In performance: Mark O'Connor
O'Connor's eclectic fiddle at Clarice Smith
by Joan Reinthaler
Think of the best country fiddler you've ever heard, imbue him with a blues heart and a jazz soul and finally give him the panache and elegance of a Paganini. You might come up with a pretty fair vision of violinist-composer Mark O'Connor.
His concert at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Center on Wednesday featured his own music, conceived out of a devotion to all the elements that have given American music its colors and flavors. Other composers, Ives, Gershwin and Copland to name a few, have drawn on one aspect or another of this tradition but none has been as eclectic as O'Connor.
(read more after the jump)
His biggest technical guns are a spectacular bow arm and an amazingly controlled spiccato (bouncing bow) that has the power, speed and clarity of a machine gun. That he has composed a lot of music that features spiccato bowing is no surprise. How could he resist opportunities to enjoy doing what he is so good at and so obviously revels in? But it does mean that a lot of his music features the same textures and sonorities.
The program included a set of six Caprices, three improvisations and a number of acrobatic and playful dance-like pieces, all tinged with hoedown-like colors or bent notes or almost human vocal qualities. The most memorable, at two poles of his spectrum of sophistication, were a gorgeous and subtle setting of "Amazing Grace" composed for singer Renée Fleming with just hints of the hymn's melody surfacing and then receding, and a set of pieces he has written for the beginning violinist, a Medley of Methods, that sound like fun to learn and that were certainly fun to listen to.
-- Joan Reinthaler
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