The Daily Gazette

The Daily Gazette
By Geraldine Freedman
August 10, 2010
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Music review: Harpists shine in spotlight at Skidmore benefit

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A celestial music of the spheres emanated from Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center Tuesday night as the fifth annual Saratoga Harp Colony had its gala benefit. The summer harp session attracted 19 students from as far away as Washington and Oklahoma as well as several professionals, including the Philadelphia Orchestra’s own Elizabeth Hainen, who is the director of the Colony.

The evening was a chance for all the students to shine – imagine 21 harpists on stage at once, and a rare opportunity to hear harp in a solo capacity. The hall’s acoustics graced these instruments with particular clarity and resonance.

Two students got a chance to play with two of the Philadelphia’s musicians, principal flutist David Cramer and violist Marvin Moon. Erica Driscoll was the harpist in Arnold Bax’s beautiful Elegiac Trio. Cramer’s flute shimmered, Moon’s tone was dark and the harp rippled. Sophie Baird Daniel was the harpist in Debussy’s Sonata, which is one of the great pieces for this combination in the repertoire.

The work tends toward melancholy with later passages in a more festive mood. Like many of the pieces the harpists played in the first half, pace was an issue. They seemed to get bogged down with the immediate. Only when they were laying down continuous chords or those rippling arpeggios or glissandos, which forced them to look ahead, did a sense of momentum prevail.

This was true for Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” which Alisa Coffey of the Arkansas Symphony and Elizabeth Steiner, a freelancer from Cleveland, played. With their slow tempo they were oh, so proper. No honky tonk here, even though they played all the notes.

Nancy Lendrim of the Toledo Symphony and Kimberly Rowe, a Philadelphia freelancer, got the notes, but weren’t comfortable with each other in Andres’ “Le Jardin des Paons” and Salzado’s “Steel.” They got more feeling into it with deFalla’s Spanish Dance from “La Vida Breve.”

Hainen showed how it was supposed to be done. In two virtuosic and evocative solo works – Renie’s Piece Symphonique and Reinhold’s Impromptu that Hainen played with authority, she was eloquent, virtuosic, stylish, gave life to the phrases, used a wide range of dynamics. She made it seem easy.

Judy Loman, the former harpist with the Toronto Symphony, also expertly demonstrated what a harp can do in a more modern context with Schafer’s “Crown of Ariadne” in which she had to play several percussion instruments for effects.

Mark Gigliotti conducted the full ensemble in two light works to end the evening.

Harpists will play two free concerts: 3 p.m. at Zankel Aug. 15, and 3 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Adelphi Hotel’s ballroom.

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