Q and A with the Atlantic Harp Duo

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Harp ensembles and duos are popping up everywhere these days, largely thanks to the creative programing and commissioning projects of groups like the Atlantic Harp Duo, who has been around since 2006 when members Elizabeth Jaxon and Marta Power Luce teamed up in Paris. Not content with the typical concert duo fare, the pair will debut their new production Ariadne Rediviva at the World Harp Congress next month. The story-based work includes a montage of music including a new piece by Canadian composer Caroline Lizotte. A recent premiere in Paris was a hit, so we wanted to find out more… 

The Atlantic Harp Duo will premiere their new montage "Ariadne Rediviva" at the World Harp Congress in Sydney.

The Atlantic Harp Duo will premiere their new montage “Ariadne Rediviva” at the World Harp Congress in Sydney.

I hear that true to your name, the Atlantic Harp Duo has been all around the Atlantic this season. Can you tell us where you’ve traveled? 
Our first performance of 2014 was at the Dutch Harp Festival, in Utrecht, where we performed as part of the Harp Route on the final day of the festival. Since then, we have been to Sweden, for the opening concert of the 5th Sweden Harp Days, and also to Brazil for the IX Rio Harp Festival, where we played three concerts. This was our third time performing in Rio, and we’re already looking forward to going back next year! Most recently, we had a week of performances back in Paris.

Is it difficult working together when you and Marta Power Luce live in different places? How do you manage that?
It’s a challenge. We don’t have the luxury of rehearsing whenever we like, but we do make it happen. When our duo was first formed, we were both in Paris, and we developed a good foundation during those years. That’s when we were sculpting our sounds to match each other and learning to breathe together and think on the same musical wavelength. Since 2010, I moved to Thailand while Marta stayed in Paris, and now am back in Europe but living in Holland. Despite the distance, we found it very natural to keep working together because we already had such a strong connection. We keep in touch constantly over email and Skype, and we plan trips to rehearse together many times throughout the year, usually in combination with concerts. When we do see each other, it’s always intense because we try to make the most of the limited time. However, between commissioning composers and artists, producing our own CDs, managing our website and news, planning concerts, and everything else that goes into Atlantic Harp Duo production, we have enough individual work to keep us busy when we’re not together.

What is a typical program like for you?
A typical Atlantic Harp Duo performance these days combines selections from our Chopin & Sand program with our Rhythms of Spain program, mixing original transcriptions of Chopin, Bach, and De Falla, with borrowed transcriptions of Granados and Ravel. We always like to return to the two Bernard Andrès duos (Parvis and Jardin des Paons), because they are staples of harp duo repertoire, but we are now introducing several new pieces that we have recently commissioned.

Tell us about Ariadne Rediviva. Whose idea was this and what can audiences expect to see?
Marta and I both came to the idea separately, from different directions. Both of us were inspired by pieces we had played that were based on mythology, and we wanted to explore deeper into this theme. Schafer’s Crown of Ariadne has been a huge inspiration to me for years already, and though it is written for a solo harpist, the recorded harp track of the last movement “Labyrinth Dance” can also be played live by a second harpist. Marta’s muse was Ariadne Theseo by Franck Villard, which we play with mezzo-soprano Sandrine Sutter. These pieces illustrate two of the most powerful episodes of Ariadne’s story — the Minotaur’s labyrinth in Crete, and her abandonment on Naxos — and so they became the backbones of our show. Ariadne Rediviva is a complete story, following Ariadne’s life from beginning to end. To tell the story, we have a narration of an epic poem that Marta wrote herself, combined with video projections of dance and art, alternating with music to illustrate each different episode. It is all put together so that you are drawn into Ariande’s mythological world from the moment the show starts. You surrender your sense of time to the flow of the story.

Who wrote the music? 
In addition to the two pieces I mentioned above, by R. Murray Schafer and Franck Villard, we have also programed selections from Debussy’s Épigraphes Antiques. Otherwise, the rest of the program consists of new pieces we commissioned to complete the show, from French composers Stéphane Delplace and Damien Luce, American composer Roger W. Petersen, and the show’s grand finale by Caroline Lizotte, from Quebec.

When was (will it be) premiered?
The official premier will be in Sydney, Australia, at the World Harp Congress next month. From the show’s inception (two years ago!), we have always been aiming for the WHC as the moment to introduce Ariadne Rediviva to the world. We will be playing at the Sydney Dance Café on Thursday evening—July 24th, 8:30pm—as a special Harplounge event. Admission is free! Don’t miss it!

In preparation for Australia, we just did a pre-premier of the show at Camac’s Scène Ouverte in Paris last week, and it was a huge success. We are so excited to have created a show unlike anything we’ve ever done before. It has more dimensions than a normal harp recital, and it is extremely rewarding to perform.

What’s your long-term vision for the Atlantic Harp Duo? 
After the World Harp Congress, we are planning to take Ariadne Rediviva on tour and also to record it.

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About Author

Kimberly Rowe is co-founder of Harp Column and served as Editor of the print edition from 1993–2013. She now serves as Web Editor. Kimberly performs and teaches in the mid-Atlantic region of the US. She is co-founder of the Young Artist's Harp Seminar, and on the faculty at Temple University, in Philadelphia.

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