Music Box: Old Songs, New Voices

March 4, 2012 10:14 pm 0 comments

Harpist Bridget Kibbey had a concept for a concert: to celebrate the diverse and colorful cultures that make up the American musical fabric. She commissioned pieces from composers born in other countries who now live in the United States, asking them to draw inspiration from traditional folksongs that they listened and danced to growing up.

Bridget Kibbey performing at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

Composers included Kati Agocs (Canada), Kinan Azmeh (Syria), David Bruce (Venezuela), Susie Ibarra (the Philippines), Bridget Kibbey (Ireland), Paquito d’Rivera (Cuba), Ricardo Romaniero (Brazil), and Du Yun (China). Music Box was the result: two sold-out nights of intimate and engaging world premieres at (Le) Poisson Rouge.

The concert was the kickoff of Metropolis Ensemble’s new Resident Artist Series, musical and social gatherings featuring core ensemble artists as solo instrumentalists in creative collaborations with composers from all genres. The series is supported by the generosity of June Wu and the June Wu Artists Fund.

Bridget took a packed house at LPR on a world tour; there was a little bit of everything, from electronic club beats and Cuban bandeneon lyricism to Chinese sleeve dancing. Composer David Bruce commented, “I didn’t for one second think, ‘This is a solo harp recital’; it was like an amazing colorful journey through some extraordinary, impossible worlds.”

Audience members were likewise impressed by the range of sounds that could come from the harp. One member of the audience noted, “The folk song background gives an interesting framework to understand contemporary music. It’s a good pathway to new music because you can listen for familiar tunes in the music, and meanwhile everything sounds so beautiful.”

Another audience member had never heard a harp player perform new music before, and liked that Bridget posed a “challenge” to the composers and enjoyed hearing what each one created in response. Composer Kati Agocs, whose piece Northern Lights features three folk songs from different regions of Canada, described how she responded to this particular commission:

“Part of the challenge of writing Northern Lights was to take something that one knows extremely well—the folk songs on which the piece is based are as familiar to me as breathing—to hear its pure essence and to mine it for new resonances. This required shedding all of my prior associations, focusing on the folk songs’ intrinsic beauty, amplifying and dialoguing with that.”

Watch Bridget perform Kati Agocs’ Northern Lights:

Bridget mentioned that one great thing about commissioning all of these pieces is that these new works start making appearances in all the competition circuits and recitals. It really contributes to the harp repertoire in a big way.

Besides being extraordinarily talented and boundlessly creative, Bridget was so charming with the audience, bantering with composers and playing emcee between pieces, telling entertaining side stories to accompany different pieces. As Metropolis composer Timo Andres in the audience commented, “Bridget is so charming in a very non-New York way,” which, of course, should be taken as a compliment.

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