By Rick Koster, The Day, October 17, 2021
There’s an even newer kid in town.
In the spring of 2009, cellist Edward Arron, then 32, became artistic director of Old Lyme’s Musical Masterworks chamber music program. He was replacing his mentor, the retiring Charles Wadsworth, a visionary who co-founded the series 31 years ago and popularly curated what became a beloved and highly regarded musical institution.
Now, 15 years later, after a marvelously creative and successful run, Arron enters his final season at the helm and will proudly pass the directorship to violinist Tessa Lark. A frequent and popular performer at Musical Masterworks, Lark will assume artistic control for the 2022-23 season — at the same age Arron was when he took over for Wadsworth.
“I’m extremely excited and I still can’t believe it in some ways,” Lark says by phone from her home in New York City last week. “Musical Masterworks has a small but mighty history of leadership with Edward and Charles, and I’m incredibly honored to have the opportunity to continue on and hold the course. That Edward believes in me in this way is so important.”
“What I’ve recognized in Tessa is that she has a great mind and human sensitivity and understands how people will work together to bring a concert in the finest possible fashion,” Arron says from Amherst, where he and his wife, the pianist Jeewon Park, raise their family and coordinate their respective concert schedules. Arron also teaches fulltime at UMass Amherst. “Tessa and I have talked across the years of our friendship and her performances, and I love the way she relates to Musical Masterworks audiences. She has a very special thing in that context, and of course she’s a wonderful artist.”
Musical Masterworks 2021-22 begins with performances Saturday and Sunday in the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. Arron and Lark — who, in a sort of apprentice leadership fashion, will perform on four of the season’s five programs — will be joined by harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon and violinist Jesse Mills.
Musical selections for the concerts include works by Gallo (selections from Trio Sonatas Nos. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 12), Monza (Gavotte and Six Doubles from Suite in D Major for Solo Harpsichord), J.S. Bach (Adagio from Sonata in E-flat Major, BWV 525 arranged by Bernard Labadie), Telemann (Suite for Two Violins, “Gulliver’s Travels,” TWV 40:108), Pergolesi (Vivo from Sinfonia in F Major for Cello and Harpsichord) and Schnittke (Minuet from Suite in the Old Style for Violin and Harpsichord, 1972).
Time to think
Though Arron stayed as busy as possible during the first 20 months of COVID — Musical Masterworks did a superb job of presenting the non-live 2020-21 season via world-class audio/video productions, for example — he had plenty of time for reflection about life, his family and his career.
“The pandemic made everyone think about things in perhaps new ways,” Arron says. “It was certainly that way for me, and it seemed like a good time for me to step aside at Masterworks and let someone else take the reins.”
Part of this revelation, he says, comes from growing up in a musical family. His father was a violist who played at the Metropolitan Opera for 20 years and with the Cincinnati Symphony before that. His mother was the executive director of Carnegie Hall. Arron says, “One thing I observed over the course of hundreds of concerts I saw growing up is that great arts institutions need to have a change in leadership to provide fresh ideas. The real trick is that the important threads of an organization remain constant.
“Musical Masterworks is as great and delightful as it’s ever been, but it also seems like a good time for me to step aside and let someone else take the reins. And when I thought about who could come in, Tessa checked every box. She was and is the obvious choice. So I called her on the phone and said …”
“I still remember Ed’s exact words,” Lark says, and even now there’s a slight note of disbelief in her voice over her good fortune. “He said, ‘I’m calling to see if you would like to have my job.’ I couldn’t believe it at first. Old Lyme and Musical Masterworks never crossed my mind in that capacity. Why would anyone give up THAT job? I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he explained why it made sense for him to move on. I was overwhelmed because I never thought he’d see an artistic director in me. I wanted to say yes immediately but took two days — not because I wasn’t sure I wanted it but to make sure I was up to the legacy and responsibility.”
She pauses, searching for the right words. “I vividly remember the first time I played Musical Masterworks. It was early 2013 and Ed called me to fill in after a musician was injured on Schubert’s E-flat piano concerto — a piece that’s very special to me.”
Because of icy weather, Arron and Park and Lark ended up driving together to Old Lyme for the concert and, Lark says, became dear friends over the course of the journey.
“And when I saw the First Congregational Church, I fell in love with it,” Lark says. “The room just instantly drew me. It’s astonishing and extraordinary; the sound is generous and not one note or nuance is missing. The sound becomes its own instrument in a way. Similarly, the concert hall itself is beautiful: the wide range of colors and the architecture and the sight lines.
“Then I met the audiences, the Musical Masterworks family. You see the faces out there and the whole experience … it all becomes a part of the ensemble, too. I could never have imagined having this chance.”
My old Kentucky home
Lark also grew up in a musical environment, though in different circumstances. Her family lived on seven acres in the Appalachians in Kentucky, and her father, a wildlife biologist, is also a respected bluegrass musician.
“There wasn’t a moment in my life when I wondered what I’d do,” she says. “I wanted to start on piano but the only teacher I found said I’d need a piano in our house to practice. We didn’t have that, so she suggested I begin on violin. My parents say I declared I was going to be a professional violinist when I was 11 or 12, and I must have been serious about it because they would take me to Cincinnati for private lessons. I grew up on bluegrass, but the lessons were geared towards classical music, and that was fine. It was a very natural evolution for me.”
Lark went on to study and graduate from the New England Conservatory and completed her artist diploma at The Juilliard School. She has performed all over the world and her accomplishments include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship, a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant, taking the silver medal in the 9th Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, and winning the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition.
Lark has also released three commercial recordings, “Fantasy,” “Invention” and “Sky,” the latter of which was nominated in 2020 for a Grammy in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category and received one of Lincoln Center’s prestigious Emerging Artist Awards, the special Hunt Family Award. She enjoys collaborating with other musicians and composers and is as contagiously fluent in the Appalachian music of her youth as she is with the demanding and extensive range of chamber music.
What’s on the program?
Though Lark has programmed a few individual concerts, she has an intimate knowledge of repertoire and a wide range of musicians with which to craft her own signature Musical Masterworks seasons.
“It’s stressful,” she laughs, “but there are types of internal stress that are healthy, and this is one of them. I’m looking forward over the next several months to learning from Ed — he and Jeewan have become two of my best friends — and getting to know the board of directors and the whole community. I’ve dreamed of getting to do this, and to do so in a place like Old Lyme and with an organization like Musical Masterworks is amazing. I can’t wait to see what resonates with the community and see how we move forward together.”
Bittersweet but happy
For his part, this farewell season, while a little bittersweet to contemplate, makes Arron happy.
“After Tessa agreed to take over, I dropped the bomb on the dear founders and board and various committees of Musical Masterworks — people who are family to me,” Arron says. “They were delighted because we all can see how much the audience has come to love Tessa and also how much she loves this venue and organization and audience.”
Arron, as always, put a lot of thought into this season’s programs and musicians, and, yes, there will be certain recurring themes of joy and wistfulness reflecting the transition. (See sidebar for the other concerts for the 2021-22 season.)
“This is going to be incredible fun,” Arron says. “Remember, too, we haven’t played before a live audience in 20 months. Just the idea of walking out on the stage at the First Congregational Church is going to be so sweet. Like fresh oxygen. And I can promise you this: I’ll never be a stranger in the Musical Masterworks world. I like the idea of leaving with everyone feeling good about what we’ve accomplished and what’s to come. I’ll be back and cheering for Tessa and maybe, occasionally, she’ll ask me to sit in the corner and play a cello part.”