Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Harp Fest 2008: Review of Concert on 26 October 2008

Sunday (26 October 2008)
The Chamber, The Arts House
This review was published in The Straits Times on 30 October 2008.

It was a coincidence that one of the little gems of the Singapore arts calendar, the Harp Fest 08 (Singapore International Harp Festival), fell right in the midst of the blockbuster Singapore Sun Festival. Organised by Malaysia-born harpist Katryna Tan, recipient of the National Arts Council's Yong Artist Award, the closely-knit 3-day festival featured daily concerts, masterclasses and workshops, all held at the environs of Old Parliament House.

There is a small but growing harp-playing community in Singapore, mainly young women and their families, all of whom feasted on the riches on offer. The concerts included solo and double harp concertos by Katryna Tan and renowned French harpist Isabelle Moretti with The Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lim Yau, a jazz soiree and a chamber evening.

American harpist Lynne Aspnes anchored the chamber evening, first with solo works by the great French-American harpist Marcel Grandjany and Benjamin Britten. The word celestial comes to mind whenever the gentle sound of plucked strings caresses the ears, one where dissonances, harshness and stridency seem almost foreign. Grandjany's Rhapsodie is a beautifully impressionist canvas, sharing a similar sound world as Faure, Debussy and Ravel.

Those who know Britten's A Ceremony of Carols will appreciate his Suite Op.83, which sounds more accessible than imagined. Its five movements pique the ear, yet provides the harpist opportunities to display technical prowess and sensitivity. Aspnes gratefully reciprocated with an understated show of virtuosity.

Lynne Aspnes (Harp) with Cindy Yan (Violin)

The second half saw the harp as accompanist in three movements from Astor Piazzolla's History of the Tango and William Bolcom's Graceful Ghost Rag. In these, Aspnes' transcriptions from the guitar and piano ably supported violinist Cindy Yan's highly agile musings. One might have preferred the mellower flute in the Piazzolla but that was a minor issue.

Guest harpists Gulya Mashurova and Huang Yu Hsin, both locally-based, added a further touch of glamour in two duets by Isaac Albeniz and Bernard Andres. Their chemistry was infectious and the music resounded with scintillating brilliance. Despite the smallish attendance, this festival with its excellent programmes and role models in place will go a long way to boosting harp appreciation in Singapore.

No comments: