Mark O'Connor is an astonishingly versatile American violinist and composer who has had exceptional success in country and bluegrass music, jazz, classical, and crossover projects.
He began to win country fiddling competitions when he was a teenager and already intended to pursue a career in this music. He closely studied the playing of such popular violinists as the European jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and the Texas fiddler BennyRead more Thomasson. By the time he was 21, he had already played as a sideman with Grappelli, including a performance at Carnegie Hall.
He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1983, determined to make a living as a musician. But the fiddle, once the predominant instrumental sound of country music, had faded to a mainly supporting role to the plucked strings and drums of modern country. Although he did play mandolin, he took two years to be widely noticed. This came about because the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band engaged him to play on a single, "High Horse," that became a hit.
O'Connor immediately became in demand as a session artist. During the rest of the decade he participated in over 450 albums, working with leading artists such as Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Clint Black, Jimmy Buffett, and Randy Travis. He was a member of groups called Strength in Numbers, The Dixie Dregs, and The Dregs, and began to make his own albums. Around 1990, he gave up session work as a regular occupation to concentrate on his own playing and composition.
He wrote much of his own music and studied composition. The music he wrote became increasingly sophisticated and tended to use more elements from music other than country, bluegrass, and folk, and to take on classical formal and harmonic practices. His first album on a classical music label, Sony Classical, was with the famous classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma and a versatile but jazz-oriented bassist, Edgar Meyer. The CD, Appalachia Waltz, featuring compositions by O'Connor, was a large crossover hit that impressed classical critics with its craft, attractiveness, and originality.
The 1996 Atlanta Olympic Organizing Committee invited him to write a work for its ceremonies, Olympic Reel. And also in 1993, he wrote a full-scale violin concerto using traditional American fiddling technique, calling it Fiddle Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. The work was widely praised, and in the five years after its composition was performed over 150 times, making it the most performed of all modern violin concertos during that period. He was asked to contribute music to the six-part PBS documentary series The American Revolution. His music for the series, arranged into a suite called Liberty! was released on Sony Classical and was another great success. It included as guest artists Ma and jazz/classical trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. It features his own compositions and arrangement of traditional American music.
The New York Times has described his career as "one of the most spectacular journeys in recent American Music" and the Los Angeles Times has noticed that he has crossed over so many genre lines that he can only be classified by his personal style.
He has written a Fiddle Concerto No. 2 ("Fanfare for the Volunteer") and a concerto for two violins and orchestra, which he premiered in September, 2000, at Carnegie Hall, playing with Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg. He has also written works that do not feature a solo violin part, including an orchestral piece called The American Seasons, a string quartet, and several shorter chamber pieces.
In 2000, he released Appalachian Journey, another collaboration with Ma and Meyer, this time also with vocalists Alison Krauss and James Taylor. Read less