By Cate Hewitt, CT Examiner, July 9, 2021
Longtime Artistic Director Ed Arron, who will lead Musical Masterworks in its 31st season this fall, has announced that he will step down in 2022, passing the reins to violinist Tessa Lark, a musician well-known to Old Lyme audiences.
Lark, 32, who has been performing with Musical Masterworks for eight years, will assume the role of artistic director designate this season and will become artistic director on July 1, 2022.
She said she had dreamed of a directorship at Musical Masterworks and was thrilled when Arron called her.
“I remember the first time I played Musical Masterworks and I thought wouldn’t it be amazing if this was in my life forever,” Lark said. “[As a musician], you get overwhelmed by how ideal all of it is. It’s a beautiful, devoted audience, it’s an amazing hall, All of the musicians are incredible and they love being there. The spirit is amazing and just so well supported.”
This year will be Arron’s 13th season as director. He said he felt confident in Lark as the right person to bring Musical Masterworks into the future.
“It’s been such a special journey — I treasure those years that I had with this organization. My reason for deciding to step aside is extremely simple — it’s just simply that there comes a time when you feel like you should step aside and give somebody else the keys to the car, and there was a person — Tessa — who was the perfect fit for that and so it just it made all the sense in the world,” he said.
Arron said the transition to Lark as director feels “so right in every respect” and reminded him of his two-year transition as associate artistic director under former director Charles Wadsworth.
“When I took over from Charles Wadsworth, he was so loved by that audience there. He could just do no wrong and he brought together great people and made great programs, and those were big shoes to fill. But, what I realized going into that situation was that Charles and I were kindred spirits in terms of our reverence for the art form and so there was a common thread there that the audience was able to be assured of,” Arron said. “Tessa is a person I’ve always felt this way about from the day we met and started playing together.”
Arron said he also recognized that Lark connected well with the Musical Masterwork audience on a personal and musical level.
“It’s unlike any other person who’s been on that stage and it was so enjoyable to watch over the past few years. We would play together and have a great time but I also loved the moments during those performances where I could just kind of sit back and watch Tessa and that audience having this wonderful connection.”
Lark said communication and dialogue with the audience was natural and necessary for her.
“That’s my jam. I almost feel incomplete without that sort of connection with the audience,” she said.
Lark was nominated for a 2020 GRAMMY in the Best Classical Instrumental Solo category and has received numerous awards. At age 16, she made her concerto debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. She grew up in Kentucky playing bluegrass and Appalachian music.
“My dad told me just recently that by the time I was two and a half he had counted that I had learned 40 songs by ear on the piano on the keyboard, and so he and my mom were like, maybe should enroll her in some lessons of some sort,” she laughed.
Lark said she started playing violin at age six and learned to fiddle on the front porch when her father, an amateur bluegrass banjo player, would invite his friends over to play music.
She studied at the New England Conservatory followed by Julliard.
“That’s how I found myself in New York City, but always throughout time I’ve had a deep, deep love for folk music and American music of all kinds and it’s just been something that I, both consciously and subconsciously, have kept in my life because it just sort of keeps me grounded and reminds me where I come from and it’s such a beautiful culture there.”
From 2014 to 2018, Lark played a 1683 ex-Gingold Stradivarius, which was loaned to her for four years as the prize from The International Violin Competition of Indianapolis.
At the end of the four year loan, the Stradivari Society of Chicago contacted Lark and asked if she needed a new violin.
“It was this Maggini from 1600 and the moment I laid eyes on it, I laughed out loud and just fell right in love because it looks so wild — I mean, the F holes are huge, you can fit a whole meal inside of them,” she said. “The moment I played it, such a deep, warm, sweet sound. That’s the sound I always look for in any violin. It just felt like such a match and I feel very lucky that that just happened to be the violin that they were going to let me borrow. I’ve been playing it since 2018 and it’s one of my very favorite violins.”
Alden Murphy, president of Musical Masterworks, said Lark is part of a new generation, with more than 19,000 followers on social media.
“Tessa will be bringing along the next generation of stellar chamber music and musicians, so it’s really a way of us staying vibrant and staying on our toes as an organization,” she said.
Plus, Lark has become familiar and beloved by the audience, Murphy said.
“She’s very warm and charming, she’s young, she is a wunderkind as far as playing her Stradivarius. People have adored her ever since she came about eight years ago,” said Murphy. “And for those to whom she’s not familiar, I think they’ll find great comfort and pleasure with her right away when they get to know her.”
Lark said the series has already expanded into some different types of music, including more contemporary music, but she remains firmly committed to including traditional chamber music.
“I love the old classics and I think especially post-pandemic people will feel just fine hearing the great traditional works and I know at Old Lyme everybody loves that music too so it’s definitely going to remain a core part of the series.”
Arron said the final concert weekend of April 30 and May 1, 2022, will be particularly meaningful because he and his wife, pianist Jeewon Park, will perform with Lark and her fiancé Michael Thurber, who plays double bass.
“It’s two couples and we’re all incredibly close friends, and then it immediately occurred to me that this will musically be a very, very sweet finale for us and a beginning for Tessa and Michael,” said Arron.