This intimate occasion was really the induction of harpist Bridget Kibbey into the Camerata family as their newest principal artist. Kibbey, in fact, programmed the evening in a rare harp showcase concert that balanced solo works with pieces for a small ensemble. Only two other Camerata regulars were on hand: director and principal flutist Adrian Spence and principal violist Richard Yongjae O’Neill. Sparse instrumentation was offset by a broad palette of offerings that included J.S. Bach, Benjamin Britten, and a mixture of internationally spiced contemporary compositions. An Avery Fisher career grant-winning harpist, Kibbey has done much to wrestle her instrument away from angels and lullabies — and the momentum of this program never lulled, with a Cuban- and Latin-influenced finish that was music to dance (not snooze) by.
There was no easing into this marathon (harp was featured in all nine of the evening’s selections); Kibbey launched off the starting block with her own arrangement of Bach’s monumental Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Purged of pipe-organ spookiness, the work acquires entirely new character on the strings of the harp: The drama and counterpoint took on a glass-like delicacy, and yet Kibbey wielded forceful bass strikes at key moments and an unrelenting rhythmic drive. It was a no-nonsense, no-holds-barred blast of virtuosity that did not beg audience attention but snatched it up with sheer gumption. Tribute dutifully paid to the baroque master, Kibbey was then joined by O’Neill for Britten’s Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland. Ten short variations act as preludes rather than reexaminations of the song, which is only delivered last, answering with satisfaction the earlier fragments and strands.
Canadian-American composer Katy Agócs’s Northern Lights is a newly commissioned work from Kibbey’s upcoming tour and album titled The Bridge Project, which celebrates international threads in American culture. Northern Lights ignites with sharp dissonances, moving through a fluty warm melody in the second movement; a Newfoundland folk song comes third, followed by an emotionally complex setting of the “Huron Carol.” The fifth movement swells, then trails off in a rapidly glittering auroral arpeggio.
Camerata added another world premiere to its portfolio treasury with a gift from Irish composer Ian Wilson. Inspired by the Himalayan visions of poet Tony Curtis, Three Songs of Home for trio was an evening highlight characterized by spaciousness, spare melodic figures, repetition, and mystery.
However charming, Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major for flute and harp was a program misfit between the Wilson and the Latin-Cuban works that followed. The forced air system in the hall seemed to agree: A comic interruption prevailed as Kibbey’s sheet music adamantly refused to stay on the right page. Bandoneon by Cuban-born woodwind player Paquito D’Rivera, another work from The Bridge Project, sways a steady tango underneath sweeping melodic lines of dazzling chromatic color. Venezuelan Joropo-inspired pieces by David Bruce followed. And for an edge-of-the-seat finish, Kibbey sang a jazz vocalise accompaniment to the cumbia El Pescador by Colombian composer José Benito Barros.