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Friday, May 29, 2009

Taking the harp back from the angels

Posted By on 05.29.09 at 02:27 PM

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For most folks the harp is what angels play, not something serious musicians bother with, but that's starting to change. New Yorker Zeena Parkins practically reinvented the harp in the late 80s with electronic manipulations and radical techniques, destroying the instrument's melodic sweetness. More recently Joanna Newsom has persuaded many people to reconsider the harp by using it to make some of the most paradigm-smashing art-pop I've heard in years. And Edmar Castaneda has introduced jazz-style innovations to the instrument--though he plays a Colombian harp, a quite different beast.

In most symphonies the harp rarely provides more than a bit of ornamental gilding. But a handful of modern composers have been curious enough about the instrument's possibilities to write for it, and in the past few years Bridget Kibbey has emerged as one of the harpists of choice for this contemporary repertoire. On her superb self-released solo album Love Is Come Again, she tackles works by Benjamin Britten, Elliot Carter, and André Caplet, one of the first composers to write for harp. In most of the pieces there's plenty of the lyricism you'd expect, but Kibbey also showcases the instrument's versality with gripping and sometimes oblique investigations of texture, harmony, and rhythm, particularly in Carter's "Bariolage."

On Saturday Kibbey plays at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in one of the season's final International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) concerts. The program includes works by Carter and Kati Agócs (both represented on Kibbey's CD) as well as David Bruce and Toru Takemitsu. She'll be joined on a few pieces by ICE flutist Claire Chase.

Today's playlist:

Charles Tolliver Big Band, Emperor March (Half Note)
Renata Rosa, Zunido da Mata (independent)
François Houle, Evan Parker, and Benoît Delbecq, La Lumière de Pierres (Psi)
Harley Gaber, The Winds Rise in the North (Edition RZ)
Crax, Crax (Conundrum)

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