Last night we were treated to something extraordinary from the Ann Arbor Symphony. Of course that isn’t a surprise because every performance the symphony gives is extraordinary. But this truly was music meant for feisty angels.
Those of us in the audience were treated to the Concerto for Harp and Orchestra, Op 25 composed by Alberto Ginastera. If you’ve never heard it you’re in for a surprise. I, for one, didn’t know a harp could make the sounds that musician Primor Sluchin produced on the beautiful instrument.
She told us, in the pre concert lecture, that we probably thought harp music was something soft and gentle, something you’d find on clouds. And then she proceeded to demonstrate a few of the techniques she’d be using in the piece that evening, which included rapping her knuckles rhythmically on instrument, and plucking the middle of strings for a sound almost like a gong.
And who thinks to pair a huge percussion section comprised of 28 different instruments with a harp? Composer Ginastera did. The whole piece is amazing, influenced by Argentine music and with a contemporary feel, it requires the musicians to remain focused and concentrating on counting. There is no room for relaxation, either by the musicians or the audience, especially in the third movement.
The intense third movement gives you a feel for how different the piece is. Ginastera was commissioned in 1956 to write it, and he didn’t finish it until the end of 1964, saying it was a most challenging piece to write. Guest artist Sluchin said it was very challenging to play as well, and that her whole body would hurt by the time she was done. After listening Saturday night I imagine her physical pain is something like a marathon runner’s — the body hurts, but in such a very satisfying way.
Listen to the third movement yourself. In this video link you’ll get a birds-eye view of the harp, the percussion, and the rest of an orchestra. It’s not Ann Arbor, but it will give you a good idea of how it felt to listen and watch the piece. It’s about seven and a half minutes long. If you’re short on time start listening at minute 3 because that’s when things really get jumping. I think you’ll be just as amazed as we were, and though the artist in the video is not the beautiful, talented and incredible musician we saw, you’ll probably be on your feet applauding at the end.
Just like we were Saturday night.
So once again, thank you Ann Arbor Symphony, thank you for a wonderful evening of inspiring music and soul filling joy. I know you know how wonderful it was. I saw the smiles on your faces, the head tilts, the relaxed shoulders, the bodies leaning forward as Primor Sluchin played her encore, a sweet and gentle harp piece that showed the softer side of the instrument. You were all as mesmerized as we were out in the audience.
I guess we all got the same gift last night. And it was big enough to share.