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On the eve of his farewell Musical Masterworks concerts, Edward Arron looks back


By Rick Koster, The Day, April 29, 2022

Presumably, like all humans, Edward Arron has bad days. But in numerous in-depth interviews over the course of 13-plus years — the time he’s spent creatively and lovingly curating the Musical Masterworks chamber music series in Old Lyme’s First Congregational Church — Arron has consistently been buoyant, cheery, positive and possessed with a genuine sense of wonder and appreciation about his work, music and art in general and, always, his family.

In conversation, he’s quick to laugh, solicitous of the person he’s speaking with, and obviously knowledgeable about classical music composers, the repertoire and performers. He also tends to speak in superlatives not because he’s trying to be P.T. Barnum but because that sort of positivism is just how he sees his world. Mostly, Arron regards himself as lucky.

On Saturday and Sunday, Arron performs his farewell Musical Masterworks concerts, at least as music director of the organization.

This season, their 31st, has been distinctive in many ways. For one thing, it took place before live audiences again after the 2020-21 COVID season — wherein presentations resiliently continued via video concerts crafted with stunning audio and visual quality. Also, for the current campaign, Arron shared leadership duties with violinist Tessa Lark, who will then take the reins as the new creative leader of Musical Masterworks.

This partnership resulted in a wellspring of creative programming performances in addition to charming onstage interplay between Lark and Arron — who are close friends as well as virtuoso musicians and industry professionals.

For this weekend’s final concerts, Arron will be joined onstage by his wife and frequent Masterworks performer, the pianist Jeewon Park. And Lark’s fiancé, the double bassist Mark Thurber, rounds out the quartet of performers.

“It seemed only right to feature the two couples,” Arron says by phone one morning last week. He’s incredibly cheery, given that he’s just disembarked from a red-eye flight out from the West Coast, where he’d taught a master class at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music the night before. “Of course, Jeewon has to be onstage with me for this special weekend. I am less than half the person I am without Jeewon. Over the years (in her Masterworks appearances), she’s become family with the audience.

“And Tessa and Michael are simple the most talented couple I’ve ever encountered. They light up a room with their personalities and musicianship. We enjoy them so much. I just had the thought that, as one couple steps aside, the other couple is going to step in and become part of the Musical Masterworks family — so it’s special that all of us are onstage together.”

The program, designed to feature a variety of musical styles and instrumental combinations, includes the Halvorsen theme on Handel’s Passacaglia, Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz, Beethoven’s Piano Trio in c minor, Opus 1, No. 3, and Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in g minor for Cello and Piano, Opus 19.

Arron answered a few questions about his time at Musical Masterworks and music in general. Answers have been edited for space and clarity.

Q: How did the 2021-22 season progress, given the added logistics of a leadership transition?

A: I’ll tell you something. From the moment we realized Tessa would be the perfect person (to take over), this whole scenario has played out in the most amazing ways and has exceeded my wildest dreams for being a smooth transition.

First and foremost, just the pleasure of sharing the stage with Tessa — I’ve enjoyed seeing the audience fall in love with her charm as she introduces a piece and swoon when she plays. Every moment of this season has given me confidence that Musical Masterworks is entering a wonderful new era under Tessa.

It’s been natural; we haven’t been making a big deal out of it. Sometimes she talks onstage and sometimes I do and by next season it will be a completely natural situation — and I will honor my pledge that I won’t be a stranger. There will be something very special about returning to place where I recognize 90 percent of the faces — all of whom I regard as old friends.

Q: What’s next?

A: A turning of the page, a new chapter. Some family time. Jeewon and I will be running around playing a million concerts. You go to some exotic places along the way and some less exotic, but once you get in the concert hall and start playing music, you remember what a wonderful common denominator music is and how lucky you are to do it for a living.

Q: Can you now look back and isolate a transitional moment from long ago when you were in transition to take over the reins of Masterworks from founder Charles Wadsworth?

A: I think of the times I walked out onstage with Charles when I worked with him for three seasons. I was always kind of the straight man for his jokes, and there were so many funny moments with him. I remember one time Charles said, “At my age, after all I’ve done, I was never trying to become a legend or an icon — but now I think I’ll go with legend.” And he pointed at me and said, “And this guy over here is associate legend.”

Q: Beyond Masterworks, you’re an incredibly busy touring musician and teacher. Do you ever get recognized walking through airports with a cello case?

A: It’s a pretty modest scenario. Occasionally, like anyone else, I’ll bump into someone I know. A lot of people DO remark on the cello case but they don’t recognize me. The cello is definitely a conversation starter in a very pleasant context. The older I get, the more I relish those little conversations.

I treat everyone as though they might be the person you maybe wouldn’t expect to ask about Pablo Casals. I learned that in a New York subway once. I was approached by a guy who … well, I’ll just say that I didn’t expect he’d know anything about classical music. And he asked whether I played the Dvořák concerto and then rattled off this extensive repertoire. He clearly knew what he was talking about.

Q: Is it even possible to isolate a few Musical Masterworks moments that stand out (and this is not intended to make you slight any of the musicians or composers over the years)?

A: To be honest, I’ve had that feeling on many occasions. It speaks to the magic of the space and that I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with great colleagues. But here are two particularly memorable moments and, on one, I didn’t play a note.

Jeewon and the baritone Randall Scarlata performed Schubert’s Winter Journey. It was a very cold December night and the way they rendered that piece was heartbreaking. They transported each one of us in the First Congregational Church into Schubert’s world. It was special and something to treasure.

I also remember a concert in the month of May, the last one of the (2009-10) season. (Pianist) Jeremy Denk, (violinist) Yosuke Kawasaki and I played Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello by Charles Ives. It’s a musical wild romp over New England and reflects his days at Yale and incorporates fragments of American folk songs. We were in a place where that music absolutely belonged and we’d just finished the final section with this huge dissonant chord ringing out — and just then, from outside, a rooster crowed and a church bell rang. You can’t plan that — but it had to be exactly what Ives envisioned.

Q: Is it cruel to ask you if it’s possible to provide a very quick reflection on your time at Musical Masterworks?

A: It would be something about having walked into this dream role, all those years ago, at an already established series with this adoring audience and an acoustically magical and beautiful space. It all motivated me to have to live up to the quality in every last concert. As a programmer and a performer, I felt that motivation. Musical Masterworks is that special. In this chaotic world, it’s been a real sanctuary creatively, artistically and just as a human. To share that has been a true privilege.

Q: Do you think you’ll experience a “Wow, this is really it!” moment as Sunday’s concert nears the end?

A: Now that you mention it, I suspect something of that sort will happen. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been pretty busy or because I’m in denial at the idea of a last Musical Masterworks concert, but I haven’t thought much about it. It’s an amazing thing to step down from a position I’ve enjoyed so thoroughly: the relationship with the organization and the audience, the music and of course the relief of knowing Masterworks is in great hands.

(Takes a deep breath) I guess I do feel like something emotional is going to happen and it will happen naturally, and I’ll look out at the audience and know I’m among friends.

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