Mark O'Connor is widely regarded as one of the most versatile musicians of modern times. He is a violinist, fiddle champion, composer, educator, and, at least in the 70's, a rock star (as heard in The Dixie Dregs). His playing styles encompass virtually all genres, including bluegrass, jazz, classical, and country...to name just a few. But he also fuses those styles together in his own compositions and improvisations to create music that's entirely new, but distinctly American.
He's won many awards, including two Grammies, was named Musician of the Year by the Country Music Association six years in a row, and won 7 National and Grand Master Fiddling Championships (the first time, at the age of 14).
As a composer, he has written works in every form, including concertos, symphonies, chamber works, and even a few choral works. He is performing a few of his own compositions with the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra this Saturday night, September 20th. Premiered just a few years ago, O'Connor's "Improvised Concerto" is a melding of improvised and notated music. The orchestral parts are completely written out, while O'Connor, on the solo violin, improvises for a full forty minutes. As a result, every performance is a unique experience. O'Connor will also perform his "Strings and Threads" suite and the Oak Ridge Symphony will perform Zoltan Kodaly's "Dances of Galanta."
The concert begins at 7:30pm and will be given at the Oak Ridge High School Performing Arts Center.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Mr. O'Connor by phone and learned a little bit about his early days of playing and composing. We discussed his "Improvised Concerto" and the skill of improvisation in general. He explains his instructional string method: The O'Connor Method and his philosophy of why this unique method needed to be created. And O'Connor gives his thoughts on stylistic differences in violin/fiddle playing and how they are taught.