Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Morning Call: 'Classical violinist explores her South Carolina roots with Mark O'Connor'

Mark O'Connor and Kelly Hall-Tompkins

The latest Newsletter of violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins includes this article:

November 03, 2012|By Steve Siegel,
Special to The Morning Call
Classical violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins has spent most of her life a long way from her Greenville, S.C., birthplace. 
But performing the music of Mark O'Connor always brings her back home.
"There was a style of fiddle music I was just enamored with as a child," Hall-Tompkins says. "My youth orchestra used to do a retreat in the mountains of North Carolina every summer, and the local folk musicians would play for us. Before I met Mark, I never knew the specific terminology for that type of music. Now I know it was the old-time music of North Carolina. Mark's music has given me an opportunity to bring out something I didn't realize was in me, which is my South Carolina roots."

Hall-Tompkins' repertoire is broad, ranging from Bach, Kreisler, and Saint-Saens to sadly neglected African-American composers such as William Grant Still. With master's from the Manhattan School of Music and undergraduate degree from the Eastman School of Music, her background is more formally classical than O'Connor's.

But soon after the two met several years ago after a performance of O'Connor's "American Seasons," O'Connor recognized he had found a musical soul-mate.
"One day I got an email from Mark inviting me to collaborate on a project he had in mind, which was the Double Violin Concerto," Hall-Tompkins says. "In the course of our beginning to work together, he also said he was bringing his string quartet back and asked if I would like to be the new first violinist. So we've been doing both projects together. I love his music — it allows a different facet of my music making to have a voice."

One of those voices might sound like improvisation, although Hall-Tompkins' violin part in O'Connor's double concerto has none. "I'm the type of interpreter who can bring the element of improvisation to the music that I'm playing," Hall-Tompkins says. "I feel what I create is uniquely me, although it uses the framework of the printed music."

Even in the cadenzas, it's O'Connor who's doing the improvising. "Mark has written it in such a way that he's improvising against the fixed composition of my part." "But the way it's written, it all sounds improvised. Of course, we are responding to each other in a way that artists would do regardless of the source of the notes," Hall-Tompkins says.
Steve Siegel is a freelance writer.

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