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 violinmasterclass.com. 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.

Salute to Phillips Musicians in the Armed Forces

military bands post_archival program

(left) Dec 6, 1942 program from the Music Department permanent archives (right) Feb 21, 1943 program from the Music Department permanent archives

In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, the Phillips celebrates military musicians serving in the Army Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Bands. Nearly 100 performances were held in the Phillips’s Music Room between 1939 and 1945, making Sunday Concerts the longest continually-running series in Washington, DC.

Of the many fine military musicians performing at the Phillips, GRAMMY-winning American pianist Earl Wild (1915–2010) was one. Wild is renowned as one of the greatest pianists and all-around musicians in history, and one Harold Schonberg called Wild a “super-virtuoso in the Horowitz class.”

We are proud to boast several Phillips Camerata musicians who presently serve in the US Marine Corps Band, including violinist Karen Johnson and cellist Charlie Powers. On our 75th season anniversary, we honor the legacy of Armed Services musicians in two concerts during our 2015/2016 season, featuring Navy Sea Chanters and the USMCB string ensemble.

Caroline Mousset, Director of Music

Group Hug

Painting by Nicolas de Stael

Nicolas de Stael, Musicians, 1953. Oil on canvas, 63 7/8 x 45 in. Acquired 1953. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

My instant answer to “what’s your favorite piece at the Phillips?” (which is often one of the first questions asked after people learn that I work at an art museum), is always Nicolas de Stael’s The Musicians (1953). When I first laid eyes on it a few weeks after starting an internship at the Phillips in 2008, I saw a group of figures involved in a group hug. This immediate association, along with the bright colors, made the lasting impression on me that this painting would always be something I can turn to for a quick dose of Happy. Even after reading the title and learning that the figures are likely meant to represent a band or musical ensemble, I’ll still always see a family embracing.

Amy Wike, Publicity & Marketing Coordinator