Bach is the most versatile of composers. You can play his music in lush orchestral style, on steel band or jazzed up with a rhythm bass, as well as on the Baroque instruments Bach was used to. No matter which, it sounds great.
Another instrument joined that Bach list on Friday night: the modern harp. Winner of many prestigious awards, the young harpist Bridget Kibbey has made her name with adventurous forays into repertoire never dreamed of for her instrument. If Bach had had a modern harp at his disposal he might well have written for it, but the Baroque harp had few of the attributes of today’s instrument which have made it possible for Kibbey to arrange his harpsichord and even organ music for her own use.
She appeared with a New York-based Baroque ensemble, the Sebastians, on the Emerald City Music series in the back room at Kakao coffee house in South Lake Union. This venue, with its high curved wooden ceiling and concrete floor, has excellent acoustics for chamber music and it’s an added pleasure that the musicians are close to every member of the audience. Kibbey arranged this all-Bach program for the instruments available, just as Bach himself did.
She opened with the great organ Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. Instead of a couple of keyboards, plenty of stops and a pedalboard, she had her own two hands. The harp has no individual dampers, and there is quite a long tone decay after each string is plucked; every note appeared to be surrounded by an aura of tone colors, though individual musical lines came out with emphasis and expression where intended. When Kibbey was playing many notes fast, the harmonies in the lowest registers of the harp could sound a little blurred, but it all seemed part of the general effect of this very different instrument on the music.
Kibbey played every note of this majestic work, every run and chord, and at brisk Baroque tempi (sometimes it seemed she played runs at warp speed just because she could). It gave a fresh face to the familiar music, and the result was extraordinary.
The next unforeseen pleasure was the juxtaposed timbres of the two different kinds of stringed instruments. The four Sebastians—Daniel Lee and Nicholas DiEugenio, violins; Kyle Miller, viola; and Ezra Seltzer cello—joined her for two harpsichord concertos, in F Minor, BWV 1056 and A Major, BWV 1055. The combination worked beautifully.
The rest of the program included Kibbey playing two excerpts from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1, the Prelude No. 1 in C Major and the Fugue No. 1 in C Minor; with Lee, the Sonata for flute and harpsichord in E-Flat Major, BWV 1031; with DiEugenio, the Sonata for violin and harpsichord in G Minor BWV 1020; with both of them and Selzer the Trio Sonata in G minor, BWV1039 (originally for two flutes).
Emerald City Music, in its first season as presenters, is already making a name for itself with fresh approaches to chamber music in an area of the city not known for classical music performance. It has two more concerts this spring: April 14 and May 26, with repeats in Tacoma or Olympia.