This is an exciting post for me and marks a milestone for Tuxedo Revolt. Over the course of the next year, I’m featuring dozens of performing artists who take a fresh perspective on the performing arts in ways that are both slightly irreverent, but completely relevant. This is the first profile, of many, where I am privileged to introduce to you some of the amazing artists and organizations I have discovered that uphold the core values of the Tuxedo Revolt. Can I get a drumroll please..
Meet Duo Scorpio. Here’s what you should know about this ensemble at a glance.
Who: Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade, Harpists extraordinaire.
What: A harp duo that blows apart whatever you might think a harp duo is. These two professionals are in full control of every element of their work. Their mission is clear, and their drive for excellence is undeniable.
Where: Based in New York City
When: Established 2010
Why: When asked why they wanted to create a harp duo, Kathryn and Kristi said this:
“We were motivated to create Duo Scorpio because of the lack of original music for harp duo. We knew of a few pieces out there and really enjoyed them, but wanted to see more. We want to grow this repertoire for other harpists as well as for the classical music community in general. By bringing the harp and the harp duo into a new generation, we break barriers and end pre-conceived notions about the harp.
As for our specific duo and the two of us coming together, we were motivated by our shared passion, our similarities (not just the fact that we were born on the exact same day!) and our drive. We love playing in chamber settings, but love that the harp duo is able to fully showcase, feature and explore the harp’s capabilities.”
“Exploring the harp’s capabilities” is their modest way of saying breaking the stereotypes associated with the harp, blowing past many conceptions associated with classical music in general and utterly defying the conventional wisdom that a harp duo could survive, let alone thrive in the current climate of the performing arts.
If you want to learn more about the dynamic repertoire choices and new music that Duo Scorpio champions, you should check out their newly released album Scorpion Tales. This record features a newly commissioned work by composer Robert Paterson as well as other mind-bending works written specifically for harp duo. The commission and collaboration with Paterson was partially funded through a grant from the American Harp Society.
Duo Scorpio and the Tuxedo Revolt Ideals:
I sat down with Kristi and Kathryn a few days ago to dig a little deeper into their creative processes and their beliefs about the performing arts. I was intrigued to know if they thought about every element of performance as much as I do, that is to say, did they feel a responsibility to their art form to progress and advance it? At what point in their equation of success did consideration of the audience enter? Was it from the beginning concept or somewhere along the way? Here’s what they had to say.
In your opinion, what can performers do to enhance the audience’s experience?
“We think the most important thing they can do is connect. The audience needs to feel they are a part of an experience and need to feel your passion. The programming needs to make sense and needs to be exciting. Making it feel approachable and less like a stuffy classical performance. If you speak to your audience, you should explain and communicate without talking down to them.”
In what ways does Duo Scorpio make connections with your audience?
“We definitely try to make it an experience for the audience as well, not just for us on stage. We want them to feel the music as we do, and not just sit and listen. Speaking about and describing the pieces really makes a difference. We introduce each piece by speaking about the composer, the musical themes or story and also our connection to the piece. Since we either commission or work very closely with each composer (currently, all of our repertoire is by living composers), we have a real connection with each piece.”
“We also describe and demonstrate many of the effects used in harp writing. The harp remains a mystery to many so we try to make them aware of the sounds they are going to hear, as well as what specifically we have to do to achieve or create them.”
“Lastly, we share the story of our duo as well as our mission and passion to increase this repertoire and bring the harp duo into the 21st century. We hope this is interesting to people and gives them a sense of a connectivity to our group.”
The longer we discussed the mission of Duo Scorpio, two themes became increasingly apparent. Authenticity and Relevance rose to the forefront of the conversation again and again. Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade are completely aware of the importance these two themes in their professional lives and creative work. For them, it’s just not enough to put on black gowns and play transcriptions of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite in art galleries and recital halls.
