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Mark O'Connor's Newly Premiered "Menuhin Caprice"

The new work, for solo violin, was a commission for the Menuhin Competition Richmond 2021

Mark O'Connor recently talked with The Violin Channel about his new work.

"The Paganini and Locatelli violin caprices were an early inspiration for me as a violin player-composer," Mark O'Connor told The Violin Channel.

"The violin caprice as a genre of music was very much the creative catalyst for me to both develop my solo violin-playing signature, and a good way for me to step out from the shadows of being a sideman in bluegrass and country music.

"At its core, I was exploring ways for the string instrument to help further the idea of an American classical music, a genre that had largely discounted string-playing since its nascency, favoring wind, brass, percussion, and vocal music much more so. I have always attributed that fact to the lack of violin player-composers since the time of Kreisler.

"Several years ago, the classical composer John Corigliano called me up to come over to his studio in NYC and listen to his new violin competition piece that he was commissioned for. I thought it pretty swelled that he was asked to compose a compulsory piece for a major violin competition and that it was inspired by my music! I couldn’t help but think that this somewhat opened the door for me to do the same one day down the road — to compose a violin competition piece utilizing my own stylings.

"What happened next, over 40 years later: the Menuhin Competition comes to the U.S. for only the 2nd time, and it was to be Richmond, VA. The hosts wanted Virginia's musical culture to be reflected in a piece commissioned for the competition, and they thankfully thought of me for it. When I heard from them and heard about this unique honor to compose a compulsory piece for the best young violinists in the world, I jumped right back to the idea that my caprices meant so much to my solo violin repertoire. Surely I had the history of those to conjure another one! I loved the opportunity to make this happen.

"One of the musical bridges that I wanted to cross for the Menuhin Competition piece, was my own history of entering fiddle contests and becoming both the National and Grand Masters Fiddling Champion several times as a teen and in my early 20s. I was looking to insert the concept of a “fiddle contest round” inside the caprice for the violin competition. I have done this before in several of my compositions, so this has become a bit of a theme of mine. Artistically it has worked nicely for me. But to do this with a classical violin competition piece, well, it was just too delicious to ignore!

"First and foremost, I hope listeners are inspired by the music of this new violin composition. Of course, I want listeners to identify the specific qualities associated with hundreds of years of writing for violin, and additionally, the hundreds of years of the development of American fiddling that I often refer to as the American Violin now.

"Despite the fact that I have composed for my own musical performances and for my music career, as a producer of music, I always think mostly about musicians performing the music other than myself. I see first-hand how my style reaches classical violinists on a daily basis. And thus, we have the nine semi-finalists who performed my 'Menuhin Caprice' in competition.

"Each of these incredible young musicians interpreted the music from my manuscript personally, and intuitively. Some of them had teachers and professors who were at least familiar with my music to help them. The decades of my music being out there on the scene, made this effort more successful in how the semi-final round came off as pure music, and not just technical machinations. The result was something I was hoping for — and maybe even dared to predict at this point.

"I distinguished two semi-finalists to receive the 'composer’s award' at the Menuhin Competition, those being Karisa Chiu and Emily Shehi — they were just incredible with the piece! It was wonderful to be able to credit some additional great performances and truly, there were some great performances of the piece within those nine semi-finalists.

"But the winner of the competition María Dueñas is truly one of the greatest young violinists I have heard in a long time, she is a star and she is a star with my 'Menuhin Caprice' as she takes the piece to the outermost limits of beauty, expression, soul, creativity, and virtuosity. Please enjoy this very special violinist, Spain’s María Dueñas who went on to win the competition. Here she is performing my composition 'Menuhin Caprice' in the semi-final round of the Menuhin Competition Richmond 2001!"




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