In performance: American Youth Harp Ensemble
Teen harpists show their pluck
by Charles T. Downey
The desperate concert-goer in the summer months may consider a performance that at other times of the year might not seem worthwhile, and that can be a good thing. One might be among the fifty or so intrepid audience members who discovered the American Youth Harp Ensemble, which played a concert at the Austrian Embassy on Wednesday night.
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Based in Richmond, this touring ensemble of ten teenage harpists (and one versatile percussionist) is the most visible component of a program of music education, youth mentorship, and volunteer service created by Lynnelle Ediger-Kordzaia, a harpist and former public school music teacher. The background story provided the feel-good part of the evening, listening to talented kids who had absorbed so clearly the lessons of commitment, diligent practice, and self-discipline that music can teach. One of the musicians, Ian McVoy, even celebrated just having completed eighth grade by taking a solo turn in a piece he arranged himself for the ensemble.
The harp may seem the least likely instrument to be the basis of an entire music education program, and it was just as improbable that one could enjoy an entire concert of music played by ten harpists of any age. Happily, the ensemble played with crisp and unified articulation, a musical sense of phrasing, and pleasing variation of dynamics and tone. Clever arrangements of Bach’s sinfonia from Cantata No. 29, a Handel passacaglia (from one of the keyboard suites), and Franck’s haunting “Prelude, Fugue, and Variation” were the best selections; two African-rock fusion pieces by harpist and composer Monika Stadler provided the Austrian connection. If a few too many selections of the Beatles and jazz variety grew slightly tedious, it was a summer evening, after all.
--Charles T. Downey
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