(Tessa) Lark ascending: Musical Masterworks creative director/violinist readies second season
Onstage last year, her first as creative director at Musical Masterworks, violinist/fiddler Tessa Lark would gaze out at the audience during concerts with a sense of excitement, anxiety and, ultimately, reassurance.
Yes, the Masterworks programs still consistently sold out the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme – its revered home court, so to speak — confirming the esteemed organization’s ongoing popularity and loyal following. But certain calculated elements were different and very positive. Crowd demographics included younger fans, which is a huge priority for Lark. And while appreciation for the time-honored artists and works from the classical repertoire were as popular as ever, newer pieces by lesser known and/or contemporary composers were resonating in a very positive fashion.
“For over a century, the classical repertoire has caused a lot of hand wringing,” says Lark, on the phone from her apartment in New York City to talk about the 33rd Musical Masterworks season and its opening concerts Saturday and Sunday. She laughs. “And why not? Classical music is OLD. But it goes on for a lot of good reasons.”
In her position as an internationally acclaimed classical — and Americana — musician, as well as someone running a chamber music series, Lark is particularly attuned to the realities of our age. News cycles seem to spin like subatomic particles. Social media and apps like TikTok and Instagram present new and easily digestible content. Attention spans are demonstrably and appreciably shorter.
“What I’ve found is that there IS a place for tactile, long form music,” Lark says. “Older musicians and retirees already know how to relax and enjoy music, and they have the time to do so. But we’re also trying to showcase younger players and compositions coming up.
“Last year, for example, we saw a lot of students coming to our performances. It’s a matter of finding relevance on the stage and exposing the audience to the music and artists. The older generation appreciates the physical aspects of classical music, and our goal is to teach younger people to embrace things that take a little more time. That’s always been the goal at Musical Masterworks: to present wonderful artists exploring the new, the familiar, and the extraordinary.”
In conversation, Lark, a native of Kentucky, speaks with the sort of neighborly charm one associates with the South. She happily discusses her first dog, for example, a Chihuahua who “sings” along when she practices and “is getting better in terms of pitch.”
This sort of friendly enthusiasm is similarly applied when Lark describes the lifestyle of professional classical musicians — a sort of nomadic existence wherein one will, sooner or later, bump into just about everyone in the business, and a sense of tribal friendships inevitably develops. When she talks about the musicians she’s contracted for the upcoming season, Lark could well be talking fondly about a softball team or reading group she belongs to.
“My wishes have always come true, artists-wise,” Lark says. “The music world is incredibly small, and I’ve met so many wonderful people through (previous MM director/cellist) Edward (Arron, who joins Lark with his wife, pianist Jeewon Park, for the March 16-17 performances). If someone’s not available for a concert, we’ll get them next year. And there’s really no second choice because whoever I get is another top-level player and person.”
Lark pauses, thinking. “You know, a lot of the classical music we play was written long before the U.S. was founded and it was a wild world, artistically. So our relevance to the art form is still in many ways is new — and so I’m very excited by the young artists and composers who are emerging and galvanizing the scene. I can’t wait to share many of these musicians and programs with our audience. I think it will be really special.”
Here is the 2023-24 Musical Masterworks schedule with commentary from Lark. All performances take place in the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme. Saturday concerts take place at 5 p.m.; Sunday concerts are 3 p.m. matinees.
Amy Yang, piano; Tessa Lark, violin; Michelle Ross, violin; Melissa Reardon, viola; Alice Yoo, cello
Rameau, La joyeuse
Lark, The Gemini
Rameau, Le Rappel des oiseaux
Lark, The Poet
Rameau, Les cyclopes
Dvořák, Silent Woods for Cello and Piano, Op. 68/5
Mozkowski, Suite for Two Violins, Op. 71
Clara Schumann, 3 Romances, Op. 11 (arr. for viola and piano)
Schumann, Piano Quintet in E-flat major
Lark: “I really got lucky to get this quintet. I’m excited about the music as well as the hang outside rehearsals. We have not played together in this formation, so it’s great to experience the musical blend. Plus, that’s part of the fun of programming. One artist will confirm and maybe that leads you in a new direction. One thing leads to another and, suddenly, we can do the Rameau and the Schumann and it all falls into place.”
Carmit Zori, violin; Todd Phillips, violin; Tessa Lark, violin/viola; Robert Rinehart, viola; Julia Lichten, cello; Tony Rymer, cello; Michael Thurber, double bass
Dvořák, String Sextet in A major, Op. 48
Bach, Selections from Two-Part Inventions
Thurber/Lark, Original Works
Bach, (arr. R. Rinehart), Concerto a 7 for strings in D major, BWV 1061 (from Concerto for two harpsichords in C major)
Lark: “There’s nothing more special than Bach at holiday time, and I think the program is ideal for the season. Now all we need is snowfall.”
Caleb Hudson, trumpet/piccolo trumpet; Emi Ferguson, flute; Gabriel Campos Zamora, clarinet/bass Clarinet; Michael Nicolas, cello; Tessa Lark, violin
Corelli (arr. Hudson), Sonata No. 8 Op. 5
Caleb Hudson, Built on Nothing Less
Kyle Athayde, Caleb’s Piece
Remy Le Boeuf, Vignette Nos. 20 & 21
Lark: “Caleb is a childhood friend, and I share the widespread belief that he’s one of the best trumpeters in the world. I did a recording date with all these players, and it was a really great experience. A few of the pieces for this program are being created now, and I think it’s important that Musical Masterworks can be home to such exploration. Oh, and watch for a surprise vocalist!”
The MMModern Contemporary Chamber Music concert, an annual program aimed at a younger and/or new audience, will feature bassist Nathan Farrington, percussionist Gabriel Globus-Hoenich and pianist Ahmed Alom. The location has yet to be announced.
Jeewon Park, piano; Edward Arron, cello; Tessa Lark, violin;
Mendelssohn, Cello Sonata No. 2 in D major, Op. 58
Babajian, Piano Trio in f-sharp minor
Schubert, Nocturne in E-flat
Schubert, Piano Trio in B-flat
Lark: “We welcome back Ed and Jeewon, and the program is a nod to our first performance together at Musical Masterworks 10 years ago. The pianist and violinist had dropped out at the last minute, so Ed got his wife and called me – and that’s when the three of us began our friendship as soulmates.
“This will be Jeewon and Edward doing what they do best, and Babajanian, who deserves to be a much better known composer and is finding his way onto concert stages, provides a nice contrast with the Schubert works.”
Charles Overton, harp; Mark Dover, clarinet; Michael Thurber, bass;
Tessa Lark, violin
Schumann, Fantasiestucke, Op.73 (arr. for clarinet and harp)
Jean Cras, Suite en Duo
Eccles, Double Bass Sonata
Overton/Dover/Thurber/Lark, Original Compositions
Lark: “I honestly want every program to be worthy of a season-closing standard! But Charles, who debuted on our stage last year, made such a tremendous impression. I literally didn’t know a harp could sound that way. And Mark and Michael are very funny people with a lightness to their virtuosity, and that’s a great and rare combination – like world-class chess players who don’t take themselves too seriously. It should be an enjoyable experience.”
What: Musical Masterworks
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Where: First Congregational Church, 4 Lyme St., Old Lyme
How much: $45 adults, $5 students
For more information: musicalmasterworks.org, (860) 434-2252
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.