Harpist Bridget Kibbey is currently creating another household name for harpists as we speak. Having just come off of a short series of shows at LPR titled Music Box where she performed a compelling recital of commissioned solo harp pieces, she has even more shows on the horizon and a forthcoming CD that features a special guest (As far as letting us know who that guest is, it’s top secret information; She wouldn’t even say what instrument they play).
Bridget took the time to speak with me via Skype.
CM: How did you get started and what led you to harp specifically?
BK: I started taking Suzuki piano lessons at the age of 3, and my siblings and I were always practicing piano. After school there was always someone practicing trumpet or piano. Later on, I started taking oboe lessons because I wanted to play in the orchestra at school. One day my family was attending church, and [during the service] a woman was playing the harp (It was Jan Bishop), and I was just mesmerized by it. At that time, I was 9, and I started taking harp lessons with her. What made it really fun is that this woman was a great teacher, but also really generous. She would take me and her daughter on these 10 hour road trips to Wisconsin to go to harp conferences. If there was a masterclass within 12 hours, she would drive us, and we would stay in a hotel, and it was really exciting for me! I got to take lessons with these amazing harpists! So I really owe so much to Jan–She was actually at the second Music Box show [at LPR], and I was so thrilled she was able to make it!
I went on this tour with the Blue Lake International Youth Symphony Orchestra, and I was supposed to go just to play principal harp, but, what happened was the 2nd oboist ran away from home right before the tour, and the conductor found out I played oboe, and said “Would you play some etudes over the phone?”, so I played some excerpts, and some etudes, and he said “You got the job!”. I would literally run back and forth and play 2nd oboe and run back and play principal harp on the same concert, and as you can imagine I just loved it, because, here I got to play a Beethoven Symphony, then I got to go back and play [the Tchaikovsky] Romeo and Juliet’s beautiful harp part, and then go back and play oboe on some overture. I was in my glory, and I realized, I was going to Europe the first time, I was 13, and I was just loving the whole lifestyle. I thought ‘I don’t care what it takes, I don’t care how much hard work I have to do, I want to be a musician, I love this life’, and I’m sure traveling to Europe didn’t hurt either.
So, I started practicing the harp 4 hours a day, because the next summer I went to Interlochen and met Lynne Aspnes, who was at that time the head of the harp department and also the string department at University of Michigan. She was an incredible teacher, and my parents were very generous and drove me 2 hours one way, so, that’s a 4 hour commute twice a month to have a really long lesson with her, and she really prepared me for my conservatory auditions.
CM: Who were the giants of the harp that you really got into?
BK: I had a lot of role models growing up. One of them was Judy Loman, and I just really admired the diversity of her career, as well as just having met her and seeing that she had a family life, and just a rich personal life, and I thought to myself ‘Wow, here’s a woman who has a great career and has a family too!’, and I was just blown away by that. She was the principal harpist of the Toronto Symphony for many years, and she played lots of pieces on the radio in Canada! There’s also Nancy Allen, whom I ended up studying with at Juilliard for 6 years. Her recordings always blew me away. She’s the cleanest harpist, most consummate musician and incredible transcriber. Her baroque recordings are my absolute favorites, and both she and Judy are the most generous people I have worked with.
Rameau: L’Egyptienne (Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, 1/26/10)
CM: Somebody had tweeted after one of the Music Box LPR shows that you are the “Jimi Hendrix of harp”! What are your thoughts?
CM: How have you come to know the best repertoire by now, and who are your favorite composers now you have been working with?
BK: The truth is at my heart and at my core, I am in love with the classics for the harp. I think what makes the harp inherently special is the way pieces were originally written for it–Debussy and Ravel, they really exploited the natural colors of the harp, and I think that the composers and the collaborations I have most enjoyed are those composers who are able to hear the capabilities that are within the idiomatic range of the harp. I love standard techniques, but what really intrigues me more is working with a clever composer who’s able to reinvent the wheel within that idiomatic way of traditionally playing the harp, and I think that’s why I’m drawn to folk music. There’s so many incredible composers these days that use that as a springboard, but I think there’s some modern composers that I just adore, because they understand the inherent qualities of harp, it’s wide color-range, dynamic capability, and it’s literal range, as far as octaves and the fact that it’s just a wide pitch range, and for me, those composers would be Sebastian Currier, Kati Agocs and David Bruce.
