I've had the rare opportunity to perform a concert in an unusual combination of instrumentation this month: harp, violin and cello. What made this particular performance special was that it took place at Carnegie Hall in the beautiful Weill Recital Hall (my first performance in this legendary venue!). I had the great pleasure of performing with harpist June Han, a faculty member at the Yale School of Music and the Juilliard pre college division, as well as the extremely talented cellist James Jeonghwan Kim, a musician with a great mind, , spirit, and ear. None of us had heard of Renie's harp trio before we came together to rehearse the work, and so we were all thrown into the fascinating position of learning a piece from absolute scratch, a situation that seems to happen less and less frequently these days in my classical chamber music life.
This strange trio ended up giving us host of challenges. I had never performed with a harp before, and less could I have expected of the possibilities this instrumentation could provide in the way of ambitious "symphonic" chamber writing. Henriette Renié, a French harp virtuoso of the 19th and 20th century, had conceived of this trio to be performed either with a piano or a harp, and her compositional language had much of the Franck-inspired, and almost Straussian influence that invites the performer's imagination to believe they're performing a symphony filled with heroic sweeps and luscious textures and melodic styles ranging from the passionate and plaintive chanson to the rustic and burlesque. This obviously very ambitious work, which aimed for the epic and grandiose, even went as far as to give homage to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its final movement by briefly recapitulating each previous movements' themes!
So, with this task at hand, it was a very unique challenge to bring the work to life with the unusual combination of harp, violin, and cello. The challenge of balance was immediate from the first rehearsal: whereas with a piano, the violinist and cellist would sometimes worry about being drowned out by the sheer force or volume of sound coming from a nine foot Steinway, with the harp, we found we were overplaying and forced in the beginning to walk on eggshells. The delicate instrument of the harp is capable of creating the most beautiful washes of harmony and texture, but in terms of sheer volume in forte passages, James and I realized that we needed to search for a more suggestive forte less we over-dominate the balance. What resulted was, for me, a wonderfully rich experience and exploration of nuance throughout a piece which asked for a great deal of it. (Renie's markings were numerous and sometimes downright cryptic).
Perhaps what was most satisfying about experiencing this piece with my colleagues was the translation of our exploration of the work to the audience on stage at Weill. The hall was such an ideal place for such a work, and the audience that night seemed to have that open and adventurous spirit! I had so much fun!
I'm so thankful to have had the joy of meeting and working with June and James as well as to David Shifrin who provided me with this opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall with these wonderful musicians! There is that old riddle of how one gets to Carnegie Hall that we all know the answer to. I suppose that the follow up riddle is how does one return?