Good Life

Music a family passion

Clara Lyon, the daughter of James Lyon, performs with a variety of musical groups and will perform alongside her father in a Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra concert.
Clara Lyon, the daughter of James Lyon, performs with a variety of musical groups and will perform alongside her father in a Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra concert. Photo provided

While the Nittany Valley Symphony features violin professor James Lyon as a soloist for the first concert of its upcoming season, another music professional very close to him will give her own performance during the same week.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Lyon’s daughter, Clara, will be a featured violin soloist for the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra’s first performance of its season. The father-daughter combination will perform at the Eisenhower Auditorium and Mount Nittany Middle School on Sept. 30 and Oct. 5, respectively.

The Nittany Valley Symphony’s first concert, “Scandal and Seduction,” will feature Lyon on violin, performing as soloist in the Bruch G minor violin concerto. Written for Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim, the best friend of Johannes Brahms, it has moments of great virtuosity, meltingly beautiful melodies, and wonderful dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Joachim championed the work by performing it with various orchestras and it has been in the violin repertoire ever since.

A few days after the concert highlighting Lyon as soloist, he will serve as concertmaster for a performance by the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra. The orchestra will perform music by Mozart, Respighi and Stravinsky and will featureClara as violin soloist and one of the organization’s three finalists for the post of music director of the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra, Maestra Teresa Cheung, conducting. This truly is a family affair, as perhaps the most significant tie that links these two concerts is that Lyons’ wife, Carol, plays as principal cellist in both orchestras.

Born in Charleston, W.Va., James Lyon spent most of his childhood in a college town similar to State College — Harrisonburg, Va. Lyon’s father had a lovely tenor voice and led much of the music at their church when he was growing up.

“We were encouraged to sing various parts during hymns, and I even conducted a young girls’ choir there when I was a teenager,” he said. “We all started lessons on a string instrument when we were in fourth grade; my older brother chose the cello, so I thought I would be different by choosing the violin.”

Born in Amarillo, Texas, where her father played in the Harrington String Quartet, based at West Texas State University, Clara and her family moved to State College when she was 5. Her father has been teaching at Penn State ever since. A graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Juilliard School, Clara has performed with orchestras at the Kennedy Center, across the United States and in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Naturally, Clara’s biggest musical influences have been her parents. Music was a huge part of Clara’s life before she could even form words — it was always present in their house.

“One special thing for me is that I now play my Dad’s violin,” she said. “I grew up hearing him play this instrument at home, and it has a very particular sound — deep, dark and sweet. It is the sound I most associate with a violin, and this sound was in my ear for years before my Dad gave it to me to play when I was 12.”

Clara’s concert with the Pennsylvania Centre Orchestra, “The Invisible Touch,” pairs two works of Mozart with two works by turn-of-the-century composers Stravinsky and Respighi. Both composers were inspired by music of the past and interpreted historic dance forms in their own, personal musical language.

“The piece I’ll be playing, Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto, is a staple of the violin repertoire,” Clara said. “The first movement is lyrical and brilliant, the second movement reminds me of an opera aria, and the last movement is an adventuresome minuet that takes us all the way to Turkey in a raucous, interruptive middle section. The whole work is a blast to perform. Mozart’s character writing is so clear and precise, and the quality of the concerto is uplifting, bubbly, spirited, and effervescent.”

To Clara, a musical life has provided a great source of adventure — traveling to new places for performances, working with all different kinds of audiences, composers, and other musicians, and sharing the love of music through teaching.

“I have seen first-hand how my Dad’s approach to teaching has not only fostered wonderful music-making, but has also played a part in helping people to become deeper, truer, versions of themselves,” she said.

The Lyons say they couldn’t be any more proud of what their daughter has accomplished and for the joy she brings to each performance..

“We are very proud of Clara, but not so much for her great deeds as we are for her dedication to bringing beauty into as many people’s lives as possible,” James said. “And performing the same week as her is amazing. We are two different players playing music by very different composers, but we both have huge respect for what the other brings to their performances.”

The feeling is mutual.

“I think my Dad has a real love of helping people and bringing more beauty into this world through performing and teaching music,” Clara said. “He brings an incredibly honest commitment to these endeavors, and that is what I am most proud of him for. He really lives his ideals, and it comes through in his playing.”