Vesper Concert Series’ Unlikely Trio: Viola, Flute, and Harp

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April 1st, 2017

Omaha, NE—The Vesper Concert Series will conclude its performance season this Sunday, April 2nd at 3:00pm with a harp trio, featuring Brian Sherwood on viola, Maria Harding on flute, and Kathleen Wychulis on harp.

Debussy is credited as the inventor of the less-than-common combination of instruments, Sherwood said. Towards the end of his life, the French composer sought to discover new and innovative musical arrangements.

Brian Sherwood 

(photo courtesy of Vesper Concerts)

Sherwood described the harp trio as, “a really unusual collection of timbres for these instruments to be paired together. They’re all very different in their own rights, but they all have threads that complement each other sonically.

“So the flute and viola, for instance can very successfully play very lyrical passages together and weave in and out of each other’s color,” Sherwood explained. “The harp has a very warm wooden sound in addition to the kind of sparkliness of the strings itself, so it pairs nicely with this somewhat metallic sound of a flute singing sweetly but also the deep rich tones of the viola. So it’s kind of a little bit like rock paper scissors. Each one has something to do with the other, and they are different in certain ways but also very alike in others.”

The composers that will be featured in Sunday’s performance, Jacques Bondon, Debussy, and Benjamin Britten, wrote in the 20th Century. The latter two composers hearken back to older times and musical traditions in their harp trios, forming a theme that Vesper Concerts described as “looking back to move forward.

Sherwood explained the history behind Debussy’s Sonata for harp trio, what he called the headlining piece of the concert.

“This was written in 1915, so right in the middle of World War One in Paris. So it’s a very turbulent time, and a lot of French composers began this kind of practice—almost an imagination of aristocrats at play is a common thing. You have a lot of songs written with that as the subject matter, and it’s basically looking back to a time where things were a little simpler calmer and people could delight in the smaller pleasures of life, and I think some of the texture of this reflects that. It’s almost an ancient sound in a lot of ways, almost primordial when you compare it to some of the lush Romantic music at the time in the early twentieth century.”

Sherwood described the unique challenges that came with performing these pieces with such a unique ensemble.

“Well the Debussy,like a lot of French music, it’s not always totally obvious how the phrasing is supposed to be structured,” Sherwood said. “I think music in a lot of ways reflects the syntax and structure of the language that it’s written in. So French music sounds very flowing like you would listen to a French person just kind of murmur along a sentence, and it’s all very lyrical whereas maybe German music tends to be very cut and dry with very clear arrivals. So this French music is very lyrical and flows sometimes in ways that you might not think, so that creates interesting challenges when you’re putting together the ensemble because you really have to become of like mind when deciding how to move the piece along and where to phrase to and what are the most important arrival points.

Sherwood, Harding, and Wychulis will perform the final Vesper Concerts of the season on Sunday, April 2nd at 3:00pm at the Presbyterian Church of the Cross. All Vesper Concerts are free of charge. For more information, visit VesperConcerts.org.

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