Studio Spivey

Veteran fiddler/violinist and composer Mark O'Connor is bringing his Appalachia Waltz Trio to Atlanta to record its first CD before a live audience at Spivey Hall May 22-23. The longtime Sony recording artist is producing the new "classical" album for his own OMAC label.

Having learned his craft from such diverse teachers as Texas fiddler Benny Thomasson and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, O'Connor has been an influential crossover force in American music, topping charts in the country, bluegrass, jazz and classical genres. For a while in the '80s, O'Connor lived in Atlanta on a stint playing with the Southern rock/jazz fusion act the Dixie Dregs.

O'Connor describes his new Appalachia Waltz Trio, which includes violist Carol Cook and cellist Natalie Haas, as being "a classical string trio," though the music, all composed or arranged by O'Connor, incorporates "a lot of influences from traditional music."

"Folk music audiences and classical music audiences can come to see this trio and [both] be very satisfied," says O'Connor.

While audiences have always been satiated, O'Connor has grown restless of music industry protocol. Despite being on Sony for a number of years, O'Connor finds the label's methods to be rife with "super-inflated budgets and costly way of doing things" — basically a lot of misdirected energy gets spent. So he decided in 2001 to record a live album with his Hot Swing Trio, releasing it as his first OMAC disc. Listeners responded, and Sony subsequently wanted to produce a studio recording of the group.

"It's a great album," says O'Connor of the Sony studio version, "but I would say that it's not any better than the live album, [and it] cost 10 times as much [to produce]."

His Thirty Year Retrospective double CD last year was also recorded live.

"It came off great again," says O'Connor. "So, that's the model I'm going to use for this [new CD]. We're gonna record live two nights and then do some patch sessions on the third day."

It's certainly not the first time the remarkable 13-year-old Spivey Hall has served as recording studio. Robert Shaw and his Chamber Singers recorded two CDs released by Telarc in 1994. A handful of other artists have since recorded there, while broadcasts of concerts at Spivey have long been featured on NPR's "Performance Today."

"I played [at Spivey] three different times, and loved my experience there," says O'Connor. "I talked to them about recording something in the future because I just fell in love with the room. [But] I wanted to pick the project that I thought would benefit most from that space."

When he formed Appalachia Waltz Trio a few years ago, O'Connor knew Spivey Hall would be the perfect place to record his new group.

"Earlier in my career, I would have been horribly, horribly nervous to record a live album," he says, but now "I've got the experience and I have a sense about if the material's ready or not. It's a way for me to be able to make new recordings of the utmost quality but still being able to afford to do it."

Mark O'Connor's Appalachia Waltz Trio performs and records at Spivey Hall Sat., May 22, at 8:15 p.m. and Sun., May 23, at 3 p.m. $20.