Saturday, November 28

Harp Ensemble Anyone?

The flat I am in, is near the Royal Academy of Music, known throughout Europe for its exceptional educators, students and musical performances. Having been trained in playing classical music (flute, piano) and still loving it into adulthood, I decided to grab one of their brochures as I sauntered along a London street one day. Upon further perusal, I noticed that end of the semester concerts were a mere 6 - 10 pounds. You can't even buy a hot chocolate and scone for that price in central London, let alone students aged 18 - 22 who have been working for 4 months.

OK, that sentence sounded like I just bought a music student, but that is not what I meant. I bought the pleasure of listening to their dedicated skills, musical agility and brilliant tutelage. Back to the harps...

This light bulb moment has lead me to attend three different performances thus far. From the older individuals sitting writing and following musical scores at the back of the room, I surmised that these students were completing their end of term performances and their professors were present grading them as they played. In all, I have truly indulged myself in some phenomenal music, the best of which was an eight piece harp group.

Despite my musical upbringing, I never heard tell of a harp ensemble and any music written for such. But here they were, lovingly plucking on the strings, and in one more modern piece, gently pounding on their wooden harps. It was such a soothing and moving experience I took a picture and took notes during the performance to share with you. In case you are building a classical CD / digital library and want to add some delightful harp music to your collection, I have added an amateur critical review of all the pieces played.

The title of each song is first, followed by the composer, birth and death dates, then my thoughts on each piece.

John Thomas

1826 - 1913
This duet that calmed the spirit and relaxed every muscle and tendon in my body. It was also 15 minutes long. That is musical stamina people!

Gareth Wood

born 1950, not dead yet :)
I don't have any notes for this song but I am sure it was great.

'Brazileira' from Scaramouche
Darius Milhaud

1892 - 1974
The eight performers were split into groups of 2, 3 and 3. The piece was similar to a round in that the musical themes repeated themselves and the melody interchanged between the groups, each taking their turn to play it throughout the song. Enchanting!

Avian Arabesque (world premiere)
3 Movements - The Hovering Falcon, Legend of the Anka, Flight of the Phoenix
Paul Patterson

born 1947, still alive and kicking
My father and I were laughing because the idea of having a 'world premiere' seems so grand but with 40 people in the audience, it does not seem to world-ish. We also laughed because your professor could come to you and say, 'we are playing this, I wrote it. Is it not so lovely?' What are you going to say as the student who wants high marks, 'I like the beginning but the middle has too many slow bits.' I think not!
Modern work which included the traditional rushing sound of the harp, made by the up and down full strum of the harpist (does that have a name?). At one point, I stopped breathing as the notes were so delicate and soft that any noise would have ruined the moment of shear melodic joy.

Lady of the Lake
Gwilym Simcock

born 1981, still breathing & hot!
What Canadian does not hear the words 'lady of the lake' and imagine the effervescent redhead Anne of Green Gables? She was nowhere to be seen but the delicate notes hovering in the air, demanded silence from the listener. The turn of a page, the movement of a leg, briefly suspended the electricity of the music in the air, until the notes caught you again in its melodic grasp.

Bedivere (world premiere)
Gareth Wood

born 1950, still not dead yet ;)
Another premiere - 'Here students. We are going to play this, and you're gonna like it if you wanna pass this course!' 'OK,' reply the students in utter fear.
Truthfully, I was not a great fan of the trumpet mixed with eight harps. The blend of the instruments did not work for me. Funny enough at one point the trumpet used a mute and that sounded much better. Not that the playing was poor, it was top notch, but the muted trumpet sound complimented the harmonious harps more.

In all, I would suggest finding some harp music that features 2 or more harpists and sit back for a good, relaxing listen. Truly a treat to my and the entire audience's ears!

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