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Mark O'Connor holds down the fort

Berklee College of Music, Boston, December 10, 2009

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Mark O'Connor has enjoyed a very long and successful career as one of music's premier fiddle players.

But the life of the musician was a bit different this week as he was at Berklee College of Music, interacting in classes during the week with students from one of the elite music schools in the U.S., before getting the chance to play with a slew of them in concert.

O'Connor's 2:20 hour gig showcased different styles of music - from small ensembles to an orchestra and from more classical sounds to bluegrass. With mainly students and a few professors at his side throughout, it was hard to tell who was having more fun.

O'Connor perhaps is best known for his Grammy award winning collaboration with cellist Yo Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer on "Appalachian Journey." The Seattle native also took home a trophy for 1991's "New Nashville Cats."

O'Connor was one strong fiddle player on this evening. It was clear that he was in a different stratosphere from the students as his playing was far more lyrical and fluid than his nearly three-decades younger counterparts. Truth be told, though, some of these students were not exactly inexperienced either as freshman Sierra Hull has a well-received bluegrass disc under her belt, and Julian Lage is making a name for himself on acoustic guitar.

However, the differences in abilities should not be considered a knock against the students. As they have in other similar-styled concerts (Don Was last month, for example, played with a student band), these students represent the next generation of musicians, giving us something to look forward to.

And it was a pleasure to hear them, especially on the opening song of the second half of the show, Double Violin Concerto. With three second fiddles helping out, O'Connor said this was an arrangement he had never done before. During the song, done with the Berklee Contemporary Symphony Orchestra adding a lot of spice, three students - Sue Buzzard, Julgi Kang and Jakub Trask (who actually studied O'Connor as a little kid at O'Connor's fiddle camp) - each took a different section of the song to play second fiddle and all acquitted themselves quite well.

O'Connor did not forget his past either as he paid tribute to one of his mentors Stephane Grappelli along with Johnny Frigo and Claude Williams on Gypsy Fantastic. A triple fiddle blast ended the song.

Players came and went, and O'Connor held down the fort all night long - not exactly a surprise.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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