I have to admit, the first time I looked up The Stone‘s listings for Tuesday and saw “harp” on the bill, I moved on. Plenty else to do on Tuesday.
But I recanted later. It’s The Stone, after all, where bookings are hand-picked. And harp can be an interesting instrument. It’s got pedals that can change the tone of strings up or down by two half-steps — all the Fs can become F#, for instance, or all the strings can be set up in a pentatonic scale (just like playing all black notes on the piano) for that classic “harp” sound. And the bio for the musician noted she’d played composers like Elliott Carter. I like Elliott Carter.
So on a rainy Tuesday, after splurging at Downtown Music Gallery and dining at Boca Chica, the only Lower East Side eatery I know, I decided: What the heck. It was just after 8:00 p.m., and I was blocks away. When else am I going to even consider a harp recital? Let’s see what solo harp can do.
Bridget Kibbey was in the middle of some richly chromatic, modern-classical piece when I arrived. Not the pillowy, heaven-sent cloud music you normally hear. This had lots of color, lots of rich tones. A great start.
Most of the program was not solo harp, in fact; Kibbey used the opportunity to bring in some friends and to play some new pieces (with the composers in the audience). The next number, called “Crossfade,” actually used two harps, Kibbey and a friend, with one or the other taking the lead in, of course, a kind of crossfading pattern. This was really enjoyable — again, lots of modern chromatic tones, and a good technical showcase. Any classical recital can be described as having pinpoint accuracy, but something about the harp makes “pinpoint” seem more appropriate, more tangible. It’s a delight to watch the notes get plucked out, right there in the open.
I learned something new about the harp: Harmonics. They’re all over the place in some of these compositions. They’re played with one hand — I assume the thumb sits atop the string at just the right spot while another finger plucks the note, so there’s a high degree of accuracy involved (same is true for any fretless instrument, I suppose, but it was a lot more surprising on the harp).
Kibbey then brought up a flautist for a succession of several Bartok songs based on folk music. This had more of a “classical” classical feel to it, with jaunty rhythms. The pieces were written for flute and piano, with Kibbey having transcribed the piano part for harp. As you’d imagine, it works quite well.
Two pieces for guitar and harp closed the evening. One was an original, written by the guitarist (I’d written names down on scratch paper & will fill them in if I can find that paper), an pleasant piece that was based on a folk tale about an object that creates such an obsession, it absorbs the owner’s entire reality. That was followed by some Celtic reels, made folky and rocking by the addition of occasional guitar-chord strumming.
Given the rain that night, and the stigma of the harp, there wasn’t much of a crowd — maybe five of us who weren’t players, composers, or personal friends. But I’m glad I went. Saxophone after saxophone can only teach you so much, after all.