Violinist Tessa Lark on Her Career and Upcoming Phillips Music Performance

The following is an excerpt from David Rohde’s interview with Tessa Lark, originally published in DC Metro Theater Arts.

Tessa Lark. Photo: Mitch Weiss

David Rohde: I know you’re from Kentucky, but specifically where? Since you went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, were you from the Cincinnati area or further away?

Tessa Lark: I’m from just south of Lexington – Richmond, Kentucky. It was a two-hour drive to Cincinnati when I started participating in that program. I started going there when I was 11 years old. The Starling program is what the pre-college program is called in Cincinnati. It happened every Saturday, so it would pretty much eat up my weekend. I would go up there and have a Saturday morning private lesson, music theory classes, eurhythmics classes, string orchestra rehearsal, and some chamber music as well.

Going back before that, when did you start playing the violin?

I started when I was six years old, and I started with the Suzuki method.

Did you love playing the violin from the beginning, or is that a misperception?

No, not at all. I have adored music my whole life. I played mandolin two years before I played the violin, and my father plays banjo, so I was always intrigued by what he was doing with his friends. And I had a toy keyboard when I was really young, and I would pick out tunes that I was hearing on the radio. My parents noticed my interest in music from a very young age. So the violin was my toy, in essence. I just loved playing it and I loved practicing.

When you went up to Cincinnati those weekends, was the entire day spent on, quote-unquote, classical music, or did you have a chance to branch out from there?

Yeah, there’s no quote-unquote about it; it was strictly classical. My teacher there, Kurt Sassmannshaus, is wonderful about teaching his students about the business of classical music too. And he has been a supporter of my playing bluegrass music in recent years, so that’s very wonderful. But his expertise, and amazing wisdom was in the classical realm. So that Saturday was devoted entirely to classical music.

Tessa Lark. Photo: Lauren Desberg

You have a very “speaking” or narrative voice across the entire violin. Some violinists, you can tell, they just don’t care down there on the G string as much, they can’t wait to get up to the high notes.

In my early teens, I took three weeks of cello, which was a lot of fun. To this day, the E string [the highest string] is not my favorite string on the violin!

But it seems to equal everything out and help tell stories. Did your teacher contribute to that?

My favoring the low registers of the violin, I think that’s just my own taste. But you can look up some of his teachings online at He made this website long before YouTube was as popular as it is, so it was really revolutionary. It has a lot of quick videos on different techniques and aspects of violin playing. Mr. Sassmannshaus is unbelievably clear and succinct with his methods. He would tell me to do something or practice something in a certain way, I would do it, and I would see the results. When I got to conservatory I noticed that a lot of students didn’t actually know how to practice. They were very talented and they got to where they were from that talent, but I had a teacher who really helped me figure out how to be efficient all across the board.

The Starling program offered countless performance opportunities. That might be the most amazing gift that he gave me as a young person. I had a lot of time on stage with my nerves in front of an audience. You can practice as much as you want to in your own room, but you really have to get on the stage to learn how to deal with stage fright.


Phillips Music features Tessa Lark in concert with pianist Roman Rabinovich this Sunday, December 10.

Beneath the Surface of Luncheon of the Boating Party (Part 1)

In order to understand how Pierre-August Renoir created Luncheon of the Boating Party, a technical study was conducted in the conservation studio. By closely examining the surface and comparing it to x-radiographic and infrared images, we learn that Renoir made numerous changes both large and small over several months. While he deftly captured the moment of friends casually enjoying an afternoon at a restaurant on the Seine, the in-depth analyisis shows that he labored to capture the immediacy of the scene.

Explore fresh findings from a recent technical analysis of Luncheon of the Boating Party through this interactive feature

Repositioning of the Two Men
The artist made a surprising rearrangement to the pair of men standing at the end of the balcony, indicated in raking light by the underlying textured brushstrokes around their heads. The revision the artist made becomes clear in the infrared image: Charles Ephrussi, wearing the top hat, initially looked out toward the front of the balcony with his head in three- quarter view. By turning him to face the man next to him, Renoir strengthens their relationship, making them appear more involved in conversation.

Infrared image of part of Luncheon of the Boating Party

The infrared image (right) shows a second set of hats, heads, and shoulders, indicating that these
figures were also lowered after the introduction of the awning.

Gustave Caillebotte: Renoir’s Friend and Champion

Each week for the duration of the exhibition, we’ll focus on one work of art from Renoir and Friends: Luncheon of the Boating Party, on view October 7, 2017-January 7, 2018.

Born into a family that made its money in the textile business, Gustave Caillebotte used his considerable means to support his Impressionist colleagues and to purchase their work, acquiring paintings by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Monet, Pissarro, and Sisley, among others. Although he was the least-known member of the “core” Impressionists (he was almost 10 years younger than the others and missed the group’s early development), during the late 1870s and early 1880s Caillebotte was an important participant in the dramatic revolution in French painting.

Among his early acquisitions was Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance at the Moulin de la Galette (1876, Musée d’Orsay), shown at the third Impressionist exhibition; he even included it in the background of an 1879-80 self-portrait. Since Caillebotte bought many works by other Impressionists, his reference to this painting in his self-portrait seems a deliberate symbol of his admiration for and friendship with Renoir. During these days of struggle and ambition for Renoir, Caillebotte emerged as a stalwart advocate for his fellow artist and became a lifelong supporter of his work. Their friendship was a close one: in 1876, Caillebotte named Renoir executor of his will, and when Renoir and Charigot had their first son in 1885, they asked Caillebotte to be the child’s godfather. Caillebotte painted a portrait of Renoir’s wife, Aline Charigot, in the garden of his house at Petit-Gennevilliers in 1891; so too did Renoir paint Caillebotte’s sweetheart, Charlotte Berthier, though a few years earlier and in a more formal indoor setting. Renoir and Caillebotte were close friends until Caillebotte died of a stroke in 1894 at Petit-Gennevilliers.

Gustave Caillebotte, Madame Renoir in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers (Madame Renoir dans le jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers), 1891

Gustave Caillebotte, Madame Renoir in the Garden at Petit Gennevilliers (Madame Renoir dans le jardin du Petit-Gennevilliers), 1891. Oil on canvas, 25 1/4 × 19 3/4 in. Collection of Bruce Toll