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Tessa Lark Expands Musical Horizons with Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks Program

by Madonna

Tessa Lark, a distinguished violinist celebrated for her exceptional concert performances, is on a mission to diversify the musical programming landscape. Lark, who has earned accolades for her work with orchestras and in international competitions, is adding depth to the repertoire presented to audiences.

Her performance of Michael Torke’s “Sky,” a Pulitzer Prize-nominated concerto for violin and orchestra, perfectly aligns with her vision. This remarkable piece will take center stage during the Sarasota Orchestra’s 75th-anniversary season’s opening Masterworks concert, a testament to Lark’s commitment to musical diversity. Notably, Torke composed “Sky” especially for Lark, and she premiered it in 2019.

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Lark, a classical violinist hailing from Kentucky, has a unique connection to a rich tapestry of musical genres. “I was always drawn to great music, whether classical, bluegrass, jazz, or other improvised styles of folk music,” she shared in a recent telephone interview. Her upbringing, which included bluegrass melodies and a banjo-playing father, influenced her appreciation for a wide spectrum of musical styles. “I’ve tried to lead a life in music that’s open to all sorts of different styles and I’ve tried to incorporate these different cultures of music into the programming that I do, but it is always from a classical lens.”

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“Sky,” a concerto for violin and orchestra, is a seamless embodiment of Lark’s mission. It marries classical traditions with the familiar sounds of bluegrass Americana, creating a sophisticated structure and harmonic form that appeals to both classical enthusiasts and fans of folk music. Lark received a Grammy Award nomination in 2020 for her performance of “Sky.”

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Michael Torke was inspired by Lark’s background, a fusion of classical and bluegrass influences. He introduced elements of bluegrass Americana in the first movement and incorporated Irish reels, the predecessors of American Bluegrass, in the second movement. The third movement was influenced by fiddle licks, resulting in a “composed” violin concerto where everything is meticulously written, leaving no room for improvisation.

As the Sarasota Orchestra embarks on another season in search of a new music director, the upcoming concert featuring “Sky” signifies the orchestra’s dedication to musical innovation. David Alan Miller, the conductor for this performance, has been an artistic advisor guiding the orchestra through various personnel matters. The orchestra leadership remains discreet about the candidates for the music director position.

Tessa Lark’s versatility extends to her instrument, which she humorously defines as the only difference between a violin and a fiddle being “the violin has strings, and the fiddle has strangs.” She performs with the same instrument for both styles, graciously loaned by the Stradivarius Society of Chicago. Her violin, with its unique bassy qualities, effortlessly transitions between classical and fiddle music.

Lark hopes that other violinists and fiddlers will embrace Torke’s “Sky,” bridging the gap between these two musical worlds. While the instrument remains the same, the approach to playing may differ. Lark likens it to a dialect within a language, with fiddlers sometimes being unaccustomed to reading sheet music and classical musicians hesitating to improvise. However, she believes that this disconnect can be overcome, fostering a harmonious fusion of musical expressions.

Tessa Lark, along with guest conductor David Alan Miller, will grace the Sarasota Orchestra’s Masterworks stage, promising a memorable musical experience for all on November 3-5 at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.

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