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ASO fiddles around

Mark O’Connor, Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg guest star with Symphony.


O'CONNOR: Fiddler.
  • O'CONNOR: Fiddler.

Mark O’Connor, the violinist-composer-fiddler considered one of the great contemporary composers in America, and acclaimed concert violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg will perform O’Connor’s “Double Violin Concerto” as part of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Masterworks shows on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 13-14.

The concerts at Robinson Center Music Hall are at 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.

Also, the ASO will perform “Lekeu Adagio, Op. 3” and Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7.”

The 44-year-old O’Connor was mentored by such violin masters as Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. He was also influenced by many other musical styles and genres, and has recorded with such artists as James Taylor and Yo-Yo Ma while creating an expressive American classical music. A Los Angeles Times critic said that O’Connor has “crossed over so many boundaries, that his style is purely personal.”

In recent years, his work has been embraced by a variety of performers. Yo-Yo Ma recorded the solo cello version of “Appalachia Waltz” and frequently performs it in recital. Dance troupes, including Twyla Tharp, the New York City Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, also have performed to O’Connor’s music.

O’Connor’s “Double Violin Concerto,” for two violins and orchestra, was composed in 1997 and is his third symphonic concerto.

He says, “Rather than concentrating on bringing Irish and American folk traditions into the symphonic setting, with the ‘Double’ I reference some of the most important musical influences I absorbed as a child: blues and jazz.”

He said he wanted to concentrate on swing rhythms in the outer movements. “

“In this concerto, I wanted to concentrate on swing rhythms in the outer movements.

“The two-violin cadenza in the first movement is a duel. In jazz terms – a ‘cutting’ contest,” he says. “The violins begin trading long passages that get incrementally shorter. Each attempts to ‘outdo’ the other until there is nothing more to do but join forces. Each plays over top of the other in a furious, jazzy barrage.”

In the second movement, O’Connor sought a nostalgic, big-band ambience, he said. “Alternately, the two violins speak to each other in classical and bluesy melodic language.” The third movement reflects New Orleans-style jazz, hence the title “Dixieland.”

Salerno-Sonnenberg writes in an ASO release: “I had just finished playing a concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and it was intermission. I was walking back to my dressing room and there in the hallway stood Mark O’Connor. Of course I was a great admirer of his playing and when he asked me right there if I’d be interested in performing a double violin concerto with him, I didn’t hesitate at all.

Salerno-Sonnenberg, who was born in Rome and moved to the U.S. at age 8, has been called “a master musician at the height of her powers.” She’s renowned for her fearless, electrifying approach on the concert stage, as well as her passionate interpretations and musical depth. She’s appeared with all the great U.S. symphonies, as well as touring with pianist Anne-Marie McDermott and the guitar duo the Assads and appearing on various TV programs. She has more than 20 records, including a recently re-issued “Violin Concerto No. 1” by Shostakovich. Salerno-Sonnenberg recently started her own record label, NSS Music, and has released two live recordings.

She was the subject of a 2000 Academy Award-nominated documentary film on her life. In 1989, Crown Books published her autobiography for children, “Nadja: On My Way,” and in 1999, she was featured in “The Virtuoso,” a book on celebrities.

Tickets for either concert range from $16 to $55. Call 666-1761, ext. 21.


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