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.

Blurring the Line Between Drawing and Painting

Installation view of George Condo: The Way I Think. Photo: Lee Stalsworth

What does George Condo mean when he speaks of his “drawing paintings?” We interviewed the artist with this and other questions about his installation at the Phillips, The Way I Think. Have more questions? Join us for a conversation between Condo and Deputy Director for Curatorial and Academic Affairs Klaus Ottmann on Thursday, May 25.

What are “drawing paintings?”
George Condo: “Drawing paintings” are something that were a reaction to the consistent hierarchy that supposedly exists between drawing and painting. What I wanted to do was combine the two of them and make drawing and painting on the same level, that there was no real difference between drawing and painting and by combining pastel, charcoal, pencil, and all these various different drawing mediums on a canvas, it would be an experience for the viewer to see that drawing and painting together can exist in one—I would say—happy continuum.

How has your drawing evolved over time?
GC: Well, this show gave me a chance to figure that one out. I saw the drawings that my mother had saved from when I was 4 and 5 years old until I was about 7 or 8, and really it was all about doing everything right, and making sure I got it right, and that everything looked precise. And then once I started to understand more of the conceptual qualities of art in the 70’s and the idea of deconstructing things, and reading more about Picasso and John Cage, well at this point you have to do everything wrong. You have to break all the rules. So the evolution went from doing everything right to doing everything wrong, but still trying to make sure that the pictures themselves are intact and that there aren’t any loose ends.

Hear more in a short video:

The Changing Painting: Interview with Dove Bradshaw, Part 2

In anticipation of her installation of her work Contingency on Wall at the Phillips, artist Dove Bradshaw sat down with Phillips blog manager Amy Wike to discuss her artistic process. Read Part 1 here.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Amy Wike: It’s interesting that you’re talking about how your different forms of media relate to each other, but also you’ve talked about how your work relates back to your work from much earlier on.

Dove Bradshaw: Decades. For the first time this year, I am using materials that could not have been used for thousands of years. Everything else I used was salt, silver, linen, canvas—materials that had been around since antiquity. But 3D-printing, resin—no . . . . The show I have on now called Unintended Consequences . . . includes bullets that are 3D-printed from the same .38 caliber bullets that I collected about 35 to 36 years earlier (I had made them into earrings). I had not done anything with bullets since, and once 3D-printing became viable, I blew them up to 25–30 inches and surfaced them with white gold, aluminum, bronze, lemon gold, black rubber, and so on. They are shown with these paintings that are silver leaf with organic matter and in some cases, the marriage between the paintings and the sculpture is very close because it looks like some of this abstract imagery that’s on the paintings.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

AW: Back to what is being shown here: Contingency on Wall is part of a larger series, the Contingency series. Could you talk a bit about the series and how this work that’s on view at the Phillips fits into it?

DB: The word “contingency” came from the activity of silver; as I said, it’s contingent on light, air, and humidity, and [I use] this chemical which speeds it up and alters it irrevocably; it won’t look that way with just light and air and humidity, it makes marks and distinguishes the foreground and the background.

I got the title from John Cage’s 15 ingredients for a composition presented as part of his Norton lectures, which would relate very much to any artistic practice. Some of the words Cage used were contingency, indeterminacy, notation, discipline, performance . . . so I had gone through this list and used as titles about half the words he used as titles, and “contingency” worked very well for the paintings. Then I’ll give identifiers: Contingency [Snowmelt], for instance, just identifies that this particular painting was out in the snow for a while.

AW: My last question: you mentioned Piet Mondrian, John Cage; are there any other artists who inform your work?

DB: Dalí was a huge early influence, still love him—amazing creativity, completely unfettered, even met him—flirted with me! Though he must have done that with a lot of young girls. But I wouldn’t say that he’s an influence anymore. I would say Duchamp was a major influence, the permission that he gave.

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Dove Bradshaw installing Contingency on Wall (2016) at the Phillips. Photo: Rhiannon Newman