Tessa Lark — Fantasy (First Hand)
"My first instrument was actually the mandolin, when I was around 4 years old. I brought it, I remember, to my kindergarten class for show and tell, and I played 'Boil 'em Cabbage Down.' Then for recess I decided that, instead of playing with my friends, I would just face a corner and continue practicing 'Boil 'em Cabbage Down.' So, my interest in playing and studying instruments started quite early."
At age 6, Tessa Lark switched instruments and started studying classical music.
Now, when people see the fiddle on her back, she's quick to tell them she's a violin soloist. She plays classical music, folk music, and she wears her Southern Kentucky roots with pride. You'll hear all of those elements rolled into her debut recording, Fantasy.
You recently released your debut solo recording. It's a collection of Fantasy pieces, and it's called Fantasy. Tell me a little about this 'fantasy world' that you've created.
"I was given the opportunity to choose a project of my own through the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund for the Arts. I recorded it with one of my great friends and favorite humans in the world, Amy Yang, a wonderful poetic pianist.
"I put together these fantasies: Schubert, Ravel, Kreisler and a few Telemann Fantasias. And, by the recommendation of my friend, Ara Guzelimian, who said, 'Why don't you put a fiddle number in there, since that's so integral to who you are?'
"The morning of my final recording session, I put together a couple of tunes that I knew from over the years and extracted a little bit of Schubert from his Fantasy and created this 'Appalachian Fantasy' that I ended up including on the recording. And actually the Fantasy track that's on the recording is the very first time I ever played that piece, and it's in one single take."
You brought up the 'Appalachian Fantasy' that you wrote, how did you make the decision to honor Schubert as part of that?
"Something that's unique to him and that draws me to his music is this poignancy and melancholy that's in his sound. I actually find that Appalachian music, which is quite different, by the way, from bluegrass music, these qualities I find are also apparent in old time and Appalachian style music."
When it comes to the Schubert Fantasy in C Major, I know that some say that this is one of the hardest piano parts ever written. Can you talk a little bit about that and how you and Amy collaborate on that piece?
"I think this poetic nature of her thinking and going about life and playing is absolutely perfect for music like Schubert. Though I did dabble at Muppet Babies keyboard, I'm not much of a pianist myself, so I can only imagine what the difficulties are of this piece. Even the opening tremolo, I think, is enough to scare away most pianists from wanting to play the piece."
Why did you decide to include Fritz Kreisler's Viennese Rhapsodic Fantasia on this recording?
"It was, I believe, the last piece that he ever composed. It's just an amazing tour de force through Viennese sounds. It just has everything that Kreisler has to offer in one little morsel.
"A lot of these pieces that I included, I just simply love them. And I got lucky that they all had Fantasy or Rhapsody in the title. So, there was a theme there."
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.
Tessa Lark — Fantasy (Amazon)