Appalachia Waltz Trio

Appalachia Waltz Trio
Acclaimed American composer and virtuoso violinist Mark O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio breathes new life into the music O'Connor created and performed with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer in their Appalachia Waltz and Grammy winning Appalachian Journey projects. This acclaimed trio performs fiddle tunes, original compositions, caprices and more in a thoroughly engaging evening O'Connor describes as 'crossing bridges.'


program notes

An evening of original chamber music composed by Mark O'Connor
presents his own musical journey and explores new ways for musicians to
communicate to each other and to audiences. O'Connor has always described
his highly personalized style of playing and composing in terms of "crossing
bridges."  Each of the pieces in the program is a variation on this concept.
As a child, his musical training included many styles (classical, folk and
jazz) and this blending of styles and influences is evident throughout his
career and in his acclaimed compositions.

O'Connor's chamber music, featuring violins, viola and cello,
intricately and delightfully paints colorful musical canvasses that reveal
his unique, personal artistic journey.  It's a journey one critic acclaimed
"one of the most spectacular in American music."

Violin, Viola and Cello

When I first played with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer in our Appalachia
Waltz and Appalachian Journey projects, they were extremely interested in
the style of American fiddling called Texas Style Old-Time Fiddling. This was
the style I had learned as a youth from Benny Thomasson, the dean of the Texas
fiddlers.  I perfected the style early on and with it enjoyed success in the
National Old-Time Fiddler's Contest in Weiser, Idaho, winning it four times!
I was attracted to the style at an early age because I felt it was easily
the most advanced, comprehensive, creative and virtuosic style within the
traditional confines of American folk music. As we began to develop our
"Appalachian" projects, it seemed clear and my fellow string players agreed,
that we explore this rich repertoire.  "Can one actually fiddle on instruments
like the cello?"

There was a tremendous amount of serious practice here, as well as deeply
philosophical discussions about how the music should sound.  There were
changes in the physical manner in which the music was played on the big
instruments.  As we worked, the music began to take shape as understandings
deepened.  The source arrangements of these old tunes came from Thomasson. I had
developed my own version of the tunes over the last twenty-five years and
Meyer arranged some parts to help fill the pieces out for trio. While "on
paper," Texas Fiddling and Classical playing seem an unlikely pairing, when
you try it out, as we did, you find the worlds are closer than you think!

Violin, Viola and Cello

I composed "Appalachia Waltz" in 1993, while sitting in a cabin in
the Santa Fe desert! I was writing a portion of my second concerto there and
was working on the "Trail Of Tears" movement (named after the forced
migration of the Cherokee from Tennessee) hoping to identify with some of
the Native American culture in New Mexico. It had been long gone from Tennessee
culture for 150 years. Then, all of the sudden, this piece appeared in my
head with all of the doublestops and drones, all at once! In 15 minutes it
was written. It seemed much too intimate for my concerto though, so I tucked
it away and introduced it to Yo-Yo Ma a couple of years later. It turned out
to be the impetus (and title inspiration) for the two projects we recorded.
It is one of my most liked pieces and I like to think it is for this
reason; If it's played for folk musicians, they most often think it's classical

When played for classical musicians, they most often think of it as folk
music.  Appalachia Waltz seems to exist in the middle of places. Each
listener is embracing it on quite personal and maybe very different terms.
When Yo-Yo performs it unaccompanied as an encore to his Bach Suite
recitals, there are those who think it is old and German! When I play it
unaccompanied in Southern California, it reminds people of their
grandparents back in the mountains of North Carolina. Neither is true but this occurrence
is one of the most important bridges I have attempted to cross; "Appalachia
Waltz" has become one of my most important compositions, because it helped me
create and cross yet another bridge...between audience and performer.

It's a bridge of trust. As a performer, my hope always is
that the audience has trust enough to meet me in the music. we are all elements in an equation. When
those elements are "right," there's no feeling like it!
bio 142
O'Connor, Albers, Block backstage

Violin, Viola and Cello

With uncovering musical bridges, I found many interesting sub plots along
the way...things I felt intrigued about and therefore wanted to investigate
and explore. The subplot involving "Old Country Fairy Tale," featured on the
Appalachia Waltz CD, is about musical form. I thought it very interesting
that for centuries, the violin concerto form has been in three movements
with a fast-slow-fast scheme for tempo. I also realized that the fiddle contest
round, which has been exhibited for centuries as well, is comprised of three
tunes; a hoedown, a waltz, and a "tune of choice." Three dances which format
in to a fast-slow-fast design.  I wanted to use this form as the basis, but
utilize some classical variation and development.  And I wanted to create a
principal theme that would serve as the basis for each "dance."
In this piece, the same melody gives life to the Hornpipe (a dance that
is similar to a hoedown but a bit slower in tempo), a waltz (a dance form
that is an actual musical bridge on it's own because of its accessibility to
many types of music) and, as my "tune of choice" in this piece, I chose a
jig. ("Tunes of choice" can include other brighter tempo dances such as the
polka, schottische, strasphey and rag.) Fast, slow, fast.  Concerto form.  Fiddle contest.
It wasn't until this last century that anyone dared alter the fast-slow-fast, three-movement concerto form.  Today, composers may write as many as ten short movements! The fiddle contest form, however, remains unchanged, and it's not likely to change any time soon. Fiddle contests today are much like fiddle contests of 200 years ago.

