Astral presents harpist Bridget Kibbey
By David Patrick Stearns - Tue, Feb. 28, 2006
From the Philadelphia Inquirer
Back in the days of telephone party lines, I coexisted with a household that included a teenage harpist, allowing me to eavesdrop as she explained the instrument to her friends before phoning in a recital - literally.
Trivial as that sounds, such a chance harp encounter probably put me ahead of many who attended the Astral Artistic Services recital by harpist Bridget Kibbey on Sunday at the Trinity Center for Urban Life. Though derived from civilization's oldest instruments and the source of music's most ethereal sounds, the harp is unfairly perceived in the spirit of after-dinner mints - more a postscript to a musical experience than the real thing.
Kibbey is out to change that. She already has a freelance career as a New York Philharmonic substitute and is on the popular new Deutsche Grammophon disc of Osvaldo Golijov pieces, titled Ayre, accompanying no less than soprano Dawn Upshaw. Her recital program was an ambitious collection of almost-never-heard harp pieces by major composers, plus one world premiere - a sign of Kibbey's commitment to working with new composers to ensure that future pieces are well written for the instrument.
She began with Britten's 1969 Suite for Harp (Op. 83), which shows how much his sympathy for the instrument had progressed since his 1942 A Ceremony of Carols, a piece that gets harpists hired but leaves them complaining about the unidiomatic writing.
The suite is a gem. Britten explores the instrument's abilities to project equal simultaneous events, to accompany itself with ghostly, nocturnal ostinatos, and even to project a Latin, near-delirious ecstasy in the final movement, titled "Hymn." Kibbey's coloristic range laudably allowed her to chart the music's layers, and to give a spatial sense of foreground vs. background musical ideas.
However, both the Britten and Hindemith's 1939 Sonata for Harp, also on the program, are pieces about what the notes say, as opposed to the program's world premiere, Every Lover Is a Warrior, by the 30-year-old composer Kati Agócs, which is more about what the notes suggest.
The music itself is like a series of haiku poems, written with an economy that allowed room for the listener to contemplate a multiplicity of meaning as well as the subtle interruptions in symmetry that told you that nothing was what it seemed. With Kibbey's atmospheric range of articulation, the piece seemed as fine as any around it.
The biggest surprise was Bariolage, by Elliott Carter. The thorny surfaces in many Carter works aren't possible in a solo harp work, which makes this six-minute piece an excellent ambassador for the music of America's greatest composer. Like all of Carter's best works, this one takes you down a musical rabbit hole in a hectic, ceaseless rampage through uncharted places.