Sebastian’s been writing for the harp for a number of years, and he’s definitely a colorist! I really put him in the same ranks as Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy. And David Bruce is also a modern colorist who is able to dapple in different world cultures, almost like he’s able to put on one language or another, much like Ravel did, yet maintaining his own distinct voice and exploiting the unique color capability of the harp, so, I really enjoy collaborating with him. He’s a great orchestrator, and Kati would also be put in that same category as well. Both David and Kati are young composers, but they get the harp, they instinctually get the harp, and I think also through our collaboration and passages back and forth, they’ve really learned to speak the language of the instrument and take full advantage of unique resonance of the harp. Initially, that’s really why I chose the instrument. I just fell in love with the way the harp resonates and the way we get to control how long the harp’s strings resonate or how they resonate purely by nature of my fingertips. The first composer harp collaboration I had was with Kati–She wrote this piece called Every Lover Is a Warrior (from my CD Love Is Come Again), and each movement explores a folk tune from France, Hungary and Appalachia. The way that she’s able to bring across bluegrass on the harp, it’s just stunning! The way she’s able to weave Hungarian melodies like a modern-day Bartok–I just find her music so compelling, and completely doable on the harp at the same time, and I think it’s that combination of being rooted in the tradition of great harp playing, yet exploring the sonic and color possibilities of the harp that that’s the kind of music I’m drawn to. Sometimes when I hear myself coined as a “new music harpist”, I love it, but I’m also like “Well, I’m a traditionalist too!”. I really enjoy performing the range of repertoire. I’m just a fan of great music. [laughs]
Kati Agocs: John Riley (From Every Lover Is a Warrior; Brooks Center for The Performing Arts, 1/26/10)
CM: And the piece by composer Du Yun?
BK: It was really fun to tap into the ICE family! Du Yun is such an artist, and I think she created the most progressive (as far as extended techniques) piece on the Music Box project, and the way she hears the sounds of the harp is incredible. She tapped into the metal sounds of the pedal discs against the strings–She really took that to another level, and I think that it was really powerful for the audience. I was curious how they would react to it, and they loved it. I think it was really kind of a powerful theatre piece, compared to the more idiomatic traditional writing that existed in the other works, so it was really a lovely compliment to have her on the program!
CM: Can you talk about your own music that you worked on? One of the pieces was played at the LPR show.
BK: The first set that I did was a compilation of hymns–I actually just did that at the 2nd show, and then I ended the program with a set of celtic reels that I arranged. I’d been to one international celtic festival, the Festival Interceltique de Lorient. We danced the night away doing this incredible celtic dancing with 300 French Bretons, and I was really mesmerized how everyone in town knew these dance steps, and every time the reel would change or the music would change, their dance steps would change, and they knew exactly which dance went with which type of music. Doing these circle dances I felt such joy and a sense of community. I was really drawn to it, and that was really the inspiration for creating Music Box, because I kind of had this feeling of whimsy or nostalgia, like ‘Oh my gosh, look at these cultures, they’re still rooted to the folk music of their people’, and I thought ‘I’m living in NYC, I’m surrounded by the most diverse crowd I could ever ask for, why not put together some of my favorite composers that were born in other countries who immigrated to the states and showcase their cultures through the harp?’. So, that’s what I did.
As far as composing extended pieces vs. other composers, the bar is high, but, you know I find, I’ve been doing a lot of world music recently, playing with different artists, and I think that improvising on certain scales has really opened me up to the idea of writing more, it’s definitely a goal of mine that I’d like to explore more.Bridget Kibbey: Temple House/Mountain Road (Music Video directed by Sean Greene)
Bridget’s official website