It was nice to hear a different harp+ensemble piece (Caplet's Conte Fantastique) at the Concours Cité des Arts. The choice of the final round concerto is always tricky, as on the one hand you want to set something candidates will then be able to use often; on the other, you want to spare the jury from death by Debussy, and even broaden everyone's artistic horizons.
One aspect of the harp repertoire that can happily welcome an extension is harp and viola: apart from the famous Bax sonata, there is not much original music (much of what there is is helpfully documented by Clinton Nieweg here). Colorado harpist Ann Marie Liss is working on this, with Colorado Symphony viola principal Basil Vendryes - together, they are Duo Esprit.
© 2009 Kellie Travers
Ann Marie and Basil began working together out of mutual admiration for each other's playing, and a desire to make their own recording of Bax's Fantasy-Sonata. One piece, however, does not a concert duo make, and they soon busily set about transcribing existing and commissioning new music for the combination. These transcriptions include Chopin Nocturnes, viola works by Bridge, the third Liszt Liebestraum, Gerschwin's Prelude No.2 (in its original key, "so the pedals are insane", as Ann Marie says), and an ambitious new duo version of the Ralph Vaughan Williams Suite for Viola and Orchestra.
Alongside this, the duo has already commissioned a substantial amount of entirely new pieces. These include music by Justin Taylor, David Tcimpidis (distinguished professor at Mannes School of Music, NY), Christopher Malloy, Andrea Ferrante, Riccardo Iznaola (Composer, concert guitar and recording artist, orginally from Cuba), and Chason Goldfinger. Basil and Ann Marie are also in talks with grammy-nominated composer Robert Paterson who wants to write for them, as well as film composer Robert Litton.
"We also just got the fresh-off-the-press notes this week from The Playground Ensemble director, Conrad Kehn, to be premiered in Feb 2012, and we're waiting for the final version of a piece from a Texan astrophysicist composer working in Chile, Martin Gaskell", Ann Marie reports. "It's funny how quickly our vision has moved away from "just" recording the Bax and playing a few local recitals to being asked to travel the country now. I think some people might be suspicious of us becoming a strictly contemporary music ensemble because of the commissioning aspect, but it's been interesting to hear how non-modern some of the works sound so far. Every new piece is an adventure!"
If you're interested in discovering this repertoire, Ann Marie and Basil hope to make a recording soon. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Duo Esprit's concert schedule - or if you run a concert season, invite them to perform, because substantial recordings don't get paid for by the substantial-recording fairy.
Those of you who enjoy reading blogs may already be fans of Elizabeth Jaxon, who wrote a super account about her experience of the Israel harp competition last year. You may also have been impressed by her arrangement of the third movement of the Ginastera concerto for harp and found instruments, available to watch on YouTube.
Elizabeth has just been simultaneously appointed Principal Harp of the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra and Lecturer of Harp at Mahidol University in Bangkok, and the harp grapevine tells me that a new blog about her life in Thailand is in the pipeline. I am really looking forward to reading it. As well as providing evocative and poetic descriptions of what are often intense artistic and personal experiences, Elizabeth is an admirably honest writer, voicing thoughts a less courageous person would be afraid to share.
Elizabeth is no stranger to culture shocks, having moved from her native Illinois to Paris in 2006, to study at the Ecole Normale with Isabelle Perrin. Isabelle is responsible for many Americans in Paris, the first of whom was Marta Power Luce, who then established an annual summer masterclass in Michigan where Isabelle's teaching now inspires many young harpists to follow her back to Europe. Marta is now making a flourishing professional career for herself in France, and it was in Paris that Elizabeth and Marta got together and formed the Atlantic Harp Duo. This duo now has engagements throughout Europe and the United States, and it is good to know that Elizabeth's recent move to Thailand is not going to mean its dissolution. As I blogged a propos the London Harp Sound CD, there are many student harp ensembles and comparatively few professional ones, so it is exciting when a harp duo as polished and creative as Elizabeth and Marta is giving concerts around the world.
“I had been in a harp duo in Illinois, but that was a student thing”, Elizabeth explained to me while we were both at the International Harp Competition in Utrecht (where she was also the official competition blogger!). “When Marta and I started working together, we were reaching the end of our postgraduate studies, and wanted to achieve a truly professional level. We saw there was a niche to fill as a harp duo, because while two harps is not an uncommon pairing, most harpists only form duos as students, to gain ensemble experience, or as professional soloists coming together temporarily for a one-time performance, usually with minimal rehearsal. Our particular strength is that we’ve played together regularly over a long period of time (it took us two years of weekly rehearsal for our sounds to begin to match), and we’re also close friends who have been through everything together and communicate so much on the same wavelength that we’ve become two halves of a whole. You need this to create music together.
As is so often the case with harp ensemble, even in duo there is not much repertoire, so our programmes are necessarily a mixture of original works and transcriptions. But necessity has proved the mother of invention, not just for us, but for other harp duos who have gone before us. Alongside original repertoire by Godefroid, Houdy, Andrès and so forth, we are indebted to the (now disbanded) Duo Gioccarpa for their transcriptions, such as several Spanish dances by Granados and Debussy’s Epigraphes Antiques. We also do our own arrangements: recently we have completed three pieces by Chopin and a Bach prelude and fugue for a programme centered around the life of Chopin. Because a harp duo has two harps and four hands at its disposal, it is even more versatile than one harp, so there's a lot of potential.
What we have found particularly rewarding is our work on original concert ideas. The Paris scene responds well to elegant concerts with something a bit quirky within that elegance, so this is what we have been developing. Marta's husband, Damien Luce, created a show which consists of acting out Fontaine's fables, and we accompany the tableaux with music he composed for us.
We recorded the show last year and the CD is available from the Camac online store (ref no. CDLED01).
Last September we were invited to perform at the third International Harp Festival in Katowice, which was themed on Chopin. For this concert, Marta composed a narrative to be read aloud between pieces, following Chopin’s life and his relationship with Georg Sand. The programme consisted exclusively of music from the time period and included Chopin arranged for harp duo, like the "Raindrop" Prelude in D-flat Op.28 or the Prelude in C-sharp Minor Op.45, plus original duos by Boïeldieu, Hummel, Oberthür and John Thomas. In addition to two performances in Poland, we have performed this programme six times now in both France and the United States, and we have proposals to do it in Salzburg and in Thailand. We're very excited to be releasing a CD of the programme, just next month. Check www.atlanticharpduo.com for updates."
You can also watch the Atlantic Duo on their YouTube channel!
More recording news from Valérie Milot, this time to get you into the Christmas spirit! Valérie has recorded a mini-album, Fantaisie sur Noël, of five Christmas-inspired works beautifully arranged for violin and harp by Antoine Bareil. Discover tracks like A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves, where the famous traditional melody joins forces with a section of Prokofiev's Sonata no.1.
This album is available to hear and download from Analekta. You can also find in on iTunes, and other similar sites where you can buy music.