Review: Tessa Lark Mesmerizes with Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra

by Madonna

Tessa Lark, the exceptional violinist, captivated audiences with her outstanding performance alongside the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra on August 26. Having previously showcased her brilliance with Michael Torke’s “Sky,” a concerto tailored for her, Lark’s encore was nothing short of dazzling. She introduced an improvisation, freshly crafted, based on a theme from Belgian violin legend Eugène Ysaÿe’s sonata. This captivating encore, named “Ysaÿe Shuffle,” was a spectacle of technical mastery and bluegrass influences.

Eckart Preu and the Chamber Orchestra concluded their Summermusik festival, centering on the theme of “Americana.” Lark’s fusion of classical and bluegrass fiddling was a fitting finale to an imaginative season that spanned from Beethoven and Bach to Afro-Cuban rhythms.


The all-American program featured additional compositions by rising star Jessie Montgomery and ragtime composers Scott Joplin and James Reese Europe. The event culminated with Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy ballet score, “Fancy Free,” accompanied by the dynamic performances of three dancers from Revolution Dance Theatre.


Lark’s profound connection to bluegrass is evident in her roots, hailing from Richmond, Kentucky, where she immersed herself in music, playing fiddle alongside her father’s banjo. This upbringing, complemented by her classical prowess, led her to a unique musical niche. Coining the term “Stradgrass,” she masterfully blends bluegrass with classical on her “Ex-Gingold” Stradivarius, which she played on loan after her success in the Indianapolis International Violin Competition in 2014.


Lark’s talent shone brilliantly in Torke’s “Sky,” a captivating piece tailored to her artistry. Drawing inspiration from banjo techniques in the first movement, “Lively,” the concerto resonated with energy and virtuosity. Lark’s performance was a breath of fresh air, conquering technical challenges with ease.

Throughout the composition, Torke’s orchestral canvas was colored by Kentucky’s landscapes and Aaron Copland’s harmonies. The collaboration between Lark and Torke was vibrant and rhythmic, culminating in a movement that featured solo violin and tambourine.

Lark’s proficiency in the slow movement, “Wistful,” was reminiscent of Irish reels and served as a precursor to American bluegrass. Her lyrical interpretation was marked by exquisite tone. The final movement, “Spirited,” featured a perpetual motion that showcased Lark’s dazzling technique and interaction with the orchestra.

Under Preu’s direction, the orchestra’s performance was imbued with energy and precision, captivating the enthusiastic audience.

The program also featured other remarkable works, including compositions by Montgomery, Joplin, and James Reese Europe. The afternoon concluded with Bernstein’s “Fancy Free,” enhanced by Revolution Dance Theatre’s exceptional choreography.

Tessa Lark’s performance with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra was a mesmerizing display of artistry and versatility, highlighting the beautiful fusion of classical and bluegrass elements.


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