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A New York harpist trying to figure things out - and the mishaps and adventures that inevitably ensue.

Brittenpalooza, Lilac 94, and Why I Have Been So Lax About Writing In My Blog

Kathryn Sloat

I have been extremely lazy about writing in my blog. I apologize. But I promise, I have a good reason. I am going to try to catch up, in one post, on all of the things I have been meaning to write about. 

First off, the Brittenpalooza.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Britten. Consequently there are LOTS of concerts of his music being performed. By crazy random happenstance, both Eastman and SUNY Potsdam, where I went to college, were performing their big spring choral/orchestra work on the same weekend. And surprise, surprise - both of them were doing the Britten War Requiem. I went to the Eastman performance on Friday night, and then traveled to Potsdam for the Crane School of Music’s performance on Saturday night. 

Britten’s War Requiem was commissioned for the opening of the Coventry Cathedral (the original was destroyed in WWII) and premiered in 1962. The piece employs huge forces, including a full orchestra, a chamber orchestra, a large chorus, children’s chorus, and three vocal soloists. Yikes. Britten intertwines the Latin of the Catholic mass with the poetry of Wilfred Owen, a poet and soldier who fought and died in WWI. Britten was a lifelong pacifist, and this is one of his most important anti-war works. You can hear more about the piece from some of the Eastman performers here.

I asked both harpists, Hannah Chute (Eastman) and Mikaela Davis (Potsdam) what they thought of the harp part and the piece in general.

“The orchestra plays, and then it goes straight into chamber orchestra, so it’s kind of hard to make those transitions,” said Mikaela. She also compared it to Britten's Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, because “every instrument has a tiny solo.” A big harp part to watch out for, she says, is in the second movement. “It’s just triads in your left hand in weird meters. But the pedals are really crazy, it’s like, at least two pedals every beat. It gets kind of messy.” Mikaela also mentioned that the harp only plays with the chamber group, “Which is kind of nice, because then you can hear the harp." 

Hannah agreed that one of the most difficult parts is the triad section in the second movement. "There are some moments that are really difficult, and there’s a lot of enharmonic solutions. There are a few things that are rewritten, but it’s still very pedal-y.” Hannah also compared one glissando section to the fugue from the Young Person’s Guide

I also asked Hannah about some harp parts to listen for and she said, “I have a big solo part when the angel shows up. Which sort of irritates me. It’s really fun to play, I just really am annoyed that he thought ‘Oh, an angel! Let’s have a harp solo.’”

I asked both of them what they thought of Britten’s writing for the harp. “I really like the part for the War Requiem a lot,” said Mikaela. “It’s kind of easy, and when the harp is playing, usually the harp is heard." 

Hannah said, "The best part to play is the last three pages of the last movement. It’s very peaceful. It’s involved, but it’s not hard, so you just get to play, but you’re not really stressed.”

It was very interesting to hear the two different interpretations of the Requiem back to back. Both groups did an awesome job!

Second off, Lilac 94

I have been involved in a harp duo with my friend Christina for a couple of years now, and we recently decided to continue playing together after school. Our goal is to become a professional group and travel around performing together. One of our challenges has been to come up with a name. We wanted something that would reference Rochester, since that was where we got our start. After much deliberation, we came up with the name Lilac 94. Lilac is the flower of Rochester, and of course, we have 94 harp strings between the two of us. 

We gave a concert at my hometown church near Albany, and it was a blast. We played all our old favorites, including Bernard Andres’ Parvis and DyadesPorgy and Bess and Ravel's Mother Goose, as well as several folk songs. Many of my friends and family members showed up, as well as members of the church and my first harp teacher and a few of her students. We asked for donations to help us get started, and we raised over $500! We are so lucky to have such generous supporters!

We also got pictures taken by the lovely Melissa Zgouridi, who is a vocalist at Eastman as well as an expert photographer. We will be posting those on our Facebook page. 

And lastly, Why I have been So Lax About Writing In My Blog

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I GRADUATED!!!

And have been in a basically vegetative state since then. But now I have to wake up from the I’m-finished-with-my-master’s-degree-coma because I am now in Ohio playing for the Ohio Light Opera! Summer of musical theatre, here I come!