Lara St. John: Tiny Desk Concert With intrepid pianist Matt Herskowitz in tow, the violinist performs a set of rambunctious tunes from Hungary and Romania that will leave you breathless.

Tiny Desk

Lara St. John

Violinist Lara St. John has attitude in spades. It's in the sound of her playing and in the arc of her career.

Her first album cover sparked controversy, prompting many classical-music observers to wonder about her motivations until they heard the passionate Bach performances that accompanied it. Willing to take risks, St. John was among the first to start her own record label in the 1990s. It's allowed her to call the shots on her recorded repertoire, which has been satisfyingly broad, from Piazzolla to polkas to Mozart.

St. John's recent album Shiksa — recorded with pianist Matt Herskowitz, who joins her for this Tiny Desk concert — collects new arrangements of old tunes from Armenia, Romania and the Jewish diaspora.

The two know how to start off a show. The incendiary "Czardashian Rhapsody" mashes up two Hungarian tunes with some extra hot sauce. St. John's fiddle is at turns coy and cocky, racy, raw and just plain outrageous. Herskowitz dispatches his considerably hefty role with equal abandon. Her hair flying as if she were a glam-rock guitarist, St. John nails the big rock 'n' roll ending.

The two slow it all down for "Sari Siroun Yar," a bittersweet Armenian troubadour song that opens with pearly, Asian-colored trills from Herskowitz and some sleight-of-hand magic from St. John. Bowing across the fingerboard, she captures the muted, breathy sound of the duduk, Armenia's ancient double-reed instrument.

The barnstorming grit is back for a final round of pyrotechnics in the "Oltenian Hora." The piece plays off a catalog of violin tricks, St. John explains, practiced by traditional Romanian gypsy fiddlers. After rapid-fire whistles, bird calls and slithery harmonics, all in a variety of off-kilter rhythms, St. John ratchets up the intensity. Practically brawling with her instrument, she saws away faster and faster, leaving her, and many of us in the room, breathless.

Shiksa is available now. (iTunes) (Amazon)

Set List

  • "Czardashian Rhapsody" (arr. Martin Kennedy)
  • "Sari Siroun Yar" (arr. Serouj Kradjian)
  • "Oltenian Hora" (arr. Lara St. John)


Credits

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Niki Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Niki Walker, Kara Frame, Brandon Chew; Production Assistant: Jackson Sinnenberg; Photo: Kara Frame/NPR.

For more Tiny Desk concerts, subscribe to our podcast.

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Jeremy Dutcher performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 22, 2019 (Michael Zamora/NPR). Michael Zamora/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Michael Zamora/NPR

Jeremy Dutcher

There is no one making music like this 27-year-old, classically trained opera tenor and pianist. Watch and see why.

Ensemble Signal performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Jan. 25, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Ensemble Signal Plays Jonny Greenwood

Watch members of the New York-based group give the world premiere video performances of two recent pieces by Radiohead guitarist and composer Jonny Greenwood.

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider perform a Tiny Desk Concert on March 6, 2019. Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider

Watch what happens when the smoky-voiced jazz singer from Mexico conspires with an adventuresome string quartet for songs steeped in Latin American traditions.

Ohmme performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on April 18, 2019 (Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR) Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR

Ohmme

These classically trained artists fill the NPR Music offices with shrieking, rhythmic noise that redefines what an electric guitar can do.

Thou performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 9, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Thou

This is probably the quietest you'll ever hear the first metal band to play the Tiny Desk.

Laraaji performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 8, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Laraaji

Laraaji is best known to some for his ambient work with Brian Eno in the late '70s. He brings his meditative calm to the Tiny Desk in this hypnotic performance.

Toro Y Moi performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 16, 2019 (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Toro Y Moi

Toro y Moi loses the voice processing, synths and other heavy effects for a stripped-down acoustic set at the Tiny Desk.

Better Oblivion Community Center performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 3, 2019 (Amr Alfky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Better Oblivion Community Center

Tiny Desk alums Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers surprised us all with their stunning collaboration this year as Better Oblivion Community Center. Together they radiate joy at the desk.

The Calidore String Quartet performs a Tiny Desk Concert on April 5, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

The Calidore String Quartet

The Calidore String Quartet confirms that the centuries-old formula — two violins, a viola and a cello — is still very much alive and evolving.

Theodore performs a Tiny Desk Concert on March 27, 2019 (Amr Alfiky/NPR). Amr Alfiky/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Amr Alfiky/NPR

Theodore

The music of Theodore is dark and transformative, with the kind of spare elegance you can hear in Sigur Rós or Pink Floyd.

Back To Top