Important Message- This is my first piece in six weeks since I was diagnosed with auto-immune disease, IBD and mercury poisoning after the worst year of my life. My health and energy collapsed a year ago after I experienced an allergic reaction to the Covid vaccine. I am now under the expert medical care of a kind, and remarkable consultant and functional doctor who specialises in the gentle restoration of humans. Three weeks ago I couldn't do a thing. Now I am very much on the mend and would love your support. Get ready for many more features, interviews and magazine happenings in the months to come. Oh, and please share the heck out of the magazine. I will also be sharing what happened to me in a new edition of the disastrously fab column shortly. Love AJ xxx.
Reader, during my very scary and all too fresh health crisis, it was the arts that came to my rescue, especially the harp, which let's face it couldn't be more transportive or cooler, given that Devi, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, the sassiest A student nerd of Netflix's Never Have I Ever, plays the harp and this ancient, beautiful instrument takes pride of place in the family sitting room lending the house a singular, distinctive air of magic, accomplishment and supergirl powers.
The Power of Metamorphosis
So, months ago, I was invited by Vaguely Sunny to review harpists Pippa Reid-Foster and Eva Alkula at the Ventnor Fringe Festival in July/August 2022 and nothing was going to stop me from wallowing in the idea of the metamorphosis of this dynamic duo from the shores of Loch Lomond (Pippa) to Helsinki (Eva). Together, they are creating a multi-dimensional sound with two harps which goes far beyond the idea of exquisitely rarefied salon music to a place that is far more desolate, exciting and daring.
Are you ready for the harp reinvented as an instrument that can be as beautiful as it is revolutionary and a vehicle for exploring important and challenging topics from the climate crisis and the melting of the Arctic to sudden personal setbacks, fear and loss to the beauty of flight and the ethereal motion of clouds?
Then come with me reader on a magic harp ride...
I do enjoy reviewing concerts in our ancient churches and cathedrals. The acoustics are ideal for rock 'n' roll gigs and rocking harp concerts! St Catherine's Church, built in 1837 has just such acoustics.
From the moment Pippa began to play her sensuous, classical Scottish harp and Eva joined her on the kantele, Finland's national instrument, an elegant and compact harp with a dash of Scandi minimalism it was clear that the concert would be original, experimental and far removed from the kind of pretty playing reserved for concerts for Prince Charles.
As I quickly learned, the harp can be as experimental, daring and electrifying as a guitar solo by Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix or Bonny Raitt or as dreamlike as a film composition by Stuart Earl. The performance was so polished that it was remarkable that Pippa and Ava had started performing in concert together just a month before their captivating concert at St Catherine's Church.
Hands Flyin in Unison
With Eva dressed in elegant, minimalist black and Pippa in a free-flowing skirt and top with her playful glitter platform trainers just peaking out, (an impulse buy during a trip to Australia) their hands flew across their instruments as they created a multi-dimensional sound that moved seamlessly from delicate, lyrical interludes to fierce affecting storytelling that cries out to be used for film scores.
The evening's repertoire included original compositions by Pippa and favourite pieces by Philip Glass and Japanese composer Tomoya Nakai. A piece called Ash exuded a sense of drama, mystery and daring. This isn't pretty music, it's thrilling music. Other pieces explored plastic in the oceans, flight, cloud formations, creation and the heartbreak of injury and obstacles.
In 2019, Pippa injured her wrist and was told she might never play the harp again. The sense of chaos, uncertainty and fragility is distilled in the piece about loss with every note of fear, struggle and joy plucked as free-falling notes.
Each artist took it in turn to play solo pieces and it was exciting to hear Eva demonstrate the versatility of the kantele in subtle, intricate pieces that explore motion and time with complex, mystical playing.
Fresh from the International Harp Festival in Cardiff, Pippa and Eva's collaboration has been well received and they are now planning to record their first album together. I can't wait to see where their symbiotic collaboration takes them.
Oh, and maybe they should give Devi a call and pop up in California to stage a concert at Sherman Oakes High with John McEnroe to pluck the hell out of that racket he kept as a spare during the year he beat the iceman of tennis, Bjorn Borg.
Or maybe he would love to play the harp too?
Alison Jane Reid - August 2022.
To find out more about the featured artists, visit their websites
Watch Series 1-3 of Never Have I Ever on Netflix
The Ventnor Fringe Will Return summer 2023
The Next Isle of Wight International Harp Festival takes place between October 28th and November 1st 2022
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