Tessa Lark, a buoyant and directly communicative violinist, returns to Indiana to interpret Michael Torke's 'Sky'

Prizewinner: Tessa Lark shows affinity for various musical idioms.
On the way to her silver-medal finish in the 2014 International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Tessa Lark impressed listeners with her technical security and unfussy insights into the music, from Bach through Ysaye and on into the contest's two concerto phases.

I referred to her playing of Mozart's popular "Turkish" Concerto (No. 5 in A major) as "an astute, generously expressive, and well-balanced rendition." Similar qualities can be predicted when she and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra present the Indiana premiere of Michael Torke's "Sky" tonight at the Schrott Center for the Arts at Butler University.

The ICO, under the artistic directionn of Matthew Kraemer, is one of six orchestras that co-commissioned the new work, which was premiered and recorded in January by the Albany (N.Y.) Symphony Orchestra. It's a three-movement piece about 23 minutes long that evokes the bluegrass genre with which the Kentuckian Lark has long been familiar.

It's her second guest appearance with the ICO. In 2015, she charmed the audience with Vieuxtemps' Violin Concerto No. 5 in A minor, Beethoven's second Romance, and, for an encore, a Kentucky fiddle tune. She was last heard in the area a year ago February with the Carmel Symphony Orchestra, playing a concerto called "Love Letter" written by her boyfriend and musical collaborator, contrabassist Michael Thurber.

Her career has blossomed elsewhere since she won the IVCI silver medal. She received the coveted Avery Fisher Career Grant in 2016, and more recently she got a fellowship from the Borletti-Buiitoni Trust, which will enable her to work on such CD projects as "Strad Grass," an exploration of American folk music from a classical perspective.

This will be her third concert performance of "Sky." She hesitates to label it too exclusively as a bluegrass
Michael Torke: Visual guidance provided to his music.
concerto, preferring to say it was "influenced by it and inspired by it. But it's not like anyting I've heard before. There's French-style playing, a Scots-Irish musical language and banjo licks." Her collaboration with Torke brought into view the composer's unique perspective: "He creates his own sounds in this piece," she said. "He was curious to see if one plus one actually equals three or two. How would it sound?"

Torke has been associated with a the phenomenon experienced by relatively few people: a tendency to hear sounds in terms of distinct colors. Known as "synesthesia," the mental orientation was prominent in Torke's early works, but in "Sky" Lark senses the composer has steered away from the synesthetic focus.

Still, "the descriptors he uses are vivid and hilarious — very strong visions for what he's hearing. He'll say 'This should sound like drinking brandy by fire glow," or "like jewelry flying all over the place."

As for the bluegrass influence, Lark doesn't think a soloist's knowledge of that genre is essential to interpreting "Sky."  She concedes that it's often said "you can't play jazz or bluegrass unless you grew up with it, and there's a lot of truth to that." But Torke "hit deeply" on bluegrass, the violinist is convinced, "but it's his take on it. I sure hope it has that connection to other violinists. It's good enough that it could stand different interpretations."

The artist for whom "Sky" was created is giving six first impressions of it, however, and can be heard at 7:30 tonight on a program that also includes music of Dvorak, Virgil Thomson, and Kodaly.


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