Tessa Lark Assumes Role of Artistic Director at Musical Masterworks
By Julia Talbert-Slagle
Tessa Lark, an acclaimed violinist and the current Artistic Director at Musical Masterworks in Old Lyme, is working tirelessly to maintain classical music’s relevance in the modern era and empower the talented artists she works with. From humble beginnings in Kentucky to studying at The Juilliard School in New York City, Lark’s passion for music has kept her going since childhood.
Lark’s interest in music was sparked when she was a child, watching her dad play banjo in their home in Richmond, Kentucky. Tessa’s hometown is 45 minutes away from the nearest symphony orchestra, so she gleaned most of her musical inspiration from the radio, as well as from her parents’ love of music. Early on, her parents bought her a toy keyboard that quickly became her favorite toy. Lark’s parents noticed her interest in music and introduced her to the violin, unknowingly, beginning Lark’s music career. For Tessa, it was love at first sight, or rather, first strum. She describes music as quickly moving “from toy to passion” as she discovered her love for playing violin, never questioning that music was where she belonged. Lark studied violin in Kentucky for six years before expanding her study to Cincinnati, a two-hour drive from her hometown, and eventually moved to Boston to study there. Looking for a change, Lark discovered Juilliard through a friend’s recommendation and studied violin at one of the world’s most prominent music schools. Tessa admires the music community for its ability to broaden an artist’s horizons; “the music world is so small that little connections that you make will always bring you places you’d never expect [to go]”.
Lark found Musical Masterworks through yet another unexpected but fortunate connection. Ten years ago, Edward Arron, the Artistic Director at the time, had an artist withdraw from his program and invited Tessa Lark to fill in at the last-minute, having met her through a program both artists attended. Arron and Lark’s connection grew until eventually Arron asked Lark to assume his position as Artistic Director when he stepped down in 2022. As Artistic Director, Tessa wants to spark the same passion for music in every audience member and performer as she felt listening to her dad play banjo in their Kentucky home years ago.
As Artistic Director, Tessa hopes to combine the past and the future of classical music and create an inviting atmosphere for all, no matter their age, background, or any other factor. Lark is continuing Musical Masterworks’ tradition of having concerts without a program, and, rather, introducing each piece on stage as the concert takes place. Tessa wants to maintain the relevance of classical music by featuring living composers, younger performers, and new music. Though this process is ongoing, Lark’s efforts have been paying off with Yale students attending recent Musical Masterworks concerts, as Lark brings classical music into the modern era.
When Tessa Lark joined Musical Masterworks as Artistic Director, she became the first woman to have held that role. While this is a huge accomplishment, Tessa says women have been at the helm of Musical Masterworks for a long time. Lark is working every day with a team full of women, whom she describes as “bold, …strong, …innovators…[and] wonderful people to be around”.
As a woman, Lark has faced her share of adversity throughout her career and understands how hard it can be to fight for oneself as an artist. Tessa knows that focusing on the dissenters and worrying about their opinions is a distraction from one’s true goal as an artist. Lark says, “I find it hard to advocate for myself, I think everybody struggles with that, especially artists”. Tessa describes an artist’s role as being “drawn to creating something…bigger than themself” and the struggle of promoting one’s own art without appearing selfish. Lark says, “I’m the type of person who…if I have experiences and struggle in my life, I try to very proactively make sure that…people around me don’t have to experience the same things”. As an artistice director, she hopes to help the artists she works with understand the importance of their roles as musicians and focus on advocating for themselves without insecurity or self-doubt. “My main goal with performers is that they absolutely feel safe and encouraged and inspired…to be…curious and to grow [without intimidation].”
You can see Tessa’s influence and brilliance this weekend (October 14-15, 2023) at two Musical Masterworks’ concerts. Interestingly, Michelle Ross, a violinist, is stepping in on short notice to play on Saturday, the same way Tessa Lark did 10 years ago, in the concert that eventually brought her to Musical Masterworks.