I just got off the phone with Mark O'Connor, who's still buzzing from recording his Americana Symphony with Marin Alsop and the BSO yesterday. One of the most versatile contemporary American musicians, O'Connor and his fiddle circulate from bluegrass to classical (and various genres in between) with both grace and distinction. His two recordings with cellist Yo-Yo Ma and bassist Edgar Meyer (Appalachian Waltz and Appalachian Journey) hauled American vernacular music into the symphony hall with often thrilling results. The new symphony, O'Connor's first, seems to be a logical progression for him.
Here's some of our talk...
What was yesterday’s recording session like?
I was very amazed at the performance by Marin Alsop and the BSO. This music is fairly difficult to perform, and it takes a very good group to perform it well. Plus, it’s new music, so it’s unfamiliar to all the musicians. Then, you add on the fact that it’s a new style; it’s my style. You’re always hopeful your style will resonate with master musicians quickly enough to turn around a great recording, and that's exactly what happened. Every section of the orchestra absolutely delivered. There was no weak link in that entire ensemble.
How did you end up doing this recording with the BSO?
It’s a great lucky break and a privilege, for a few reasons. Marin was the first conductor to record my first concerto back in ’94, so she has been with me practically from the beginning of my symphonic career. In February, she invited me to play during her inaugural season, and we did four concerts together. So, in a way, she brought me to this place. Coincidentally, my very first solo performance with a symphony orchestra was with the BSO in 1992.
Plus, my new symphony is very American sounding, so it's a good fit for that reason, too. It's great when a music director like Marin believes a little more American music programming would be a good thing. And to me, that just makes sense. After all, it's the home team.
And what did her presence on the podium add to the recording?
Marin, as a conductor, was able to nail every bit of what I was going for. She really understood what I’m doing and brought it out in the orchestra. As a composer, you’re hoping the musicians are enthused, but you understand that it’s hard to get 80 musicians equally enthused about a piece of new music. But she really helped with that, and it just felt like the playing was so heart felt. I couldn't have been happier.
This evening, I'll post O'Connor's comments on what inspired him to write the symphony.
And tomorrow, the BSO will perform Americana Symphony at Havre de Grace High School. I hear it has a great old auditorium with a creaky wooden stage, which should be the perfect setting for this music.