10th American Harp Society Summer Institute and 20th National Competition
Los Angeles, Calif., June 16–19, 2013
The American Harp Society held its 10th Summer Institute in June at the prestigious Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles. The modern and well-maintained school is next to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Disney Hall in a fabulously renovated section of Los Angeles. Perfect Southern California weather accompanied the mix of classical and jazz offerings of this year’s Institute, which featured some of the West Coast’s most well-known harpists. Institute chairperson Ellie Choate conceived this conference as a time to focus on chamber music, small ensembles, and playing with others—a focus on friends.
There were workshops dedicated to playing in many different kinds of ensembles. Los Angeles harpist Maria Casale led a panel discussion about harp and choral music, while Paul Baker contributed in a workshop about playing casuals with other musicians. Two notable masterclasses were given by Heidi Lehwalder, concerning chamber music, and Elizabeth Hainen, who addressed solo harp repertoire. Eminent composer Gary Schocker was on hand to do a workshop about his compositions and approach to today’s classical contemporary pieces. Dr. Stewart Gordon gave an inspiring lecture about mastering the art of a fine performance. It was remarkable to see and hear the great diversity of the West Coast harpists. What a treat to see the legendary Stella Castellucci on a panel with jazz harpists Carol Robbins and Lori Andrews as she shared her approach to improvisation and finding one’s voice.
The concerts were equally inventive, beginning with the outgoing AHS Concert Artist Elizabeth White Clark. Although in her early 20s, Elizabeth is a concert veteran and a superb example to the competing harpists who gathered for the National Competition, which ran concurrently with the Institute. Elizabeth Hainen’s solo recital was unusual and innovative in that she grouped her selections in sets, not unlike a jazz musician. These sets included a Baroque set, a French set, and then a folk set, which was a unique six-movement work by the 20th century composer Esteban Benzecry.
Other concerts included the rich combination of harp and viola with Duo Esprit, Ann Marie Liss and Basil Vendryes, viola, an eclectic chamber music concert of Southern Californian composers and arrangers, played by Susan Allen and Paul Baker, and Carol Robbins’ jazz quartet playing her original compositions and standards. We were treated to a very special performance by the Dutch harpist, Gwyneth Wentink, who gave a tremendous performance with her Elements Trio of harp, sax, and violin/voice.
The post-concert receptions also had their share of diversity and interest. One evening some of the best freelance harpists in Los Angeles, including Stephanie Bennett, Bonnie Mohr, and Michelle Whitson-Stone performed sets as different as they are! Another evening featured a harp ensemble led by AHS President Delaine Leonard Fedson, performing the works of contemporary German composer/arranger Willi Huber. The final reception included music by Harpsody, with harpists Tomoko Sato and Kaffee Mimun.
In short, the 10th Summer Institute had the perfect blend of classical, contemporary, and beyond. Although there were no performances with orchestra, the palate of sound in the concerts was rich and colorful. There was practical application for all, new repertoire to be heard, and high-level performances by both professionals and young competitors. For this harpist it was a week of imagination, connecting with friends, old and new, and great inspiration! Time to get back to the studio and try some of the new techniques! •