Guest violinists bring unique sound to Symphony concert

Performer builds bridge to musical genres to fit style.

Credit: Michael J. Lutch

Credit: Michael J. Lutch

Bluegrass, jazz and symphony music aren’t a common combination, unless you’re violinist Mark O’Connor.

A multiple Grammy Award-winner, O’Connor is a rare performer who has built a bridge to those three and other genres to fit his compositional style. With wife Maggie, they’ll show how it all works live as the Mark O’Connor Duo are the guest artists at the next Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concert.

Discover the connections between the music of O’Connor and legendary composer Anton Dvorak at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, at the Clark State Performing Arts Center. Tickets are still available.

In coming up with his style, O’Connor wanted nothing more than to explore how to use the violin in a way that had not been explored.

“My violin-playing and my compositions are linked to each other in every way,” said O’Connor. “My effort was to create a new style of violin-playing and a new style of orchestral composition — directions that are informed by the history, culture, diversity, techniques, styles, creativity and eras of American music at their core. At the center of American music history is the American violin ― or if you will, the fiddle. So it made sense for me as a creative musician to take this path.”

O’Connor said something to remember when listening to his classical music is the use of musical language, and how his orchestration reflects it and allows the string-playing language to take the music to yet another place and level of authenticity while still being progressive, providing the music with its foundation.

SSO conductor and music director Peter Stafford Wilson is constantly looking to show how the masters and contemporary composers who seemingly have nothing to do with each other are aligned and this concert is such a case.

Dvorak’s “Symphony No. 9 op. 95 in e minor ‘From the New World’” will open the show. Wilson said Dvorak came to America to run a music school and to encourage the birth of a uniquely American style of musical composition.

“He accomplished the latter by instilling a love of inherently American music in the hearts and minds of early generations of American composers,” said Wilson.

The O’Connors will perform his “Strings & Threads Suite” and “The Improvised Violin Concerto Movements 1.4 & 5.″

“Dvorak’s work that stimulated such thought was the ‘New World Symphony’ and Mark O’Connor and his blend of folk music and jazz is the ultimate example of what Dvorak had in mind,” Wilson said.

The “Improvised Violin Concerto” is the only violin concerto that relies on the study and techniques of improvisation for the solo lead, according to O’Connor.

“My use of orchestration directs the musicians to create and propel the themes of the piece, so it frees up myself as the soloist to improvise over the top of the thematic development taking place within the orchestra itself,” he said.

“Strings and Threads Suite” features two violin soloists, O’Connor and Maggie. He said it musically describes his family tree, from the Celtic regions of Europe and how many family ancestors, dating back to the early 1600s in the Americas, experienced music throughout the centuries.

“You will hear Maggie and I play in the musical styles of hoedowns, rags, blues and spirituals, ending with swing and bebop. I have composed music in each of these musical genres for the piece.”

The show reunites Wilson and the O’Connors, who have worked together here and elsewhere. “I am delighted to share the stage with Mark and Maggie O’Connor,” Wilson said. “Mark and I worked together almost 20 years ago with the Louisville Orchestra and the SSO was one of a consortium of orchestras that commissioned him to write his ‘Americana Symphony’ several years ago. This is a reunion that is long overdue.”

For more information on the O’Connors and their music and educational programs, go to

Clark State requires masks be worn by audience members in the PAC to attend this performance. Distance seating will be available.


What: Springfield Symphony Orchestra with the Mark O’Connor Duo

Where: Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 South Fountain Ave., Springfield

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Admission: $40.40-$66

More info: 937-325-8100 or go to

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