Tessa Lark. Photo: Laura Desberg

Swing, Swagger & Sway

Louisville Orchestra
Teddy Abrams, conductor
Tessa Lark, guest violinist

A review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents are copyright © 2022 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Louisville Orchestra has been getting some phenomenal attention as of late. When many arts organizations take the summer off, our Orchestra has been strumming and bowing the whole season long with concerts in various parks and an announcement regarding building relationships that made me swell with artistic pride.

I’ll delve into what that building block is a little later. 

With an earlier than usual concert we began the evening with the traditional playing of our National Anthem and then quickly delved into the delicious evening of music. And when I say it was tasty it was as soothing and satisfying as your favorite bourbon giving you that warm “Kentucky Hug”!

Many of us are familiar with artist Wynton Marsalis, best known for his prowess as a trumpeter and band leader. While he is a legend in the land of jazz and classical, Mr. Marsalis is a successful adventurer in other musical genres, too. A case in point is his Violin Concerto in D. In the program notes it is explained that this concerto fits into what he calls “Third Stream”, a fusion genre. Truer words could not have been printed.

The four movements blend many musical styles and pay homage to artists such as Aaron Copeland. The first movement, “Rhapsody”, fired on all cylinders and slowly devolved into quiet retrospection, all led by our guest violinist and Kentucky gal, Tessa Lark. As Ms. Lark was a few bars into the second movement, ‘Rondo Burlesque”, there was a conversation between the orchestra and her violin that almost mimics a disagreement between a four-year-old and an adult; playful for sure. Steeped in a jazz-like sound and including the use of a pea whistle, this movement is bouncy and light, which is in contrast to movement three, “Blues”. One might think that the Blues genre would be a part of this, but I couldn’t find a lot of support for that, instead what I did hear was George Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” and Nat King Cole’s “When I Fall in Love”. I had no trouble hearing our native Bluegrass in the last movement, “Hootenanny”, complete with fiddle playing. Yes, Ms. Lark used her violin as a fiddle and the other players literally stomped their feet and yelled, the close of this piece made a person want to get up, bow to their partner, and allemande right or left.

After the last string was plucked and the last whistle was blown, I sat for a second and thought of the magic that we, as an audience, were just treated to. Aside from the mesmerizing performance that Ms. Lark had given us, allowing the violin to reach new heights and being an engaging performer for over 45 minutes (including a bonus ovation piece) we heard uncommon sounds out of instruments such as the cello and bass. Also, within the concerto, there were moments of absolute shimmering beauty, such as a duo with the harp and cello and the following conversation with the middle strings in another movement. Upon hearing this piece, I am excited to hear more and more from the jazz great.

I had mentioned earlier that the Louisville Orchestra had announced a program that would build relationships. Those relationships would be with budding composers who would live in our area, be employed with the Louisville Orchestra, and lend their talent to and learn from the Orchestra as well as other musicians and artists in and around the Kentuckiana area and beyond. The Louisville Orchestra Creators Corps, as the program has been named, features three artists in residence: Louisville native Tyler Taylor, TJ Cole, and Lisa Bielawa. 

All three have delved into musical stylings such as orchestral and vocal work, so they have a range of backgrounds. Mr. Abrams stated that not since the days of Haydn have orchestral programs had composers in residence. So, with this program we are bringing a common practice of centuries ago into the Modern Age. 

In this evening’s selection we heard a piece from each composer and each has their own unique style of writing. Mr. Taylor’s Facades was a quick and energetic work that gave me the feeling of controlled, yet appealing chaos. I’d actually like the opportunity to hear the piece again as I’d like to delve a little deeper. It served almost as an amuse bouche for what was to come with his partners in the program. Ms. Bielawa, a vocalist as well as composer, had written Drama/Self Pity as a vocal composition, but found inspiration from the rhythmic, energetic, and frantic speech patterns and general conversations of New Yorkers that she had heard on the subway. Goes to show inspiration can be found anywhere. But when the inspiration is given, you kind of want to lean in and eavesdrop on each and every conversation that is going on around you. It would be fun to read what the vocal score is to this piece as well. Ms. Cole’s Megalopolis was aptly named as it had a busy, dark, dusty, and robust feel about it. Mr. Abrams shared that it was Bladerunner like in its elemental breakdown. Can’t argue with that assessment at all. Truthfully, I believe we will hear some fun and interesting sounds from these artists in the coming months and/or years.

The last piece of the evening was that of another great musical innovator and influencer, Igor Stravinsky and his Symphony in Three Movements: Allegro, Andante = Interlude and Con moto. Like the innovation of the use of instruments that we heard in Violin Concerto in D earlier in the evening, we hear the cellos and basses give a believable interpretation of rolling thunder in the first movement of Symphony, laying the ground work for a hearty and beefy movement that also incorporates piano as if in a concerto. Within the second, Andante, the harp plays a prominent and melodic role, often “singing” along with the woods in a rapturous love song. The third movement, Con moto, is the great unifier, as it brings the predominant piano and harp into a harmonic and melodious blend with full orchestration behind it.

Stravinsky has a way of sneaking something new to me about his writing style and attitude almost every time I hear him, as he did with this Symphony in Three Movements

Bravi Tutti!!

Swing, Swagger & Sway

September 17, 2022

Louisville Orchestra
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

Annette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.