Violin, Viola and Cello

One of the shortest of all bridges from folk to classical music is
virtuosic technique in violin music.  Great virtuosos musicians are known in
every style of music in the world.  The bridge of virtuoso playing is the
catalyst for "Caprice For Three," recorded on the Appalachian Journey CD.
When virtuoso classical players began to express interest in my music, they
were intrigued by the technical difficulty in the jazz or folk music I was

Over the years, I had composed a set of six virtuoso caprices for
unaccompanied violin which I recorded on Midnight On the Water. I was
beginning to sketch out a seventh caprice in 1997, around the time I was
also working with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer (two obvious virtuosos).
I thought, "Why not turn this sketch into a caprice for three stringed instruments?"
The whole tune is based on a small motive which is a phrase containing
bowing triplets that are played very rapidly. The intensity and control of
the bow are what make this piece difficult to perform.

The driving rhythm is the signature of "Caprice for Three" and creates an
exciting ensemble that is fiendish to perform (the underlying intent of the

Violin, Viola and Cello

I have a wonderful home outside of Vista, CA. I live in a valley of
avocado groves and strawberry fields. There is citrus everywhere as well.
The views from my writing studio and balconies are quite sweeping. I noticed one
day that there are three very distinct views or vistas I can enjoy. One to
the east where the desert begins to reveal itself; one to the north where I
enjoy the distant mountains; and then a view off to the west where
beautiful Pacific Ocean sparkles in the distance.

As I surveyed my surroundings, I thought about my string trio and
imagined that each of these magnificent views could represent a distinct
musical personality in the group... or a distinct instrument and voice. Or
the three views might depict social backgrounds or entirely different ways
of life.  Differences. (desert, mountain, ocean). I thought of this as being a
perfectly good basis for a musical idea. And then as I continued looking, my eyes
relaxed and let in more light. I began to use my peripheral vision, and my three
snapshots of the horizon dissolved in to a giant panoramic view. It became apparent
and actually very clear that my vistas were not necessarily three distinct views
anymore. They rather became, one big picture!

I applied this same kind of philosophy to music, musicians and art. This
kind of thing happens all the time, but many do not see it and therefore do not appreciate the "peripheral." Many of us come from different backgrounds. We have different training. We have unique gifts and personalities. But what if in the end, after you add everything up, we are all really saying the same thing? There are many contrasted musicians out there in the world but I believe that we have many of the basic ideals of sharing art in common. We just might be on different pages at
different times on our musical journeys. So with this thought in mind, I
constructed Vistas.

All three musicians share a central theme and it is performed in a musical
cannon throughout. The musicians never play the theme together in harmony though, but they are always playing it at their own pace so to speak. There are sections where it sounds like playful counterpoint.
Other sections sound aggressively contrapuntal. And there is even the climax
of the piece where one musician plays the theme slow, the next player twice as fast and
the next player twice as fast again all at the same time! The musicians end up having never played the theme simultaneously but after it is all said and done, each musician essentialhas said same thing!

When I think about music and art, I feel there are three important bridges
all artists seek to cross: In the end, we seek to elevate the spirit, stimulate the intellect
and strengthen the heart.

Violin and Viola

F. C.'s Jig adapted for violin and viola is from the album Appalachia Waltz
featuring Yo-Yo Ma (1996). I utilized the third movement of my "Fiddle
Concerto" and arranged from it a violin and cello duet. Here, I have adapted
the instrumentation to violin and viola. The result is a virtuoso duet full
of melody, interplay and energy, pushing both instruments all the way to its
conclusion. "F. C.'s Jig" is a spirited, well-known derivation of the
"Fiddle Concerto's" jig.

Violin and Viola

"Brave Wolfe" is a piece based on an old traditional ballad.  I recorded
originally with Wynton Marsalis for the album Liberty! in 1997. The
recording was also used throughout the film documentary produced for PBS, "Liberty!
The American Revolution." Album notes writer Thomas Fleming says of the duet,
the "sound echoes the noble sadness of this celebration of the heroic death of
British General James Wolfe before Quebec in 1759. The piece turns into a
musical gallop, evoking the surging seesaw battle Wolfe's army fought
outside the walls of the fortress city."

Violin, Viola and Cello

This piece is comprised of two parts, with two distinct messages.  The first speaks to the space of wonderment in our lives, where good friends and experiences surround us.  A time spent looking forward to the continuing joy and merry-making of the innocence and purpose that brought us together.

I think about a wonderful place in musical terms as well.  I dream of a garden of ideas and sounds, the combination of these delicious ingredients intoxicating.  The tenderness of friendship, the romance of the human connection manifested in the arc of a musical idea, the creation of a musical phrase.  How it feels, the beautiful sonority, the gentle tone, sympathetic intonation, the everlasting beat…

We then travel to where agelessness ends, where innocence no longer lingers.  The bitterness within a life that begins to be complicated where it wasn't before starts to overwhelm the sweetness on the tongue.  

Still, the B-section of the piece yearns backward and forward at the same time.  Tugging at the memory of what came before to find and create meaning farther on… allowing the simple voice of childhood that helped define the self continue to speak… to lead on with wonder still, to somewhere green, somewhere new…

So many of us expect life to continue to deliver its many delights, without realizing that it was the innocence and freedom, the faith in the possible that created the delightful condition of youth.  After a playful frolic with the instruments dancing about in the musical forest, the A and B parts return, reminding us that unlike time that moves ever forward, the journey back to the wonder and freedom of childhood awaits us all.


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updated 4 years ago