Mark O’Connor performed a solo recital at the Allen Theater at Texas Tech University on Thursday September 4, 2008. All the music, except the evening’s only encore – America, was written by Mr O’Connor. He has developed a style that attempts to combine American fiddle music with classic European music for the violin. The result sounds like Vivaldi after a trip to Appalachia.
O’Connor who started out as a string player in a recording orchestra has carved a niche in American music that he occupies by himself. A performer-composer he hearkens back to an era, about two hundred years ago, when the combination was relatively common. Today he stands alone.
With the exception of one piece, Poem, Mr O’Connor’s program contained music that was fast, incredibly difficult to play, and which was short on melody. O’Connor is as great a violin virtuoso as appears before the public in any idiom. Vadim Repin would play O’Connor’s compositions with great difficulty. He has written two violin concertos, the first called The Fiddle Concerto, which he has reduced to solo pieces. He played both at this recital. Among the other pieces he played were The Appalachian Waltz and three improvisations. Typical of O’Connor’s music is that the interest lies not so much in the music itself, but rather in the performance. Without O’Connor the soloist I doubt that O’Connor’s music would garner much interest. But O’Connor the virtuoso is so dazzling that an evening spent listening to him is well worth the time and cost. In fact, so strong is his technique that it would be interesting to hear him play some of the signature violin music of the classical European tradition. He’d be perfect for Shostakovich.
A comparison of him to Paganini is not far fetched. It has obviously occurred to O’Connor who has written six caprices for violin, all of which he played brilliantly at his recital. Paganini was a great virtuoso who wrote extraordinarily difficult music designed to show off his legendary skill. The Italian, however, had a great melodic gift. O’Connor is a unique artist. If you’re in the vicinity of any of his concerts I’d advise you go. The audience was wildly enthusiastic as befits the level of the performance. A tour de force.