28 September 2008

More harps, many more

It’s a harp weekend in Canberra for the Third Australian Harp Festival. I’ve written of Mary Doumany elsewhere, and I managed to attend the Harp Ensembles Concert today. I was expecting to be impressed with the number of instruments on stage: fifty harps, or thereabouts. It was much more than that. I got taken in by the elegance and civility of the Handel (Concerto in Bb Opus 4 no. 6) played by the 3AHF Grand Harp Orchestra. It prepared me for the stunner of the day. The Seven Harp Ensemble played music of Larry Sitsky and Martin Wesley-Smith: both Australian composers. The Sitsky was rich with complex chords, altered extensions, modern harmonies: challenging and contemporary. The MW-S piece was sublime. It was difficult to catch the intent at first: one main female vocal and a harmonising voice. Then a male voice appeared from the dress circle above the audience. I listened more carefully. Still not too clear but seemingly women singing of lost husbands, presumably in war. The title was Seven widows at the gates of Sugamo. Touching, plaintive, even excruciating. This is goose-bumps stuff: fabulous. There was a break, and several other ensembles. Some Scott Joplin rags (not really strong on the jazz groove). A hugely popular and well-known piece, Pavane, by that hugely prolific composer, Anonymous, played very beautifully. A traditional Welsh piece which I knew well, but have never known the name of, the Ash Grove. It just had me thinking of Robyn Archer singing risqué lyrics in an Adelaide University Law Review in the ‘70s – she was just a law student at the time. A world premiere of two tunes written for the AHF, ex-Post-Facto I & II; they were written by Jim Cotter, who was there to receive a bottle in appreciation. Some lovely tunes (a tango and a dance) by a Salzedo, who I understand was a key player of the harp over the last century. Harp. I never expected this, but it was beautiful and entrancing and enriching. A lovely concert, and even profound at times.

From the sublime to something very different, I’ve included a pic of a Chinese Tiger drum group that was playing outside the Llewelyn Hall. Don’t know that they relate too well, but they were impressive and much louder than the harps.

PS. Thanks to Liena, Natalya and Vince for the invitation to the Festival and the pleasant company.

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