You can tell by talking to them, from the light in their eyes and the willingness to share their work with me that establishing a connection with the audience to, the music, to the instruments, and to themselves is just as important as being able to play this challenging music with flawless technique.
Duo Scorpio doesn’t just want you to listen then applaud them; they want you to understand that through their music, they have something to offer you. They can bend your perceptions, they can even transport you, or make you forget time altogether. I know this firsthand from watching them in live performance and confirming what I felt with other audience members.
From their unique choices in repertoire, to eclectic venues, to the high-end fashion photography used on their new album Scorpion Tales, to the casual dialogue with audiences at performances, to the sincerity and excellence with which they perform– Duo Scorpio fully accepts the responsibility that music is only one piece of the puzzle and that to be not only successful, but truly authentic, they must take ownership in every single aspect of all they do.
You can visit www.duoscorpio.comto learn more about Duo Scorpio’s upcoming performances and to hear some of their amazing music. Their next performance will be:
Nov. 11, 2012 | Culturefix | 7pm | 9 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002
Stay tuned for more artist profiles coming your way,
- Duo Scorpio: Relevant, Hip…and Harps! (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
- The Secret World of Musicians: How to Open Up to Your Audience (tuxedorevoltblog.wordpress.com)
The image of the harp, or the Modern Pedal Harp, as we know it today, may bring to mind thoughts of angels in the clouds and the movement of celestial bodies across the sky. As syrupy sweet as these images are, they were blown to bits and pieces last Tuesday night (Oct. 17, 2012) when Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade of Duo Scorpio proved that the harp is much more than just pretty. They convinced both the audience and me that the harp could be ethereal, but also rhythmic, percussive, intense and defiant.
When I was asked to review a harp duo concert on a Tuesday night, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. But, I’ve always been fascinated by the instrument and so went to the address listed on my ticket, while keeping an open mind. I found the building and was directed to a little secret back door—from then on I was totally transported.
The venue was a wonderfully intimate bar/lounge that made me think of what speakeasy’s must have been like in the roaring 20’s. This was the 2nd Floor on Clinton Lounge run by gentleman Tony Powe. There were low plush banquettes divided by louvered screens that were perfect for secret conversations or romantic meetings. I was calmed by the casual and comforting clink of ice cubes in glasses at the small but polished antique bar and I found myself waxing poetically somewhere between Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey. Candles flickered on low tables and there were chairs and sofas centered around the “stage” space. The small venue could only hold about 25-30 people, but this was its best feature. Intimate as it was, it provided a close up and personal encounter with the two enormous harps that dominated the performance space and the performers who would play them. From the moment I walked in, I could only think of one word, one theme for the entire evening. That word is intrigue. Every aspect of the experience was full intrigue.
The crowd slowly trickled through doors in a casual way. Drinks were served, the lights were dim and everyone relaxed. The concert began. Katie and Kristi wasted no time and jumped right in. Within seconds, the looming harps were alive, pedals moving and their hands flew across the nearly 100 strings shared between them. They worked their craft with great intricacy. The Duo played with acute sensitivity and what seemed to be telepathic communication. Through their excellent technique and authentic performance, they were able to work a small miracle. For as long as the music lasted, Kristi and Kathryn were able make the music become a tangible and living thing. It was captivating and ephemeral at the same time. You felt as if you’d glimpsed something you’d never known had existed, and then it was gone—but you longed for just one more glimpse, one more second, so that you might experience it again.
The most fascinating part of the performance? No transcriptions, no orchestra reductions, or piano adaptations—the program was all modern contemporary music written specifically for harp duo. In the case or Robert Paterson’s Scorpion Tales, the music was written for Duo Scorpio. This is at the core of Duo Scorpio’s mission, to increase the repertoire written for harp duo, and to promote it. But what interests me most is the Tuxedo Revolt notion that it is not enough to promote new music alone, but to do it in a way that makes a real connection to the audience. The audience of last Tuesday night wasn’t just connected… Duo Scorpio pulled them to the very edge of their seats.