The evolution of classical music is categorized by distinctive periods. The Renaissance lasted roughly 200 years, from 1400 to 1600. The Baroque movement took place from 1600 to 1750, and the Romantics reigned from 1830 to 1900. Oh, and the 20th Century lasted, ah, through the 20th century.
In that spirit, at Musical Masterworks, the esteemed Old Lyme chamber music series, the Tessa Lark Era starts NOW.
Lark, 32, a world-renowned violinist, is the organization’s new artistic director, replacing Edward Arron, who retired last spring after 16 seasons.
The debut concerts of Lark’s inaugural campaign take place Saturday and Sunday in Old Lyme’s First Congregational Church, where she’ll be joined onstage by pianist Inon Barnatan, violist Ayane Kozasa and cellist Gabriel Cabezas.
The quartet will perform a diverse program including Paul Wiancko’s “American Haiku,” George Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2, the Earl Wild transcription of Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm,” Richard Strauss’s Four pieces for Piano Quartet, and Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet in G minor, Op. 25.
And opening the concert? Lark’s own “Jig and Pop,” a piece that will appear on her upcoming fourth album, “The Stradgrass Sessions,” due in March 2023.
A long friendship
Over the course of Arron’s tenure, Lark was a frequent Musical Masterworks guest artist who developed a rapport with Arron, the Masterworks board of directors and, just as importantly, the series’ loyal audience.
In an interview last year, Arron emphasized that his decision to leave was much easier once he’d approached Lark about being his successor and she accepted.
To further ease what in any case promised to be a smooth transition, Lark appeared on four of the five concerts of Arron’s final season — serving a sort of junior apprenticeship that extended beyond onstage performance and into the overall dynamics of the job profile.
“I loved Musical Masterworks over the 10 years I was lucky enough to perform until now, and I certainly don’t want to break what isn’t broken,” Lark says by phone in late September. She’s winding up a busy summer performance schedule wherein she left her Williamsburg apartment in Brooklyn last June for a series of concerts and didn’t get back till a few weeks ago.
“I have so much admiration for Ed and what he’s created, and I feel so much gratitude for him letting me be part of it,” Lark says. “But I also have my own artistic plans and musical colleagues, so I can’t help but incorporate some of that into Musical Masterworks. I’m excited by the possibilities.”
An appreciation for the aesthetic and personal possibilities in any given performance situation — with equal attention given to the musicians and the material — is something that delighted Lark about Arron’s approach at Musical Masterworks. Audiences in the experiential excellence of the First Congregational Church are close enough from any seat to observe the fun and interaction between musical comrades jointly finessing compositions they love.
Lark says, “I think maybe it was John Coltrane who said, ‘There are two kinds of music. The good kind and not.’ I want to convey to the audience that there will be musical diversity because it’s all music of the people.”
From bluegrass to classical
Lark should know. She grew up in Appalachian Kentucky in a musical household. Her father, a wildlife biologist, is also a fine bluegrass musician who introduced her to that style of music — a form she still loves. She says she’s known since childhood that she wanted to be a musician. Though she wanted to learn piano, there wasn’t one in the family household and a teacher suggested Lark start on violin.
“I must have been serious about it,” Lark told The Day last year, “because (my family) would take me to Cincinnati for private lessons. I grew up on bluegrass, but the lessons were geared toward classical, and that was fine. It was a very natural evolution for me.”
After graduating from the New England Conservatory and earning an artist diploma at the Juilliard School, Lark’s career took off. She tours the world and has won, among other things, the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and an Avery Fisher Career Grant.
In July, Lark and her friend Sierra Hull, the virtuoso bluegrass musician, released a single called “Chasin’ Skies.” It’s a playful, spirited game of post-bluegrass tag wherein Lark’s fiddle pyrotechnics dart in and out of Hull’s similarly galloping mandolin figures. “Chasin’ Skies” is scheduled to appear on a Lark’s “The Stradgrass Sessions.” It follows three earlier Lark recordings: “Fantasy,” “Invention” and the Grammy-nominated “Sky” (Best Classical Instrumental Solo category).
Some new faces and sounds
While paying respectful homage to repertoire, Lark is eager to share contemporary and possibly unfamiliar works with the Musical Masterworks audience — including material by living composers who will be onstage at the concerts.
“The classical music world is small,” Lark says. “Traveling and performing over the summer, I kept running into some of my colleagues — and some of them will be playing at Musical Masterworks this season. We’d talk, and you could just feel the excitement ramping up. And part of it is because, in my experiences in Old Lyme, you can see how eager and welcoming the audiences are to meet and see and hear new artists.”
Lark references the December 3 and 4 program, when she takes the stage with cellist Joshua Roman and double bassist Edgar Meyer. The ensemble will play pieces by Bach and Rossini along with two Meyer compositions: Trio 1 and Trio 3.
“Edgar has been a hero of mine since youth,” Lark says. “It’s not just his playing and compositions but just his amazing breadth of genre. It’s amazing that he’ll be here, and he’s the inspiration for that concert.”
Concerts on February 4 and 5 typify Lark’s fusion of old and new. Lark, harpist Charles Overton, flutist Alex Sopp and bassist Michael Thurber will explore works by Bach, Saint-Saens and Debussy — but the finale holds great promise for improvisation and interplay when they explore selections and arrangements of original material by all four musicians.
There will also be two homecoming appearances. “One of the first things I did when last season was finished was to tell Ed and (his wife, pianist) Jeewon (Park) to come back any time they wanted to. And this season isn’t too early.”
On March 4 and 5, Park and Lark will do an evening of duets by Dvorak, Corigliano, Strauss and the debut of a new composition from Lark’s “The Stradgrass Sessions” album.
“It’s rare in chamber music to have a duo,” Lark says, “but Jeewon and I have done recitals before, and she’s the sort of person and musician that makes it easy to program a whole concert for just two of us. We’re used to playing together and I thought it would be fun to bring her back and showcase her.”
The year concludes on April 29 and 30 with a programming gesture of Lark’s typical graciousness. She’ll thus watch from the wings as the astounding Ehnes Quartet, a long-revered group with Masterworks fans, returns to Old Lyme. The ensemble — violinists Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, violist Che-Yen Chen and, yes, Arron — performs works by Haydn, Bartok and Mendelssohn.
“My approach to programming is to bring my friends and have them play,” Lark says. “It’s about the hang and the community. Without fail, music is always better with that dynamic. The quality is never compromised by the fun factor. We do work really hard and rehearse many hours.” She laughs. “But my view is that we’re allowed to go out and have a beer afterwards.”
If you go
What: Musical Masterworks
What: First concert of the 2022-23 season
When: 5 p.m. Sat. and 3 p.m. Oct. 23
Where: First Congregational Church, 4 Lyme St., Old Lyme
How much: $45, $5 students under 23
Click for more information and tickets.