Grammy Award-winning violinist will showcase his genre-bending style with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra

Violinist Mark O’Connor will play with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra three of his own compositions which will be adapted for Chinese instruments. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA
Violinist Mark O’Connor will play with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra three of his own compositions which will be adapted for Chinese instruments. -- PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE ORCHESTRA

Grammy Award-winning violinist Mark O'Connor will showcase his unique genre-bending style of music when he makes his Singapore debut with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra on July 5.

This is the first time the 52-year-old will be playing with a Chinese orchestra.

"It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. From an artistic standpoint, I am very curious as to how it all works," the American musician says in an e-mail interview.

O'Connor is well-known for his virtuosity in multiple genres, says Tsung Yeh, music director of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, who had invited him to play with the group.

Tsung says: "Mark is a great classical violinist and he can play Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

"But he's not at home only with a classical repertoire; he can also play bluegrass, flamenco, jazz, country and Irish music, which makes him very, very special.

"I don't think any other violinist can do all of that so well."

O'Connor's performances bagged him a Grammy Award in 1991 for Best Country Instrumental Performance, and again in 2000 for Best Classical Crossover Album for Appalachian Journey.

He has also recorded and worked with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as notable American artists such as guitarist Chet Atkins, iconic singer-songwriter James Taylor and guitarist and bluegrass musician Tony Rice.

In Singapore, O'Connor will play three of his own compositions with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. The orchestra will perform two more of his works as well as Tan Dun's Suite For Chinese String Instruments and Eric Watson's The Ceilidh.

Although his compositions were written for Western orchestras, a team from the Singapore Chinese Orchestra has adapted them for Chinese instruments. This is no easy task. For example, there is no tuba equivalent in the Chinese orchestra.

O'Connor says: "I know orchestration well and have poured my heart and soul into this kind of writing.

"I know the relationships between orchestra sections and within the sections as well as anything I do musically, so I can't wait to see the sections of the traditional Chinese orchestra work together up close."

He says the pieces he picked for the performance here are works that "I felt would translate emotionally, culturally as well as technically and stylistically in the orchestration and performance style of the piece".

One of the highlights of the night will be Queen Anne's Revenge, which was inspired by the discovery of the wreckage of a pirate ship of the same name.

He says: "Audiences will hear the old pirate ships at sea in Queen Anne's Revenge, the idea informs the notes and the music so well."

Another piece to look out for is Strings & Threads Suite, a collection of 13 tunes which reflects his family's journey from Ireland and Holland to America.

O'Connor says: "It reflects not only my family tree of 400 years in America, but also that of so many other families in the discovery of the New World.

"My family's migration route from New York to Tennessee to the West Coast is indicative of how music became the catalyst for understanding one another's diverse culture in a population living side by side from around the world, and how that cross-pollination of culture fused together to make the many strands of American music known today."