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Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins pushes boundaries, including in a recent SLSO premiere

Kelly Hall-Tompkins' world premiere performance of Jeff Beal's “Body in Motion” for Violin and Orchestra with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra on Jan. 12 was nearly a year in the making.

Violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins' world premiere performance of Jeff Beal's “Body in Motion” for Violin and Orchestra with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra last weekend was nearly a year in the making.

The two met for the first time at an Eastman School of Music Alumni event although they each were already familiar with the other’s work. They briefly talked about the possibility of working together but Hall-Tompkins wasn’t sure how serious to take Beal, who is also an Emmy-winning composer for television ("House of Cards") and films.

“Sometimes people just say that, it’s just polite speech, they don’t really mean it,” she said. But the more the two talked, something clicked and when Beal told her he would like to write her a violin concerto, she immediately responded, “Let’s do it. Game on!”

Frequently, a concerto like “Body in Motion” could turn into a five- or ten-year process. But consulting with Hall-Tompkins along the way, Beal wrote the work in an amazingly short period, she learned it quickly, and Leonard Slatkin, who directed the January 12 performance, had a history with the composer and was happy to premiere the work with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. All three were thrilled with the result.

Kelly Hall-Tompkins talks with St. Louis Public Radio host Rod Milam
Hall-Thompkins charts her trajectory from a nine-year-old violin student in Greenville, South Carolina to the concert halls worldwide in her multi-faceted career.

Following the performance Slatkin commented, “I think it’s just great. It’s a wonderful piece and suits Kelly’s talents so well.”

Hall-Tompkins performed the concerto without music. “A new piece of music by memory, it’s very rare that somebody does that," Beal said. "But that’s the kind of player she is. ...On stage it seemed that she had lived with this for years, not months.”

Although Hall-Tompkins has devoted her life to the violin and classical music, she admits liking to push boundaries. “That has shown up in my life in ways that I originally did not expect or predict and now I explore with them and run with them,” she said.

One example is her project Music Kitchen – Food for the Soul. Since 2005 Hall-Tompkins has brought classical music performances into homeless shelters and to date has presented 130 concerts by over 200 top musicians for 30,000 people in shelters. An outgrowth of that project is “Forgotten Voices,” a song cycle Hall-Tompkins commissioned by renowned composers using the written feedback to the concerts by shelter clients as the text. The song-cycle has not only been recorded but was performed on a concert in Carnegie Hall in New York.

In 2014 Hall-Tompkins created the “Imagination Project,” a double video release of a classical violin sonata and her jazz arrangement of “Pure Imagination” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Originally released online and on DVD, it has garnered over a million YouTube views. She has also spent time exploring other musical genres.

Hall-Tompkins toured for five years with the American roots-style violinist and composer Mark O’Connor, playing his bluegrass influenced classical works. In 2016, she was the “fiddler” violin soloist in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway. After that experience she performed a solo album of arrangements of tunes from the musical, “The Fiddler Expanding Tradition.”

When asked for her advice to someone wanting to pursue a career in music, Hall-Tompkins responded, “Listen as much as possible. That is one of the greatest teachers that we have. We have a world full of historic and contemporaneous recordings that are there to discover.” But most of all, she added. “Follow your passion, don’t take no for an answer and just stick with it.”

St. Louis Public Radio will broadcast the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra concert featuring violinist Kelly Hall-Tompkins in the world premiere of Jeff Beal’s “Body in Motion” for Violin and Orchestra as well as works by George Antheil, Duke Ellington and George Gershwin on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m.

Mary Edwards is a producer for St. Louis Public Radio's broadcast program, "St. Louis Symphony."