The Lake Placid Sinfonietta's July 20 concert was mostly about the harp, Martha Gallagher's "Orphan" harp in particular. Known as "The Adirondack Harpist," Gallagher, of Keene, brought her eclectic mix of musical influences to the second half of Sunday's concert at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
Under the theme of "Coming Home," Gallagher performed five pieces plus a four-movement premiere work of her own in which she slipped easily through a variety of styles to include bluesy swing, Celtic folk, traditional spiritual and Latin jazz.
She explained that a traditional concert harp is usually carved from a single piece of wood, but she got the idea for hers while visiting the Dusty Springs Harps workshop in Seattle where she noticed several stacks of unused pieces of different wood types. She convinced the makers to build her one of maple, black walnut and bubinga resulting in a unique product among harps.
She also explained that hers was like a piano without any black keys. Whereas a traditional concert harp would use pedals to change the tension of the strings to alter the pitches by a half step and thus make up for those missing notes, hers used a series of levers instead. She usually flipped them quickly in between notes, but sometimes she flipped them while the notes were ringing, producing a sound similar to a blues guitarist bending a string.
Her four-movement premiere, "The Orphan's Odyssey Suite for Lever Harp and Orchestra," arranged by Paul Siskind, was a musical tribute to her harp's birth and development.
Gallagher's musical background ranges from an orchestral flautist to lead singer in a rock band. Her whimsical and unabashed approach to the harp brought to mind that rare individual brave enough to hone her skills in college coffee houses on something other than a guitar.
The concert's first half featured lively works by Rossini and Bartok before concluding with Prokofiev's first symphony, a good choice for a closer given its youthful character and themes that are familiar yet not hackneyed.
While the Rossini piece ("La Cenerentola Overture") was written in 1817, the Bartok ("Romanian Folk Dances") and Prokofiev were written in 1917, the same year as the orchestra's birth. They were recorded live as part of the orchestra's centennial recording project of pieces composed that year as it gears up for its one hundredth anniversary in 2017.
The overall concert may have benefitted by either flipping the order of the first and second portions, or by just shortening the second half. Taking nothing away from Gallagher's extraordinary talents, the second portion in which she was featured, with its five individual pieces plus a four-movement work, seemed rather long as the orchestra spent much of the time just sitting and listening.
This Sunday's July 27 concert at the LPCA will feature works by Piston, Bach, Adams and Beethoven along with piano soloist Sara Davis Buechner performing Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major.
Sunday concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. while the Wednesday free concerts at Mid's Park begin at 7 p.m.