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Mark O'Connor

Mark O'Connor

Superhuman violinist

by Sandor Slomovits

From the April, 2015 issue

Editor's note: This event has been cancelled.

Stephane Grappelli once said of Mark O'Connor, "He's not what you would call ... human." No small compliment coming from one who many agree was perhaps the greatest exponent of improvisation on the violin and who himself was considered a superhuman musician. Yet Grappelli thought so much of O'Connor that he hired him to be in his band when O'Connor was still a teenager.

Now fifty-four, O'Connor, like Grappelli, is considered one of the greats of the violin, having performed and recorded with, among others, Yo-Yo Ma, Chet Atkins, Renee Fleming, Edgar Meyer, Bela Fleck, Pinchas Zukerman, and Wynton Marsalis. And, by some measures, he's surpassed his old mentor. While Grappelli was the premier name in jazz violin, O'Connor is an incredibly versatile musician, able to seamlessly flow among classical (his Fiddle Concerto is one of the most frequently performed violin concertos of the past half century), folk, ragtime, blues, jazz, bluegrass, and country (he's been named Musician of the Year a half dozen times by the Country Music Association). He's also a prolific composer. In addition to string quartets, choral works, a symphony, six concertos, and other orchestral works, he's written countless pieces for solo violin and the soundtracks of many movies and documentaries. His recordings have sold millions, and he has won two Grammy awards.

O'Connor was a child prodigy. He won championships on violin, guitar, and mandolin as a young boy and teenager, and Grappelli was only one of many great musicians who mentored him. O'Connor has long acknowledged that support and has devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to fostering young people's interest in stringed instruments and music. His annual fiddle camps in locales from New York to California draw students from all over the country and even from overseas. In 2009 he began publishing what will eventually be a ten-volume series of books entitled The O'Connor Method: A New American School of String Playing.

O'Connor's career

...continued below...

has continued to grow since his last visit to Ann Arbor in 2012. But when he returns to the Ark on April 30, fiddle fans will get to enjoy a new grafting and blooming of his musical and personal life. He is touring now with Maggie Dixon O'Connor, his bride of less than a year. Dixon O'Connor is herself a highly trained and accomplished violinist, with degrees from the Peabody Institute and plenty of performing and recording credits in classical, jazz, and rock. The two will feature music from O'Connor's American Classics, which pays homage to the traditional Appalachian music of his childhood and also includes original compositions. In particular, listen for their gorgeous arrangement of "Appalachia Waltz," which they first played as part of their wedding ceremony last May.     (end of article)

[Originally published in April, 2015.]


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