Fiddler Mark O'Connor found his niche in the music world early on. He started playing the violin as a classical music student and then as a teen discovered a lot of the indigenous music of America. Now, as an adult, he says he's pulled everything together.
"I started getting really creative with music early on and I started composing quite a bit, and I love composing I do it practically all the time now," O'Connor said. "I've more or less composed and arranged all the music that I record and perform."
Those compositions are based on what he calls a "real Americana cultural aspect of the musical tradition."
From bluegrass, blues and jazz to Texas fiddling, Appalachian and its different offshoots, O'Connor says he feeds off of a century's worth of American scribbling and different kinds of idiomatic musical languages developed in the United States. "That's sort of like my language that I draw from. I pull it together in these sorts of newer modern classical music settings with classical instrumentation."
O'Connor is employing that language in a new string quartet commissioned by the state of New York for its 400th anniversary of the Hudson River. It's part of an ongoing 10-year project that will eventually include six quartets with an Americana cross-pollination style.
"I'm excited about the string quartet because it's one component of a long projected effort," O'Connor said. "This will be the second in the cycle. The first one debuted two years ago and, in that case, it was bluegrass. Each string quartet will have a different slant of indigenous fiddle-music language that constructs the quartet's sound and style."
Utah residents will get a taste of that Americana sound Thursday in a concert featuring O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio playing the music from his recordings "Appalachia Waltz" and "Appalachia Journey," which he developed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and double bassist Edgar Meyer, and a few new pieces that have contributed to the project since.
"At this point I feel kind of lucky in that I've got so much original repertoire to draw from that I can mix it up a bit," O'Connor said. "When you're starting out you have a more limited repertoire, and you can really burn out sometimes. As you get a little bit older and mature in the music industry you can pick your spots a little better, and you know what to look for. It's pretty remarkable after all this time to actually have edited away the worst stuff."
When an artist's repertoire is strong, it's easier to focus on presenting a full intellectual and emotional experience, O'Connor said.
"I want the concert to take the audience somewhere they weren't before they stepped into the auditorium like a real journey across Americana," O'Connor said. "I want to stir the heart and stimulate the intellect and raise the temperature of what music-making means at this time in our history. It's sort of a struggle for us to make the art relevant to people's everyday lives. ... I want to spread the fact that the strings and string music are gorgeous. It's something that people can still find wonder in."I want the audience to come along with me to a musical artistic point that's more sublime than everybody's typical day. If we can pull that off then, as entertainers, we've done our job."
If you go . . .
What: Mark O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio
Where: Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $25