October 20, 2021 – by Suzanne Thompson for LymeLine
OLD LYME — Musical Masterworks is back with live concerts and audiences next weekend — and this 31st season of chamber music concerts is special on multiple fronts.
This season’s five concerts will be a farewell tour for cellist Edward Arron, who has served as Artistic Director for 13 years. A soloist with major orchestras and chamber musician throughout North America, Europe and Asia, Arron has garnered recognition worldwide for his elegant musicianship, impassioned performances, and creative programming.
The Juilliard graduate was for 10 years the artistic director of the Metropolitan Museum Artists in Concert, a chamber music series created in 2003 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Museum’s prestigious Concerts and Lectures series.
He has been a University of Massachusetts Amherst Music Department faculty member since 2016, after serving on the faculty of New York University from 2009 to 2016. He tours and records regularly as a member of the renowned Ehnes Quarter.
This season also is a settling-in for the series’ Artistic Director Designate, violinist Tessa Lark. This budding superstar in the classical realm, who first performed on Musical Masterworks stage almost a decade ago, will become Artistic Director with the 2022-23 season.
The 2020 GRAMMY nominee in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category, recipient of a 2018 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Fellowship and a 2016 Avery Fisher Career Grant and winner of the 2012 Naumburg International Violin Competition also is a highly acclaimed fiddler in the tradition of her native Kentucky.
Lark delights audiences with programming that includes Appalachian and bluegrass music that inspired composers have written for her. She also has started composing.
The 2021-22 season marks a return to live performances before audiences in the Meeting Room of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. While Musical Masterworks artists and fans improvised last year with a series of professionally-recorded performances by the artists in the church hall and remote viewing for patrons, there is nothing comparable to the magic of experiencing world-class performances in this consummate sanctuary for classical chamber music.
Add to that, for the first time in 16 years of the series, a harpsichord will be on stage. No wonder the Sunday, Oct. 24 performance sold out two weeks ahead of the concert. Tickets for the Saturday, Oct. 23 performance are still available but must be ordered in advance.
Sitting down recently – via Zoom – with Arron and Lark, they expanded on what is in store for this season and beyond.
“I was honored to be invited to be a part of this concert series,” said Arron, recalling his first Musical Masterworks appearance in 2005. Legendary classical pianist Charles Wadsworth, director of chamber music at the Spoleto Festivals in both Italy and Charleston, S.C., and founder of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, was the series’ first artistic director.
“I learned a lot from Charles, we laughed a lot and made some great music together. It was a dream in the back of my head to run such a concert series some day.”
Musical Masterworks brings together talented, world-class classical musicians to play an inspiring collection of works, some perhaps never presented together before, others completely new and some older.
Wadsworth must have recognized a kindred spirit in Arron as someone with an extensive knowledge of the chamber music repertoire, who both knew and performed with many other talented musicians and also had a passion for putting together musical programs. Arron served as assistant artistic director for two years before Wadsworth retired, and took over the helm in his early thirties.
“There are several stages to the great pleasures of this job,” Arron said. “First, dreaming up the music that you would like to play and the combination of dear friends that you would like to put together to play these pieces.”
He continued, “People had to trust me, that we could give them something entertaining. I also felt I had to earn the trust of this audience to put it into proportion and to create a context of an afternoon well-spent. Charles before me did that and I enjoyed searching for that balance. It was such a nourishing part of my life, being able to dream of programs and render them.”
Arron saw similar talents and interests in Lark, who he admires for her creative programming as well as her masterful delivery. Driving from Detroit to Massachusetts in a COVID-impacted travel schedule, he had time to ponder which performer connected best with Musical Masterworks audiences.
“Tessa lights up the stage wherever she goes, and people fall in love with her, in addition to that, I observed that Tessa was falling in love with this place, too,” he said. Speaking directly to her (since both were on-screen simultaneously), Arron said, “Tessa, every time you returned to Musical Masterworks, you genuinely connected back with these people who you had met there and to the stage. That seemed a harmonious thing.”
Lark, who lives in New York and travels much of the time to perform — in locations as far away as The Netherlands and Australia, and including Seattle, Santa Fe and Tulsa in the US — welcomes the Old Lyme venue for its acoustics, charm and the ability for musicians and audiences to connect.
“It’s equal part intimate and grand, it is just so hard to find that combination especially for chamber music, and to get into the music nitty-gritty. Every subtlety that the group has, that has been worked out, can be appreciated by every audience member. That is such a rarity,” Lark said enthusiastically.
She added, “I love that it is bright and sunny, all of the visual aesthetics match the spirit of the place, and the sounds of the music-making, it is such a beautiful harmony of the senses.”
“It acoustically and aesthetically one of the most magical places to play,” said Arron, continuing, “Returning year after year, it’s beautiful you can see the seasons changing as you go through the concert season. In the fall, you see beautiful foliage outside, in the winter concerts you see the winterscape, then you see and hear the spring unfolding, [and then] they often open the windows for that final concert.
Arron noted, “The acoustic is really clear and warm, the audience sits in a way where you can see each other’s faces. There is a particularly special connection. The people in the audience become friends, all of these elements come together – you’re among friends, you’re playing to friends, with friends, there are a lot of elements to look forward to.”
“I just adore that a musician can be free to play what they love in that beautiful space, and because Ed has instilled so much trust, the audience will come,” explained Lark.
Arron describes his selections for the 31st season as “a bit daring and unconventional,” but still promising to be familiar and entertaining.
The opening concert features the debut of harpsichordist Paolo Bordignon, alongside violinists Jesse Mills and Lark in a program of Baroque delights that served as the inspiration for Stravinsky’s ballet, Pulcinella.
In December, pianist Orion Weiss, violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti and violist Nicholas Cords perform a program of glorious piano quintets, from Dvorak, Shostakovich and Brahams to Rag-Gidon-Time for String Trio, composed 25 years ago by Giya Kancheli from Republic of Georgia.
In February, celebrated guitarist Colin Davin performs Bach, Schubert, plus a piece by contemporary composer Vivian Fung, a past fellow classmate of Arron’s.
In March, two Musical Masterworks veterans flutist Tara Helen O’Connor and pianist Adam Neiman play works by Haydn, Prokofiev, Zwilich and Weber, with Arron.
The final farewell program, in April, by Arron and his wife, pianist Jeewon Park with Lark and her fiancé, double bassist Michael Thurber, features Handel/Halvorsen, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Appalachia Waltz by Mark O’Connor.