Tuning In at Local Music Fund: Trios for Flute, Viola and Harp (Feb. 18)

Performers George Pope (flute), Lisa Whitfield (viola), and Emily Laurence (harp)

Last Thursday at 7:00 pm, Local 4 Music Fund hosted another performance in their “Tuning In” series, this time featuring George Pope, flute, Lisa Whitfield, viola, and Emily Laurence, harp. Live-streamed from the Pilgrim United Church of Christ, the ensemble performed several trio, duet, and solo works during an hour and fifteen minute program.

The concert featured excellent performances from all the players. In particular, Pope’s solo performance of Valerie Coleman’s Danza de la Mariposa was striking for its rich use of articulation, colorful play with timbre, and use of various extended techniques. Subtle shifts in the flute’s tone color translated clearly and effectively via the livestream. This was even more impressive given that Pope performed the entire concert wearing a mask, a seemingly uncomfortable physical feat. 

The two duets, Joseph Bologne’s Sonata for Harp with Flute in E-flat and William Ferris’ Lux Aeterna, a Meditation for flute and viola, offered the audience further insight into each performer’s dexterity and musicianship. Each player stood out for their expressive performance. Bologne’s piece was particularly successful because of the constant communication between Laurence and Pope, who performed the Classical-era work with a well-suited airy but precise touch. Pope and Whitfield’s performance of Lux Aeterna was also memorable, but felt slightly less organic. The distance imposed between players due to the pandemic disrupted the musical homogeneity, both in expression and technical clarity. Unfortunately, in this piece, the recording setup favored the viola more than the flute.

Above featuring the classic and most famous trio by Claude Debussy, the ensemble showcased works by lesser known composers: Haitian-American Sydney Guillaume, born in 1982, and early 20th-century composer Arnold Bax. These pieces are less recognized in the canon of classical chamber music, and the decision to highlight these works made the concert more compelling.

Despite the exciting programming, the pandemic dictated certain measures, such as playing at safer tempos and limiting collective expressivity, to offset the challenge of performing with such distance between each player. Disruptions in homogeneous rhythm and intonation also diminished the overall quality of performance. 

Unfortunately, there were also balance problems due to the miking setup. The harp was too prominent against the viola and flute, clouding the overall musical distinction between foreground and background. 

Individual performances by Pope, Whitfield and Laurence were skillful and presented an acute musicality honed over years of training. Despite technical issues, the creative programming of exciting, lesser known pieces for flute, viola and harp made the concert memorable. This makes us even more eager to return to live performances, hopefully in the near future.

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