Violinist leading string revolutionWritten by Joel Sensenig | | email@example.com
Mark O’Connor is on a personal mission to change the American classical music landscape, one string at a time.
The acclaimed violinist brings his mission to Toledo this weekend with performances at 8 p.m. April 8 and 9 at the Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle.
O’Connor will perform with the Toledo Symphony Orchestra, led by guest conductor Tito Muñoz.
O’Connor, known for blending classical music tradition with American folk elements to create his own brand of sound, will perform his own composition, “Old Brass, Concerto No. 6 for Violin and Orchestra.” Also on the program will be an all-string piece, Morton Gould’s “Spirituals for Strings,” and Aaron Copland’s “Billy the Kid Suite.”
Much of the 49-year-old O’Connor’s career has been dedicated to bringing strings back to prominence in the American classical music landscape.
“I do feel that the strings could play a more important role, and actually I feel it is playing a more important role as we speak,” O’Connor said. “It’s moving in the right direction. I mean, we can’t get much lower with strings in our environment and culture than it has been.”
The string revolution also needs to hit the compositional side of music, O’Connor said. “There’s been a lot of composing done in the last 100 years in the American scene that involves wind playing, brass playing, piano, guitar, voice, but it’s been really lackluster in the string department,” O’Connor said. “All the really exciting stuff is happening in the winds and concert bands. It’s great for them, but the strings, we’re kind of spinning around in circles saying, ‘What about Mozart?’
“The strings have been sort of the antiquated branch of classical music. I feel like if string players can rise up again and contribute creatively with vision, there is a potential for a new American classical music that would evolve the totality of our tradition into something that has not been completely tapped into yet.”
Part of the way O’Connor — who has worked with the likes of classical legends Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Mayer, as well as pop stars Alison Krauss and James Taylor, the latter two for an upcoming holiday album — has further shaped the American classical music scene is through education.
He regularly gives residencies, lectures and demonstrations and teaches workshops at prestigious music programs across the country. His book series, “The O’Connor Violin Method,” guides students through a carefully planned succession of pieces that develop the techniques necessary to become a proficient, well-rounded musician.
“The O’Connor Method is based upon my findings and research that I’ve experienced throughout my entire life — life of learning and also my life as a professional musician,” he said. “One of its hallmarks is that it uses all American literature and features some of the hallmarks of the American system of music-playing, which includes more creativity and more improvisation, and the cross-pollination of people and cultures. The violin was a huge part of that up until recent times. My aim is to reinvigorate the string music environment with some things I think were left out.”
For most of 2011, O’Connor has been on tour, playing his music with city orchestras. It’s a position O’Connor feels fortunate to be in.
“I love the fact there’s 80 people playing together. The power of people playing together, it’s an incredibly attractive thing for me as a musician to negotiate,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling to be on the stage with the best musicians in a particular city, and it’s even more thrilling to have them all playing a piece that you’ve written. I relish the opportunity to be able to put American string-playing right in the middle of the orchestra in a new way, something that has been thought through, that an artist like me has thought about not for weeks, not for months, but for years and decades. That kind of effort has not really been done before with American string-playing and orchestra. It’s a very unique position I hold.”
Tickets for the 8 p.m. April 8 and 9 performances at the
Toledo Museum of Art Peristyle are $20-$50 ($5 for high school and college students with ID) and are available by calling (419) 246-8000, visiting www.toledosymphony.com or stopping by the Toledo Symphony box office, 1838 Parkwood Ave., located near the Toledo Museum of Art at the corner of Monroe Street. The box office is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.