Mark O'Connor performs on stage at the 1985 Cambridge Folk Festival.
August 5, 1961 |
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
|Genres||Country, bluegrass, jazz, classical|
|Musician, composer, author, teacher|
|Instruments||Violin, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, mandola|
|Labels||Rounder, Warner Bros., Sony Classical|
|Strength in Numbers|
Mark O'Connor (born August 5, 1961) is an American violinist whose music combines bluegrass, country, jazz and classical music.
As a teenager he won national string instrument championships on guitar, mandolin, and fiddle. His mentors Benny Thomasson who taught O'Connor to fiddle as a teenager, French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli with whom O'Connor toured as a teenager, and guitarist Chet Atkins.
O'Connor won national titles on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin as a teenager. In 1975, at thirteen, O'Connor won the WSM (AM), Tennessee, and Grand Ole Opry sponsored Grand Masters Fiddle Championships in Nashville against amateur and professional competitors of all ages. That same year he won another national championship on acoustic guitar, at the National Flat Pick Guitar Championship in Winfield, Kansas. At age 19, O'Connor won the Buck White International Mandolin Championship in Kerrville, Texas. He is a four-time grand champion (1979, 1980, 1981 and 1984) at the National Oldtime Fiddler's Contest in Weiser, Idaho.
O'Connor composes, arranges, and records American music in genres that include folk, classical, and jazz. His works include concertos, and compositions for string orchestra, string quartets, string trios, choral music, solo unaccompanied pieces, and a symphony (see Compositions). His "Fiddle Concerto (1992)", a violin concerto in American fiddle style commission by the Santa Fe Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, has been performed over 200 times, making it one of the most performed concertos written in the last 40 years.
In 1996, O'Connor composed The Olympic Reel for the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, GA. It premiered in front of 100,000 people in the Olympic Stadium, as well as 3.5 billion people from the television viewing audience.
In 1997, O'Connor and others composed and performed music based on folk melodies as arrangements in an original score by American modern classical composer Richard Einhorn for the American Revolutionary War-era Public Broadcasting Service documentary miniseries, Liberty! The American Revolution (the companion album is Liberty!). The theme music for the miniseries is O'Connor's Song of the Liberty Bell.
In 1999, he recorded his Fanfare For The Volunteer with the London Philharmonic for Sony Classical, and one of his most critically acclaimed orchestral pieces American Seasons, which alludes to The Four Seasons (Vivaldi), for Sony Classical as well. "American Seasons", and his "Strings & Threads" Suite (1986) was performed by The Metamorphosen Chamber Orchestra in 2001 at the Great Performers concert at Lincoln Center.
In a review by the New York Times, "if Dvorak had spent his American leisure time in Nashville instead of Spillville, Iowa, his New World Symphony might have sounded like this."  Both "Strings & Threads" Suite and "American Seasons" were recorded for the album The American Seasons, released in 2001 on the label OMAC.
O'Connor recorded Thirty-Year Retrospectivewith the mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Bryan Sutton, and bassist Byron House. It celebrates his thirty years as a recording artist on his own OMAC label. He also provided the soundtrack to a 30-minute animated film on the story of Johnny Appleseed (and released the music on his 1992 album Johnny Appleseed), narrated by Garrison Keillor. He contributed four tracks to a 1993 album on the theme of The Night Before Christmas narrated by Meryl Streep.
His composition, Appalachia Waltz (appearing on the album of the same title), has been adopted by Yo-Yo Ma as part of his live performance repertoire, and used frequently as music for weddings including two of former Vice President Al Gore's daughters. One of his recent efforts is his piano trio entitled Poets and Prophets which is inspired by his boyhood hero Johnny Cash. Currently O'Connor and Rosanne Cash have teamed up for concert dates premiering their collaboration in New York at Merkin Hall in January 2007.
On April 28, 2009, O'Connor teamed with chamber musicians Ida Kavafian, Paul Neubauer and Matt Haimovitz to present his second and third string quartets, amalgamating bluegrass with classical styles, at Merkin Concert Hall in New York. O'Connor released the recording for both string quartets under the label OMAC in May 2009.
Some of his more recent albums are or contain tributes to his musical mentors and inspirations, including Niccolò Paganini, Benny Thomasson, and Grappelli. He has recorded solo albums for Rounder, Warner Bros. Records, and Sony.
O'Connor has developed a string instrument technique for music teachers and students, The O'Connor Method - A New American School of String Playing. The method places an emphasis on music and playing techniques from North America, in addition to focusing on rhythmic development, ear training, and improvisation.
The method is published as a series of books that also contains short essays about famous American who played fiddle, such as Thomas Jefferson and Davy Crockett, and the history of Gypsy, Mariachi music, and various dances. Teacher training sessions based on the method take place around the United States and in other countries.
O'Connor won a Grammy Award three times: in 1991 for Best Country Instrumental Performance, The New Nashville Cats; in 2000 for Best Classical Crossover Album, Appalachian Journey with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer; and in 2016 for Best Bluegrass Album, Coming Home by the O'Connor Band With Mark O'Connor.  He was named Musician of the Year by the Country Music Association six years in a row (from 1991 to 1996). His collaborative single "Restless" (with Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs and Steve Wariner) won the 1991 CMA Vocal Event of the Year award.
|Year||Album||Peak chart positions||Label|
|1974||National Junior Fiddling Champion||Rounder|
|1976||Pickin' in the Wind|
|1979||On the Rampage|
|Soppin' the Gravy|
|1982||Industry Standard (with Dixie Dregs)||Arista|
|1986||Stone from Which the Arch Was Made|
|1989||The Championship Years||CMF|
|On the Mark||Warner|
|1991||The New Nashville Cats||44||14||Warner|
|1992||Johnny Appleseed||Rabbit Ears|
|The Night Before Christmas||Rabbit Ears|
|1994||The Fiddle Concerto||6||Warner|
|1996||Appalachia Waltz (with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer)||1||Sony|
|1998||Midnight on the Water||5|
|1999||Fanfare for the Volunteer|
|2000||Appalachian Journey (with Yo-Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer)||1|
|2001||The American Seasons||6|
|Hot Swing Trio: In Full Swing||7||Sony|
|2005||Hot Swing Trio: Live in New York||22|
|Double Violin Concerto|
|2007||The Essential Mark O'Connor||Sony|
|2009||String Quartets No. 2 & 3|
|2011||An Appalachian Christmas||9||5||3||39|
|2012||America On Strings|
|2013||The Improvised Violin Concerto CD/DVD|
|2014||Mark O'Connor Christmas Tour Live DVD|
|2016||Coming Home||1||New Rounder|
(w/ Vince Gill, Steve Wariner and Ricky Skaggs)
|25||19||The New Nashville Cats|
|1992||"Now It Belongs to You" (w/ Steve Wariner)||71||62|
|1994||"The Devil Comes Back to Georgia"
(w/ Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt, Marty Stuart and Johnny Cash)
|1991||"Restless" (with Steve Wariner, Ricky Skaggs and Vince Gill)|
|"Now It Belongs to You" (with Steve Wariner)||Gustavo Garzon|
|1993||"The Devil Comes Back to Georgia" (with Charlie Daniels, Johnny Cash, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart)|
|1997||"Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier" (with James Taylor)|