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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

Eight harpists, one unique recital

By Andrea Horbinski
Opinion Editor

Friday, March 9, 2007

One of the advantages of attending a “music school,” like St. Olaf, is that there are frequent opportunities to hear unusual sorts of music. On Monday, Feb. 26, one such opportunity presented itself in the form of a Harp Ensemble recital. Really, when was the last time you had the chance to see as many as five harpists on the same stage at the same time?

A total of eight Ole harpists, all women, showed off their skills playing what is commonly thought of as a solo instrument. The concert kicked off with a medley of tunes from “The Sound of Music,” performed by Heather Wood ’07, Annika Jones ’07, Kate Lennox ’10 and Erin Bonawitz ’10. The arrangement featured a number of well-placed glissandos and was not at all insipid, quite a feat concerning the origin of its source material. The quartet performed it well.

“Mischief,” one of the few pieces on the program written expressly for harp, was performed by Bonawitz and Lennox and was notable mostly for their excellent blending. An arrangement of Jacques Offenbach’s “Barcarolle,” in which Bonawitz and Lennox were joined by Wood and Emily Raasch ’10, was well-played, if a tad too slow. The arrangement of “Greensleeves,” performed by Bonawitz, Lennox, Wood and Jones, could well have been the most simpering piece of the night. Instead, the arrangement the harpists chose, which made good use of the harp’s wide range of notes, was one of the most interesting I’ve heard in a while.

Lennox and Kerstin Magnusen ’09 then performed a transcription by Carlos Salzedo of Jean Philippe Rameu’s “La Joyeuse.” Salzedo sometimes seems to be everywhere in the harp repertoire, but his ubiquity is understandable when one remembers that his transcriptions are always excellent as well as pretty, as was “La Joyeuse.” The next piece, an arrangement of three English folk tunes performed by Jones, Raasch, Lennox, Wood and Elizabeth Stone ’10, was one of the most unusual on the program. Although the harpists came closest in this piece to falling into the trap of the schmaltziness that lingers around their instrument, the atypical material saved them from sounding too saccharine.

“On Wings of Song,” a Salzedo transcription of a piece by Felix Mendelssohn, similarly avoided sugary-sweet sounds in favor of talented performance, in this case by Raasch, Jones, Wood, Bonawitz and Lennox. In “Dona Nobis Pacem,” Lennox, Bonawitz, Jones, Raasch and Julia Demakis ’09 kept the piece moving fast enough so that it sounded unbelabored yet sincere.

It’s always a wise decision to save the best for last, and a transcription of the “Passacaglia” from G.F. Handel’s “Suite in G Minor” was by far the most ambitious and the finest piece on the program. Wood, Lennox, Bonawitz and Jones more than did justice to the piece, both in the complexity of its harmonies and orchestrations and its sheer verve. While excellent now, the harp ensemble would do well to tackle more similarly challenging pieces in the future.

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