The series at Whiskey Ranch wrapped up last night with Tessa Lark, a classical violinist who can also play bluegrass, something she’s uniquely positioned to do as the daughter of a bluegrass musician from Kentucky. (She mentioned being happy at playing at a venue with so many bourbon barrels.) With her accompanist Teddy Abrams, she presented a program I have not experienced before.
I spent a lot of time looking at their feet, as Lark came out in a pair of fearsomely high stiletto heels — an ill-advised choice for a violinist, and I wasn’t surprised when she ditched the shoes halfway through the recital. Abrams himself removed his left shoe only because he had an electronic pedal on the floor next to the piano’s pedals, so he worked the latter with his shod right foot and the former with his left. I’m guessing that was to work the tablet computer that he had on the instrument’s music stand. It displayed the score electronically, and the pedal turned the pages when he needed it. I’ve never seen this tech before, but it makes all kinds of sense, especially for an outdoor concert, where the wind can blow away a paper score but not a tablet.
I appreciated Lark’s clear tone and sharp sense of phrasing during the blues movement of Ysaÿe’s Second Violin Sonata, which she paired with “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, supposedly for their similarities. I found some superficial likenesses in the main themes, and the Gershwin transcription (I believe it’s hers) is more ornate than the Jascha Heifetz version that we usually hear. She also played violin transcriptions of six of Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folksongs, which I found somewhat less distinctive than the rest of the program. She ended the evening with a transcription of the “Hoe-Down” from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, which pleased the crowd, though among her country selections, I preferred the version of “Big Balls in Cowtown” that she did especially for the audience here, singing the main melody with her pianist adding some high harmonies. The classical highlight of the evening was Ravel’s fiendishly difficult Tzigane, with Lark and Abrams working up a lather through the technical challenges that the composer throws frenetically at the soloist.
I think Whiskey Ranch was a good, informal venue for a nontraditional recital like Tessa Lark’s. The Cliburn will return in October with concerts at the Post at River East, so we’ll see how that Race Street place measures up.