May 6, 2018: Kerry McDermott, violin; Paul Neubauer, viola
Mark O’Connor has long embraced both folk and classical music, influenced by such giants as folk fiddler Benny Thomasson and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli as well as classical icons Isaac Stern, Itzhak Perlman, Yehudi Menuhin, and Pinchas Zukerman. He has produced some forty-five feature albums—mostly of his own compositions—that have greatly influenced succeeding generations.
O’Connor’s multiple Grammy-winning recordings include Appalachia Waltz with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer, which was released in 1996 and topped the Billboard classical music charts for a year. The O’Connor Band, which he formed with family members and friends, received the 2017 Grammy Award for “Best Bluegrass Band” with its album Coming Home. His Fiddle Concerto, released on the Warner Bros. label in 1995, has been performed over 250 times, making it the most-performed modern violin concerto composed in the last half century. He has since gone on to write three other violin concertos, one of which is a double concerto that he premiered with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Chicago Symphony in 2000.
At age thirteen O’Connor was the youngest person ever to win the Grand Master Fiddler Championships—competing against amateurs and professionals of all ages—and he is still the only person to have also won national titles on guitar and mandolin. Winner of a record-breaking six Country Music Association Musician of the Year awards, O’Connor has played with a number of influential bands, including the David Grisman Quintet, The Dregs, and Strength in Numbers. In his twenties he appeared on over five hundred albums with all of Nashville’s greatest artists.
A dedicated educator, O’Connor has taught at string camps and universities across the country. In 2009 he released The O’Connor Method (2009), based on traditional American tunes, which has been hailed by the New Yorker and teachers across the country for filling a gap in the education of classical violin players.
O’Connor’s F. C.’s Jig (short for “Fiddle Concerto’s Jig”) is a duet for violin and cello arranged from the third movement of his popular Violin Concerto. He and Yo-Yo Ma recorded this captivating arrangement on the album Appalachia Waltz. Colorful episodes alternate with the lively refrain, along the way incurring delightful metric hiccups. The piece is heard here in its equally engaging version for violin and viola, maintaining its witty and virtuosic interplay from start to finish.
© Jane Vial Jaffe