Scott on Bluegrass & Beethoven

Speck Speaks: Bluegrass & Beethoven

Tessa Lark’s name has been bouncing around the classical music circuit for many years, and for a long time I was curious what all the fuss was about. Finally, two years ago, I had my first opportunity to work with her. Though I had known she was a fine classical artist, there were two things about Tessa that I didn’t realize until we met. First, she is an absolute force of nature when she performs. And second, she grew up in Eastern Kentucky and has a strong background in Bluegrass fiddle playing. She used to play in her father’s Gospel Bluegrass band – but at the same time, she was winning classical concerto competitions, performing Mozart with the Cincinnati Symphony at age 16.

With a background like that, I really wanted to find a way to showcase Tessa’s diverse talents in all their glory. And it looked like composer Michael Torke had the same idea when he composed his violin concerto Skyjust for Tessa. Torke described the many bluegrass elements that he incorporated into this concerto – from banjo picking techniques to Celtic-style reels to outright Kentucky fiddling. At the same time, he fashioned a complex solo part that could only be performed by a master of the classical violin. In other words, this concerto is tailor-made for Tessa, and it’s the perfect vehicle to introduce her to our Mobile Symphony audience.

Programming a satisfying concert of complementary works is one of my greatest pleasures, and I am thrilled that we are able to present this jaunty, dancelike concerto alongside a symphony that just exudes dance at every moment – Beethoven’s Seventh. The music skips and jumps for joy, and the last movement is the closest that Beethoven ever got to Bluegrass fiddling. I really hope you enjoy the way these masterful works bounce off each other.

– Scott Speck, Music Director