What even is a glass harmonica?
In all my years of schooling, performing, and working within the classical music industry, this was one instrument I had never experienced. With its name suggesting a mystical and ethereal characteristic, I was intrigued...
While looking for my next event to blog on, I came across Ars Lyrica’s season opener
Sweet Philomela at Zilkha Hall – Hobby Center, Friday, September 22nd at 7:30pm.
Ars Lyrica’s Executive Director, Kinga Ferguson, invited me to their dress rehearsal Friday morning, giving me an exclusive first look behind the scenes.
Before my adventure with Sweet Philomela began, I felt that I needed to get some background information on the glass harmonica, as this was a featured part of the program. What was I up against here? Perhaps, it was the encroaching fall season that was upon us (if you can even call the weather we have here in Houston “fall”) but I couldn’t help imagining an instrument that evoked a chilling connotation, right out of a horror film, fit for Halloween. To my surprise, the glass harmonica is not even close to that depiction. It is in fact quite a lovely instrument, with a sweet sound that can give chills to even the most doubtful listener.
Here is a bit more background on this unique invention:
“Franklin's new invention premiered in early 1762, played by Marianne Davies—a well known musician in London who learned to play Franklin's new invention. Initially Franklin named it the 'glassychord', but soon settled on 'armonica' as the name for his new invention—after the Italian word for harmony "armonia". Apparently Franklin built a second instrument for Ms. Davies, as she toured Europe with hers, while Franklin returned to Philadelphia with his own.
The armonica made quite a hit, particularly in Germany. Mozart was introduced to it by Franz Mesmer, who used his to 'mesmerize' his patients, and later Mozart wrote two works for it (a solo armonica piece, and a larger quintet for armonica, flute, oboe, viola and cello). Beethoven also wrote a little piece for amonica and narrator (!), and many of their colleagues of the day composed for it as well—some 200 pieces for armonica (solo, or with other instruments) survive from that era.”
As I continued to read on about this otherworldly instrument, my excitement for Sweet Philomela grew and soon I found myself seated in Zilkha Hall, with the musicians of Ars Lyrica tuning.
When the concert begins we are introduced to singer Sherezade Panthaki who effortlessly masters the Handel air
As we continue on through the first section of Handel excerpts, we are greeted with the virtuosic sounds of the Ars Lyrica baroque orchestra, favored by many in the city. As a feature of Sweet Philomela, the organization has brought in guest concertmaster Elizabeth Blumenstock. And they are led by Ars Lyrica Artistic Director and Conductor, Matthew Dirst.
The illustrious Handel section ends with the Air: “Sweet Bird” in which the soprano and flute trill in unison. Highlighting the virtuosic and playful nature of Handel’s music expertly.
However, what awaits me next is the introduction of the Glass Harmonica, with Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K. 356. As the piece begins, we are left in suspense while the Glass Harmonica player and guest artist, Dennis James, pauses before his entrance. And then it happens. The magic of the glass harmonica is utilized quite effectively in Mozart’s adagio. James plays the instrument with ease, providing not only beautiful music, but an entertaining performance.
Throughout the rest of the program we experience a whirl of emotions and sounds but above all else, the beautiful music that is the Ars Lyrica baroque orchestra.
In creating this season, Ars Lyrica was inspired by the Artful Women found internationally throughout the music world and beyond. Moreover, Ars Lyrica found that we have a strong contingent of Artful women – in their own regards – right here in Houston, TX. For their season opener, they chose to honor Jano Nixon Kelley, who is known for philanthropic work throughout the Houston Arts & Performing Arts community.
To read more about how you too can be a part of this celebration: http://www.arslyricahouston.org/artful-women-honorees-2017-2018/
As Philanthropy has become an increasingly important part of our city this year, Ars Lyrica’s season theme of “Artful Women” can be seen as an endeavor all can appreciate.
You didn't think I'd leave you without a cocktail recipe, now did you?
The Sweet Philomela
1 part dry gin
2 parts Champagne
1 part pomegranate juice
½ part simple syrup
Combine gin, champagne, juice, simple syrup, and ice in a shaker.
Put a Handel concerto on the speakers, shake to the beat of the music, pour and enjoy like a true brit. would!
Until next time, i'll catch y'all for cocktails at intermission!