Mark O'Connor

The Improvised Violin Concerto [Includes DVD]

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Violinist Mark O'Connor's notes for his Improvised Violin Concerto grandly announce the work as "the first concerto to feature an entirely improvised solo part over a through-composed orchestral score." That may be true, but the music bears many links to O'Connor's earlier concertos and other orchestral compositions, featuring his characteristic crossover style combining elements of bluegrass, jazz, rock, and bits of other American vernacular styles. The pure form of O'Connor's style is represented in the Triple Concerto for violin, cello, piano, and orchestra ("March of the Gypsy Fiddler"), that features members of the Ahn Trio and opens the program; here O'Connor orchestrates a collection of fiddle tunes. The Improvised Concerto may well be, as O'Connor claims, different in each performance, but it's also true that he is the only one who could make it so; he composed the music, and it's hard to imagine another player becoming immersed enough in it to make snap decisions. In a way, what he does is not so much improvise as realize a variety of solutions to the problems in the music. This said, O'Connor's music is never less than entertaining, and he has executed several aspects of this project ingeniously. He gives himself room on the violin by writing the orchestral parts mostly in the low winds and by amplifying the violin when necessary by means of a foot pedal. The latter gives the violin and unusual dynamic range, and when O'Connor goes into full jazz-improvisation mode, as at the end of the Earth movement (track 7), the results are quite stirring. The bottom line is that fans of O'Connor's popular, accessible style will find this an interesting variation on the theme. The Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra plays enthusiastically and competently, but the sound engineering in this live recording is less successful; the effect is boxy.

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