The Los Angeles Harptette, a group of four exceptionally talented harpists including Pomona College’s very own harp instructor, Mary Dropkin, performed at Bridges Hall of Music on Feb. 20. Audience members filed in to see four looming harps standing alone on stage, illuminated to emphasize their ethereal beauty. The four harpists entered and immediately sat down at their instruments, each regarding his or her own with a definitive reverence.
In perfect synchronization, the players placed their hands on the strings and, with the calculated grace of dancers, began to play. The first piecewas “Passacaglia” by George Handel. It was everything that one might expect to hear from the harpists—delicate, moving, otherworldly. The audience sat in perfect silence, immersed in the feeling of the song. Though the piece is best known as a duet for violin and viola written after the turn of the 18th century, the Harptette undoubtedly did it justice.
The next piece was “Recuerdos de la Alhambra,” (1896) by Francisco Tárrega more than a century later. It was a departure from the light, whimsical nature of the previous song.
“I felt a darkness listening to it,” Motasem Salamah PO ’19 said. “Throughout the concert there was movement. The first half of the concert felt like a story, and the second was kind of like a sampler of familiar songs in a way that I’d never heard them before.”
The piece after that, called “Obelisk,” did have roots in storytelling. It was described by the musicians as “a three-movement work that uses ancient modes and harp effects to depict the music and mythology of Ancient Egypt … striving for… an evocation of various moods in the piece’s three sections.”
The next two pieces were “En Bateau” by Claude Debussy and “La Ragazza” (1988) by Bernard Andres.
“On the program it says that the pieces all came from different countries and time periods, but they fit together beautifully,” murmured an audience member to her companion. After the fourth and final movement of “La Ragazza” was over, the musicians exited the stage to thunderous applause, only to re-enter a moment later.
Dropkin stepped forward and addressed the audience: “Now, we would like to play for you a selection of pieces that I’m sure you all will know.” She smiled warmly, and she and her cohorts settled back into their seats. The first piece they played was Camille Saint-Saëns' “Danse Macabre”—foreboding and dramatic, as it traditionally is, but colored with whimsy by the harps. Next, “The Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber elicited sighs and smiles from the audience, the familiar tune bringing nostalgic smiles to a few faces. Then, “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, written by Harold Arlen, “The Sound of Music Medley” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, and “Can-Can” from Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach.
The final song prompted a standing ovation from the audience.