"A superb collection of brand new repertoire for harp duo exceptionally well played."
Duo Scorpio: Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade, harps. American Modern Recordings, 2017
It’s architecture as music; two neighboring bridges—the Manhattan and Brooklyn—singing to and harmonizing with one other, their suspension cables acting like some massive strings on oversized harps. That is the premise of the title work by Andy Akiho, “Two Bridges,” a piece full of wild extended techniques and surprisingly ethereal colors on the latest release of newly-commissioned works for one of the finest harp duos in the industry, Duo Scorpio.
Is it the fact of their birthdays being not only in the same year and same month, but on the same day that seems to align these two highly gifted musicians? Or perhaps it’s their deeply sincere dedication to their mission, to draw attention to this area of the harp repertoire that seems to be, as of yet, a road less traveled. What a harp duo is not is simply more harp; it’s an expansion on a theme, an exponential blossoming of what’s possible. More important artistically is to somehow fully take on each other’s sound, rhythm, expression, their very reason for making music and make it one another’s own. It’s in this alchemy that the miracle of Duo Scorpio happens.
Kathryn (Kate) Andrews and Kristi Shade met while studying at the Manhattan School with Susan Jolles. They exhausted all the duo repertoire and quickly turned to the uncharted territory of living composers, winning a coup with their first of many grants in 2011 from the American Harp Society. This led them to Paul Patterson and his “Scorpion Tales” and a Grammy nomination. In this disc, Patterson returns with a variation on the theme in “Scorpions.” Taking the dates of their birthdays as numbers to assign notes, he uses the melody it creates to tangle the two Scorpio harpists in a battle for primacy, but one intricately interwoven. The two rise to the technical challenge, telling their story with a graceful ferocity.
Chistopher Diertz chooses a star in the constellation Scorpio called Antaras as his inspiration. Called the “Rival to Mars” it’s a luminous and distant giant. The duo rocks out on its rhythmic glissandi and knocking. Ferdinando DeSena makes the best argument for a harp duo in “Harp Dances” with alternate tunings that add to the scale of this riveting work. In Giovanni Piacentini’s “Magnetic,” the duo pulls apart and is less ‘as one’ mimicking the inevitable gravitational pull towards harmonizing. Duo Scorpio casts a spell and draws you towards them, seemingly with no effort.
I find myself returning again and again to the delicately off-beat insouciance of Nico Muhly’s “Fast Dances.” Filled with a nostalgic longing, like a mid-summer’s rain, it’s the pauses that give the music such poetry and direction. Duo Scorpio’s sound is warm, soothing, and invites your mind to wander to a favorite moment of solitude and stillness.
A superb collection of brand new repertoire for harp duo exceptionally well played. This album is a journey of discovery worth taking.