Violinist and composer Mark O’Connor is widely recognized as one of the most gifted contemporary composers in America and surely one of the brightest talents of his generation. The New York Times calls his “one of the most spectacular journeys in recent American music.” The Baltimore Sun and the St. Louis Post Dispatch label him “genius.” The Los Angeles Times describes him as an artist who is “one of the most talented and imaginative…working in music — any music — today.” The Seattle Times says of his music: “brilliantly original.” His compositions are “informed and engaging,” according to the Washington Post. An excerpt from a feature in the New York Times eloquently describes Mark O’Connor’s tradition-filled past, his stellar present and his future full of promise: “The audience was on its feet. I’m certain that at least some of the concert-goers were moved not merely by Mr. O’Connor’s solo, as exciting as it was, but by its having come on the heels of the orchestral piece (“American Seasons”). They were moved by Mr. O’Connor’s journey without maps, cheering for the only musician today who can reach so deeply first into the refined, then the vernacular, giving his listeners a complex, sophisticated piece of early-21st-century classical music and then knocking them dead with the brown-dirt whine of a Texas fiddle.” A product of America’s rich aural folk tradition, Mr. O’Connor’s journey began at the feet of violin masters Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson and French jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli. Along the way, between these two marvelous musical extremes, Mark O’Connor absorbed knowledge and influence from a multitude of musical styles and genres. Now, at age 44, he has melded and shaped these influences into a new American classical music. The Los Angeles Times warmly noted he has “crossed over so many boundaries, that his style is purely personal.” His first recording for the Sony Classical record label, Appalachia Waltz, was a collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and doublebassist Edgar Meyer. The works Mr. O’Connor composed for the disc, including its title track, gained worldwide recognition for him as a leading proponent of a new American musical idiom. The tremendously successful follow-up release, Appalachian Journey, received a Grammy Award in February 2001.
Viewing Mark O’Connor as a direct cultural descendant of America’s 18th century musicians, the producers of the six-part PBS documentary on the American Revolution approached Mark O’Connor to contribute music to their long form work. An album of the music he created, Liberty!, was released on the Sony Classical label in 1997 and features Mr. O’Connor’s arrangements of a variety of traditional American music and expansive original orchestral works. Both Yo-Yo Ma and Wynton Marsalis appear as guests on the album. In 2000, composer John Williams also called on his expertise and knowledge of the period to contribute solo instrumentalist talents to the Oscar-nominated score of “The Patriot.” Mr. O’Connor was invited to contribute to the soundtrack of the upcoming Ron Maxwell film, “Gods and Generals,” released in 2003.
Midnight on the Water, a live recording of his solo recital, was released in 1998. It was the album long awaited by legions who have followed Mr. O’Connor’s 28-year career and is still today regarded by many as a definitive career work firmly solidified his place as one of America’s most significant contemporary musical artists. The CD includes Mr. O’Connor’s “Caprices 1-6,” increasingly gaining reputation as classic works of the modern violin repertoire. In its review of the disc, Fanfare The Magazine for Serious Record Collectors praised his ability “to dazzle listeners with things both new and personal,” noting that “O’Connor’s creative effort… deserves special mention and serious discussion, if not special praise.” With more than 150 performances, his “Fiddle Concerto No. 1” has become the most-performed modern violin concerto.
Fanfare for the Volunteer, recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Steven Mercurio, was released by Sony Classical in October 1999. At its release, Melinda Bargreen, the Seattle Times’ respected classical music critic, described the composition as, “O’Connor’s strongest work thus far,” calling it “distinctively American and decidedly O’Connor…” In April 2000, Mr. O’Connor premiered “The American Seasons: Seasons of an American Life,” at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, N.Y. The work was commissioned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the hall’s concert series. The New York Times said “… if Dvorak had spent his American leisure time in Nashville instead of Spillville, Iowa, ‘New World Symphony’ would have sounded like this.” The American Seasons was recorded with the Metamorphosen chamber orchestra and released in 2001. Following the work’s release, a 28-city national tour with Metamorphosen earned universally spectacular reviews. The New York Times said, “… if Dvorak had spent his American leisure time in Nashville instead of Spillville, Iowa, ‘New World Symphony’ might have sounded like this.” Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe called the work “concise, lyrical and irresistibly rhythmic.” Wayne Gay of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said, “The American Seasons is destined to rank among the greatest masterpieces of American music…the first musical masterpiece of the 21st century.” The work was nationally broadcast New Year’s Day 2002 on PBS stations, paired with Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” In August 2000, Mr. O’Connor’s composition, “Double Concerto for Two Violins,” received its premiere with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and the Chicago Symphony, Christoph Eschenbach conducting. (In November 2003, Mr. O’Connor and Ms. Salerno-Sonnenberg recorded the work with Marin Alsop conducting the Colorado Orchestra. It was released in June 2005.) In June 2001, Mr. O’Connor released Hot Swing! a tribute to his great friend and mentor, the legendary French jazz master, Stephane Grappelli. Released on his own OMAC label, the CD was recorded live with Jon Burr on bass and Frank Vignola on guitar. The critical acclaim was unanimous and immediate. The Chicago Tribune called it “one of the finest discs of his career and one of the greatest jazz violin albums ever.” Also in 2001, Mr. O’Connor was commissioned by the Academy of St. Martin the Fields to create a concerto for violin and orchestra. “Old Brass” takes its inspiration from a Beaufort, South Carolina plantation designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
In 2002, Mr. O’Connor formed a new chamber ensemble, the Appalachia Waltz Trio. The trio performs repertoire Mr. O’Connor created for his Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey recording projects. The Appalachia Waltz Trio released its first album, Crossing Bridges, in 2004 on Mr. O’Connor’s OMAC recording label. In recent years, as word of his considerable writing talents have spread, Mark O’Connor’s compositions are being embraced by a variety of performers. Yo-Yo Ma has 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, are constantly discovering Mr. O’Connor’s expressive American music. The recipient of numerous commissioning grants, including “Meet the Composer,” in 1998, he received a commission from the McKim Fund of Library of Congress for a new violin sonata which he premiered in that year at the Library and was broadcast on National Public Radio. His a cappella “Folk Mass” will receive its world premiere in February in New York City, performed by Gloriae Dei Cantores, the choral ensemble that commissioned the piece. In May 2002, he delivered the commencement address and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service Degree from The Sage Colleges in Troy/Albany, N.Y. for his many contributions to music and the cause of music education. Mark O’Connor has appeared at The White House, the Presidential Inauguration Celebration and the ceremonies of Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Games for which he composed “Olympic Reel.” He is often featured on major network television shows, and past appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” “Great Performances” on PBS, the “Kennedy Center Honors” and America’s celebration of Israel’s 50th birthday televised on CBS. Mr. O’Connor regularly teaches master classes and has conducted symposia at many schools of music including The Juilliard School of Music, Tanglewood, Aspen, the Berklee College of Music, UCLA, the Eastman School of Music and the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University. Mark generously donates his time in support of a number of organizations that promote music education and outreach, including Opus 118, Midori and Friends, Sphinx, and the Music For Life Alliance. He serves on the advisory panel for the selection of the Kennedy Center Honors and is affiliated with Arts4All, a nationally recognized provider of cultural web content. He is founder of the internationally recognized Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp and Strings Conference. At the Mark O’Connor Fiddle Camp near Nashville, Tennessee and the Mark O’Connor Strings Conference near San Diego, California, Mr. O’Connor assembles a world-class faculty to teach in a number of musical styles. These gatherings routinely draw participants from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as from Europe, South America and Asia.