Few classical musicians can summon a bluegrass tune during a classical concert.
But during her concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Jan. 9) at the University of Hawaii at Hilo Performing Arts Center, Tessa Lark can and probably will.
The award-winning violinist from rural Kentucky, the daughter of a banjo-picking, bluegrass-loving father, will take the stage with her 1683 Stradivarius, and — with accompanist Amy Yang on piano — perform violin sonatas by Maurice Ravel and Richard Strauss. Lark and Yang also will perform famous solo compositions for their instruments — partitas by Johann Sebastian Bach. And Lark will probably sneak in a little bluegrass (what she calls “Strad-grass”) into the concert.
Winner of the prestigious Naumburg International Violin Award in 2012 and recipient of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, Lark is one of the most captivating artistic voices of her time. She has been consistently praised by critics and audiences for her astounding range of sounds, technical agility and musical elegance.
But a career as a violinist was almost not in the cards at all for her. Her parents scraped up the money for music lessons when she was 6 years old.
“I really wanted to play the piano, but we didn’t have room for a piano in our house,” she recalled. “So, the instructor they selected for me, who also taught violin, suggested I try that. It wasn’t until I was 11 and a half that I got serious about my playing.”
Lark enrolled in the Starling Strings Program at the University of Cincinnati — two hours from her home. At age 16 she was soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and her classical career has gone upward since. But she keeps in touch with her Kentucky roots, playing bluegrass and Appalachian music and collaborating frequently with Grammy Award-winning fiddler Mark O’Connor.
Lark has had the use of the ex-Gingold Stradivarius since winning the silver medal in the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis in 2014.
“I will never get used to the beautiful sound and the unique personality this violin has,” she says.
She will have the violin until the next Indianapolis competition this fall, “when I will cry so severely when I have to give it back.” However, judging by the trajectory her career is on, Lark probably has other great violins in her future.
Lark’s accompanist, Yang, has been hailed by The New York Concert Review as “a magnificent artist and poet.” She was born in Taiwan and moved to Houston at age 11. She grew up in a family with a passion and talent for classical music, whose musical roots go back three generations.
Yang said her first experience with the piano was at age 3.
“But my parents never pushed me into playing. I had to ask for piano lessons,” she says.
Bach’s partitas (suites of dances) for solo violin are considered the pinnacle of what has been written for that instrument and his partitas for keyboard are easily among his most significant keyboard compositions. The Ravel sonata, partially inspired by the music of America, namely jazz and blues, beautifully portrays each instrument’s toolbox of sounds and exaggerates their differences.
The Strauss sonata is known for its lyrical beauty and for its technical demands made on both violinist and pianist. It was composed the year Strauss met soprano Pauline de Ahna, whom he would later marry, and it is not hard to hear suggestions of romantic ardor in it.
Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 for people 60 and older and $12 for students and are available at the Most Irresistible Shop, Book Gallery, the UH-Hilo Performing Arts Center box office and Music Exchange. Tickets also will be available at the box office from 6:45 p.m. the night of the concert.
Seating is unreserved.