’ve had so many crossover discussions about musicals which are really operas and vice versa. Candide comes to mind immediately. So it was nice to hear about combining so many other styles of music. I’ve worked with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra along with Knoxville Opera so many times but have never met Aram. I look forward now to meeting him very much. Thank you also for posting the 2nd movement of Sky. I will now seek out the entire concerto and will certainly keep my eye out for a concert by Tessa Lark. You have peaked my interest in new musical directions many times now Diana. Thank you for that.

April 9, 2020 at 11:46 AM · How refreshing to hear a young vibrant artist playing a lovely new piece in the repertoire. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Tessa Lark embodies a musicality that is gentle and captures the spirit of Torke's Sky. Your writing conveys your own joy of hearing and watching her. You definitely passed it on to us.

April 9, 2020 at 12:44 PM · To 207: I really appreciate your assessment of "the best 21st Century music." Tessa and Torke seem to be a perfect musical match! Thanks for your wonderful comment.

To 87: Agreed! I was intrigued to read on the composer's website that it was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras: Albany Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Erie Philharmonic, Chamber Orchestra of the Springs, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Topeka Symphony Orchestra, Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Oregon Mozart Players, and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. How wonderful to know that it will have a guaranteed number of performances!

Paul: I'm with you! I think it's Tessa's "soulfulness" that really sets her apart. (She'd be a perfect soloist for your area as well.)

Joe: As always, your comment is so wonderful. And it's very possible you will be here when "Sky" is performed next season!

April 9, 2020 at 01:59 PM · Oft times one feels that classical musicians are either "trying too hard" or forced to create "crossover" classical music expressions. It is refreshing to hear these two young artists explaining and accomplishing the challenging task of creating music and concerts that embrace the marriage of American folk music with the classical concert hall. Tessa and her friends are to be applauded for continuing this tradition that was so successfully accomplished by the likes of Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein during the 20th Century.

April 9, 2020 at 05:10 PM · Thank you for this article! Michael Torke's new violin concerto, Sky's second movement is my new favorite piece! I LOVE the crossover of styles. At 2:30 in the second movement, I closed my eyes and was swept away as I pictured a murmuration of starlings! Tessa Lark"s performance is very moving and transporting! Such soul. I would LOVE to have the sheet music for the second movement, but I cannot find it on line. Does anyone know how I can get it?

April 9, 2020 at 05:20 PM · Likely the sheet music is not yet published, but I'd try appealing either to Tessa Lark or to Michael Torke, perhaps through their Facebook pages.

April 9, 2020 at 05:41 PM · To 216: Tessa really does capture the spirit of "Sky" so beautifully. Thank you for your lovely comment.

To 96: You make a wonderful comparison to the "cross over" nature of Gershwin, Copland, and Bernstein. Thank you for this thoughtful comment.

To 120: I, too, have fallen in love with the second movement of "Sky." In addition to Laurie's comment about Facebook pages, the composer does have an extensive website. I'll do a little digging myself!

Laurie: Great idea!

April 11, 2020 at 03:49 PM · Wonderful article, Diana. The music of Michael Torke and the playing of Tessa Lark is just beautiful.

April 12, 2020 at 01:23 AM · Another beautifully written article. Brava, Diana! ~Christina

April 12, 2020 at 02:59 PM · To 69: Thank you! I agree that the combination of Tessa and Torke is beautiful!

To Christina: Thank you so much!

April 12, 2020 at 04:09 PM · It truly does take all kinds to make the world go ‘round. It is refreshing to occasionally cleanse the musical palate and savor something new and fresh. The unexpectedness and freshness of new things is what keeps vitality in the standards of the symphonic and the choral repertoire. As Sondheim put it, “... But if life were only moments,Then you'd never know you had one.” Praise be to them that keeps our ears tuned and trained so that beautiful musical moments still make the hair ok the back of your neck stand.

As for meeting our heroes, they are but mortals and ‘apt to fall.’

May this time of quiet reckoning and isolation bring us all together on equal and solid footing, letting the world realize that without all pieces of the puzzle in place, the picture is incomplete; the double bar will not be reached.

April 12, 2020 at 08:13 PM · To 76: What a beautiful and thought-provoking comment! Here's to occasionally "cleansing the musical palate and savoring something new and fresh." Thank you!

April 13, 2020 at 05:06 PM · Thank you for this wonderful article, Diana. After being stuck in my house like everyone else due to the coronavirus, the 2nd movement of "Sky" helped lift up my soul beyond the confounds of just staying home!

April 13, 2020 at 08:06 PM · To 209: I'm delighted to read that "Sky" lifted your soul! (You can hear movements #1 and #3 on YouTube as well!) Thanks for your lovely comment.

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