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Lucia Micarelli: from classical to classic rock

Violinist, actor and singer Lucia Micarelli’s career soared in 2009 when she was cast as Annie in “Treme,” an award-winning HBO series created by “The Wire” executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, the drama followed the lives of ordinary people as they struggled with aftereffects of the 2005 hurricane.

“The only things people had to hang on to were the rich traditions we knew: our music, food and family,” said Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native who played trombonist Antoine Batiste in the series. Its large cast was supported by notable denizens of New Orleans, including many of its famous musicians.

“My character on ‘Treme’ was a street musician,” Micarelli says during a telephone interview. “So I got to play with different bands each week on the show. I learned a lot about the music there, about Cajun fiddling and trad jazz, all kinds of stuff. It’s incredible because there are so many great musicians there.”

She worked with Steve Earle (not a NOLA native), Aaron Neville, Aurora Nealand and Tom McDermott, to name a few.

When she wasn’t working, she’d get out and meet musicians from the city ... and try the food, she says.

“It was so much fun,” Micarelli says. “The musicians were generous and happy to share music with me, and I’ve brought that into my musical world. Now my shows pull from the experience I had, from all these different styles of music I love. There’s classical, jazz, folk, Americana, standards, and you know, a little classic rock in my shows.

“I learned the way that New Orleans musicians incorporate music into every part of life,” she says. “In the classical world, performance can be structured and formal. In New Orleans, people play music on their porch to kill time or while they’re waiting for dinner. When there’s a funeral, there’s a second-line band afterward, marching through the streets to celebrate a person’s life.

“It was a revelation for me to see that music is really about life, people, connections and sharing. It’s not entirely about being serious and trying to play difficult repertoire perfectly. I’m trying to approach the things I do now with some of that feeling,” Micarelli says. “I like the idea of creating a space to connect and share, rather than showing off or doing some kind of serious recital.”

Micarelli and her touring band will bring their show to the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford, at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $32, $35 or $38, $22, $25 or $28 for ages 22 and younger, and can be purchased online at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

Born in the New York City borough of Queens and classically trained at Juilliard, then the Manhattan School of Music, Micarelli is as uninhibited and unconventional with a classic violin concerto as she is with a rock arrangement.

She’s busked the street corners of New Orleans with Earle; played a Mozart jam with Ian Anderson and the Vienna Radio Symphony; and toured with Barbra Streisand, Josh Grobin and Chris Botti.

She and Botti played a violin and trumpet duet of “Emmanuel” during his 2008 “Live From Boston” PBS special that has received almost eight and a half million views on YouTube. Her video of Sibelius’ violin concerto that leads into an arrangement of Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” is enough to blow anyone’s hair back.

“I’ve been lucky in my professional life,” Micarelli says. “Though I started as a classical violinist, I’ve had opportunities to explore other music.”

With two solo albums to her credit, “Music From a Farther Room” and “Interlude,” she’s now touring behind an Oct. 5 release of “An Evening with Lucia Micarelli,” the live audio from her PBS special filmed last year.

The PBS show featured Micarelli’s husband, Neel Hammond, on violin. He wrote many of the string arrangements for the show, and he’ll perform with Micarelli during the Craterian performance. Others include Zach Dellinger on viola, Vanessa Freebairn-Smith on cello, Ian Walker on upright bass, Robert Thies on piano, and Leonardo Amuedo on guitar.

“It’s fun,” Micarelli says. “We have all of this instrumentation that allows us to break down into smaller groups. Sometimes we have piano and all the strings, sometimes only the strings, sometimes we break down into a little jazz trio, and sometimes we just perform duos. We’re able to explore different styles and sounds.”

She programs her show fairly seriously, she says, only because she likes the music to flow and take audiences on a nicely arced journey. At each show, though, she swaps things out.

Finally, barefoot is Micarelli’s preferred mode of performing live.

“I just like it,” she says. “It feels more comfortable, freer. Trying to wear a dress and heels while singing and playing violin just seems like a lot. The heels had to go.”

Lucia Micarelli is equally at home with classic violin concertos, traditional fiddling and rock music. Photo by Solaiman Fazel