Imagine that you have spent 7 years studying with one of the greatest living harpists and haven’t ever had the opportunity to hear them play a full recital. I have had the honor of hearing Kathleen Bride play many times, especially while I was a student at Eastman. I was there for a performance with the Erie Symphony Orchestra when she performed Debussy and Ravel on the same program; I saw her perform the Saint-Saëns “Fantasie for Violin and Harp” with violinist Lynn Blakeslee; I’ve seen her featured multiple times as soloist, and guest artist; and just like her teacher before her (Marcel Grandjany) she believes that one of the most important and significant tools a teacher has is an instrument – she was always playing, singing and dancing in my lessons during my time at Eastman in an effort to push me to emote and express myself through my music.
After studying with this amazing performer for 7 years (4 for my undergrad, and 3 for my doctoral degree) the one piece I had always wanted to hear her perform was the Grandjany “Rhapsodie.” Truly her signature piece, the “Rhapsodie” is one of my favorites and was the first piece that I found a significant emotional connection with. Tonight I had the honor of hearing Ms. Bride perform this work live… and what an honor tonight was.
When I heard that Ms. Bride would be coming down to Orlando to be a featured artist for the Central Florida AHS Chapter summer festival I knew that there was no question that I would make the drive from Miami. A few days after I made the decision that I would be attending the recital/festival I received an email from Ms. Bride asking if I would be willing to perform Grandjany’s “Aria in a Classic Style” for 3 harps at the end of her program… omg… I’ve known her for more than 13 years but I still couldn’t help having a slight fan-girl moment at the idea of performing with the woman who has been so many things to me over the years.
I could write a novel on all of the ways Ms. Bride has helped shape me as a musician and person; without her I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I am eternally grateful that I had the opportunity to spend so much time studying under her; but instead, I’ll give you a run down of the recital.
The program opened with “Rhapsodie,” of course. After a glistening performance Ms. Bride shared information about the intention for this piece of music. Written in 1921 this piece was meant to present the harp as a significant solo instrument. At this time in Paris harpists were everywhere, but no one was giving solo harp recitals. It was the thought of many that the harp was not a strong enough instrument to carry a full recital, and Grandjany aimed to change that idea with this work.
The 3 light dances from “Le Trésor d’Orphée” were a lovely contrast to the opening symphonic sound. The “Bransles” will be stuck in my head for the rest of the weekend. With these pieces Ms. Bride aimed to present the audience with a totally different sound and style, which she achieved beautifully.
Other than the “Rhapsodie” I was most looking forward to hearing the next piece. Two movements from a larger unpublished work by Grandjany titled “Le Belle au Bois Dormant” (Sleeping Beauty), they are both short and sweet. Each movement begins with a fanfare following by an extremely charming dance. The 3 minutes of music that this work covered were both engaging and delightful.
What can be said about the Handel concerto? I learned this piece in my freshman year at Eastman, and I can vividly remember the look on Ms. Bride’s face during my first lesson on the piece (shock… horror… offense at my obviously unstudied interpretation). She comes to this piece with a different perspective than most through extreme dynamic contrast and a slightly slower tempo for the first movement. Her interpretation was charming, extremely clean, and directional, ever moving toward cadence points.
The 3 Spanish transcriptions by Marcel Grandjany made for another lovely contrast to the rest of the program. I especially loved her performance of “El Viejo Castillo Moro,” a piece that needs no other reason for existing other than how Ms. Bride introduced it: “I just love this piece.”
The final work on the program was the “Aria in a Classic Style” for 3 harps, as mentioned above. I learned this piece for my senior recital as a harp duo (after hearing Ms. Bride’s recording with organist Jon Gillock with another of my fantastic and wonderful teachers, Barbara Chapman, and have always found this piece to unbearably beautiful. Having the opportunity to perform in the trio with Ms. Bride, and local student harpist Deborah Wendt (Harp performance major at UCF) was such an honor.
The turn out for the concert was really impressive, and speaks to all the hard work of the festival coordinators and volunteers. There were even a few harp celebrities in the audience!! Of course there was Jan Jennings, who I was beyond excited to meet and who has worked tirelessly along with the rest of the chapter to put this weekend together. One of my favorite parts of the evening was having the opportunity to meet Ms. Roslyn Rensch! I shook her hand, introduced myself and told her how instrumental she was in the preparation for my doctoral oral exams (if you haven’t read “Harps and Harpists” do so immediately). With Ms. Rensch was Meko, a harpists whose work I have admired through facebook for years!!
Tonight was an experience that I will never forget. Having the opportunity to not only see Ms. Bride perform, but to perform beside her was such an honor!! Thank you to the Central Florida AHS Chapter and to everyone who came to the concert and made it such a successful event!! Tomorrow Ms. Bride will be giving 2 workshops, as well as a masterclass, and Sunday brings the 25+ instrument harp ensemble concert!!
If you ever have the opportunity to see Kathleen Bride perform do not let it pass you by!! She is an artist in every sense of the word and her music will inspire, motive, and captivate you, as it has and always will for me.
Did you attend the recital? Share your thoughts below!