written by Gretchen Sheetz and Amber Mecke, photo credit: Gretchen Sheetz
On September 26th, 27th, and 28th, The Boston Conservatory Harp Department co-hosted the 2015 Boston Harp Festival with TBC extension programs. The festival was founded in 2010 by TBC Harp Coordinator, Ina Zdorovetchi. Harpists from around the country traveled to attend the event, participating in numerous workshops and master classes while being treated to a variety of beautiful recitals.
The first day of the festival proved exciting as numerous harpists arrived to register for the event. Following a classical pre-concert by one of Ms. Zdorovetchi’s private students, Deanna Cirielli, Zdorovetchi herself performed a much anticipated opening night recital. The first half consisted of Damase’s Sonate No. 1 for flute and harp and an arrangement of Donizetti’s O Bell’ Alma, also for flute and harp. Flautist Sarah Brady is a faculty member at TBC; together, she and Zdorovetchi proved to be a brilliant duo. The second half featured the Arneis Quartet. They accompanied Zdorovetchi in a beautiful rendition of Debussy’s Danse Sacree et Danse Profane. In a whirlwind finale, the group performed the dramatic Conte Fantastique by Caplet. Based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” the score was further intensified by a brilliant accompanying narration, written and delivered by TBC’s own Jane Soh, a current Graduate Performance Diploma harp student. According to Anna Ellsworth, fellow TBC harpist, “Jane’s narration for Conte Fantastique was really creative and enhanced the piece so much.” It was the perfect ending to the opening night of the festival.
Saturday morning started early for twelve young harpists between the ages of 8 and 21 who arrived from around the country to participate in auditions for the Stars of Tomorrow Concert. The various harpists treated the judges to a variety of genres, from classical to jazz to singer/songwriter compositions. After two hours of auditions, eight “Stars” were chosen to perform in Saturday’s evening concert and receive a $200 prize: Deanna Cirielli, Anna Ellsworth, Allana Iwanicki, Arilyn Mitchell, Charles Overton, Maria Ren, Clara Warford, and Anna Wiegandt.
The afternoon opened with a lovely concert by Scottish harpist and singer Maeve Gilchrist, a faculty member at the nearby Berklee College of Music. She performed a variety of jazz and folk tunes, mesmerizing the audience with her sensitive playing and soothing voice. Following that, fellow Berklee faculty member Felice Pomeranz hosted a rhythm workshop. All four TBC harpists (Anna Ellsworth, Amber Mecke, Gretchen Sheetz, and Jane Soh) participated, along with one of Zdorovetchi’s students, Arilyn Mitchell. Ms. Sheetz enjoyed the workshop, finding that, “Felice encouraged us to step out of our comfort zones and explore the world of improvisation and rhythm. It was so fun to experience the freedom and challenges that come with improv, especially from a classical harpist’s perspective.” Another workshop followed given by the esteemed Carl Swanson, who presented a lecture on the importance of etudes in harp training. To conclude Saturday’s events, the Stars of Tomorrow concert featured those eight aforementioned winners, each of whom demonstrated great technical ability and musical taste.
Sunday opened with a masterclass taught by Ms. Zdorovetchi. The five participants – Angelica Hairston, Charles Overton, Clara Warford, Rebecca Royce, and Arilyn Mitchell – played standards from the harp repertoire. The Boston Conservatory Admissions Office then provided a luncheon for all of the attendees. Following the meal, The Boston Conservatory harp studio presented their own “Carte Blanche” concert. The program opened with a newer harp ensemble work by John Wickey entitled Obelisk, which TBC harpist Amber Mecke had selected. Each harpist followed with a solo piece: Gretchen Sheetz performed Clair de Lune, Jane Soh played Piazzola’s Histoire de Tango: Nightculb 1960 with fiancée and oboist Daniel Stackhouse, Amber Mecke followed with the Hindemith Sonate for Harp, narrated by Ms. Soh, and Anna Ellsworth ended the solos with Godefroid’s Le Carnaval de Venise, Op. 184. The program concluded with Bernard Andres’ Parvis for harp ensemble. Ms. Zdorovetchi congratulated her TBC students with a “Brava on [their]superb playing!”
Rachael Galbraith, resident Boston harp technician, presented a pedal harp care and maintenance workshop in the afternoon, providing harpists with lots of helpful hints and tricks. Barrier-breaking harpist Deborah Henson-Conant gave an inspiring lecture and workshop following, encouraging each participant to speak up and share their passion and individual visions for harp.
The final evening began with a pre-concert by Pia Salvia, a Belgium harpist studying at Berklee College of Music. She played and sang, sharing several different genres of international harp music and finishing off with a unique and stunning rendition of The Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive. Deborah Henson-Conant then took over the stage, wowing the audience with her passion and energy, covering everything from blues to jazz to rock to clever ditties. Her wry wit in a self-composed song about being a sous-chef had the audience roaring with laughter; “Deborah made me laugh till I cried!” noted Jane Soh. The concert captured the essence of the Boston Harp Festival: to promote harp in every genre, and with great passion. Concert-goers were treated to a lovely reception on their way out, and had the pleasure of mingling with various performers from the weekend. Ms. Zdorovetchi and her studio, though exhausted from the weekend’s work, considered the festival to be a great success. Ina Zdorovetchi along with the Boston Conservatory harp studio would like to thank all of the festival guests and harpists for attending. Also, a huge thank you to all of the “behind-the-scenes” workers and volunteers – TBC Concert Services, TBC, Audio Visual Department, TBC Marketing Department, TBC Harp Studio, and also all of the parents!