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Q&A for Mark O'Connor: Holiday Feature

1. What inspired you to release your first holiday album, "An Appalachian Christmas," this year? And what was your objective when selecting such uniquely different luminaries as Yo-Yo Ma, Jane Monheit, and James Taylor for the album?

I suppose my Christmas album was an album 35 years in waiting...that is how long I have been releasing solo albums under my own name. With 37 solo albums to my credit that feature the three general musical directions that my career includes (Folk, Jazz and Classical), I thought it would be perfect to have artists with me from all three areas like bluegrass singer Alison Krauss, classical guitarist Sharon Isbin, country singer Steve Wariner and Metropolitan Opera star Renee Fleming, along with the others you had just mentioned.

2. You have given concerts with major symphony orchestras and have performed around the world. What is your connection to Lafayette, Louisiana?

I love Louisiana, and I love its culture - music - food - history. I also love the people and have friends throughout the region. I loved playing in Lafayette about 3 or 4 years ago with my Appalachia Waltz Trio. We must have had nearly 1,000 people attend my concert! I think they are going to love Jane Monheit and my Hot Swing group!

3. Will you be performing any of your new recordings from your holiday album on December 13 at the Heymann Performing Arts Center?

Yes, I have two particular favorites with Jane Monheit from my new Christmas album that we must do...The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and Winter Wonderland.

4. How did you come to know New Orleans-born star, Wynton Marsalis? Have your many concerts with him focused primarily on his jazz virtuosity or his classical repertoire?

We met for the first time at the 1996 Olympic Games’ Closing Ceremonies in Atlanta. We were both featured in the Closing Celebration on the stadium field. I premiered my "Olympic Reel”"there and I always have to say it was one of my larger world premiere audiences, attendees numbering 3.5 billion in the television audience that night! Wynton and I became good friends and colleagues appearing on each other’s recordings, etc. I just celebrated his 50th Birthday with him on a concert for PBS a few weeks ago! We mostly play jazz and swing together!

5. What would you say was the most memorable performance with your mentor, jazz master Stephane Grappelli?

Well, the first time I ever played at Carnegie Hall was on tour with my mentor Stephane Grappelli, so that was very big...the very first performance was at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and that was of course a very big thing. Also, we recorded the live album on that tour and most of that came from our concert at the Berklee College of Music Performance Center in Boston. That was back in 1979 you know...years later, I have held string camps there. For more information on my current string camps, visit www.oconnormethod.com and www.markoconnor.com.

6. As a virtuoso violinist, you are fluent in many vernaculars. Do you have a favorite musical genre?

My favorite by a long shot is...American! I just love American music in all shapes and sizes. I connect all of our styles together not only in my career and my compositions (I have composed nine concertos now and two symphonies), but my Method for learning how to play violin, strings and orchestra is based on this idea of inclusion. It is a great idea, and it works!

7. Do you have a favorite Christmas memory tied to a special holiday song?

I think that one of the greatest things about making my Christmas album is that you get to revisit music that held so much joy and wonder for you as a child. The music brings you back, perhaps a family photo does too, but there is nothing like music to reinvent the experience that brings you to the present day with that same joy and wonder. That is what I hear when I listen to "An Appalachian Christmas." How glorious the music is both intimate and grand, there is nothing like it!

By Lisa LeBlanc Berry

Publication: Our Louisiana Magazine

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