By Joy Atkinson
A piece of avant-garde harp music that featured eerie special effects and a long solo cadenza was the central piece at Saturday’s “Heavenly Inspirations” performance by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra at G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel.
The New York Philharmonic’s Nancy Allen performed the neo-expressionist “Harp Concerto” by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. Allen made extensive use of harp harmonics, a technique by which one produces a chime-like sound on one string.
“The concert was terrific,” Allen said. “The orchestra was magnificent, and they were challenged by this work of Ginastera, which is very difficult rhythmically.”
Conductor Jordan Tang said the unfamiliarity of the piece added to its difficulty.
“The harp concerto, for example, is unknown to most of the players, and it is difficult in itself,” Tang said. “So when you couple unknown and difficult, it makes [the piece] tough to put together, and we had limited rehearsal time, but it went off very well.”
Commissioned in 1956, the “Harp Concerto” features advanced instrumental techniques through three distinctly sounding movements.
The first movement excites the audience with its percussive rhythm. The second movement has a more mysterious feel, while the third movement following the cadenza is influenced by the Argentine malambo dance competition.
The orchestra only rehearsed twice with Allen before the concert. Allen, who entered the chapel wearing a floor-length, crimson sleeveless gown, said her experience with the Jackson Symphony was not much different than that with the Philharmonic.
“We work on a very fast pace, a very fast schedule in New York,” she said. “Here we did all this in two days, so it really was quite considerably the same.”
During rehearsals, Allen made suggestions to the orchestra players.
“[Allen’s] a wonderful person, and she’s a lot of fun,” said Union sophomore and symphony violinist Paige Tang. “She was really easy to work with, which is great to have for a soloist.”
In addition to her work with the Philharmonic, Allen performs regularly with The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. She also plays worldwide while heading the harp departments of The Juilliard School, Yale School of Music, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. She also has been nominated for a Grammy Award.
Dr. David McClune, professor of music and clarinet player for the Jackson Symphony, said the concert was an opportunity to sit 20 feet from a world-class musician.
“She is a soloist that’s one of the best on the planet,” McClune said. “Rarely do we get someone on our campus on her level in her field.”
Playing with Allen enhanced the orchestra’s performance, said professor of music Terry McRoberts, who played the pipe organ during the concert.
“It is always good to perform with artists of stature because they give you good musical ideas,” McRoberts said. “When you perform with wonderful musicians, it lifts up your level of performance.”
The day before the concert, Allen taught a master class for harp instructor Carol McClune’s students from all over the South. Sophomore music major and harpist Vicki Searl sat in on the class to watch Allen share her knowledge.
“One of the things she emphasized in her master class on Friday was making every note beautiful,” Searl said. “She has a very high attention to detail.”
After observing Allen’s class, Searl attended to concert to watch her play.
“It was a joy to listen to her,” she said. “I really loved her energy.”
Other students also said they enjoyed the chance to listen to someone who is so renowned in the music world.
“I really wanted to hear Nancy Allen because I thought it was really cool she was here,” said freshman Melissa Hardman, an applied linguistics and music major.
Hardman, along with the entire audience, gave Allen a standing ovation as she concluded her piece and was presented with flowers.
“I thought she was extremely impressive, especially towards the end,” said freshman undecided major Jenny Main. “Her fingers moved so fast.”
The orchestra also played Camille Saint-Saens’ “Symphony No. 3 in C Minor,” also known as the “Organ” Symphony, which starred McRoberts and Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov’s “Procession of the Nobles.”