Previewing the Erie Chamber Orchestra’s April 19 concert

Kathleen Bride

In the popular imagination, the harp is associated with winged celestial musicians or with mute, curly-haired film comics. Most people just don’t take it terribly seriously.

The French are an exception. The modern concert harp was perfected in France and found champions among French composers. Two of them, Debussy and Ravel, will be featured on tomorrow night’s program by the Erie Chamber Orchestra with soloist Kathleen Bride.

She’ll play Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances” and Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, the latter in an arrangement for string octet, clarinet and flute. The reduced instrumentation of the latter piece provides a theme of sorts for this eighth concert in the Chamber Orchestra’s series of free concerts. And Orchestra executive director Steve Weiser is a fan.

“Of all the concerts this season, I’ve been looking forward to this the most,” Weiser said. “It’s music a chamber orchestra seldom gets to play.”

That music also includes Debussy’s orchestral ballet score “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” in an arrangement attributed to the Viennese composer Arnold Schoenberg, and the original version of American composer Aaron Copland’s iconic “Appalachian Spring” ballet, written for an ensemble of 13 players.

“I remember the first time I heard the Copland at Aspen, and it blew my mind,” Weiser said, and with good reason. The ballet’s program, which portrays a wedding day in rural Pennsylvania, is evoked with stunning clarity in the reduced instrumentation. You can almost smell the morning breeze in Copland’s airy textures. Clarity is also a hallmark of the Debussy arrangement, one of the few (Ravel’s of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” is another), to improve on the original work.

“Faun” will provide a busman’s holiday of sorts for Bruce Gingrich, who is Minister of Worship and Music at First United Methodist Church, where the concert will be held. He’ll play an instrument with an intriguing history. It is a harmonium, a kind of pump organ that was purchased for $100 from a consignment store, and restored by Erie’s Organ Supply Industries. The piece’s crucial piano part will be played by Claudia Hoca, keyboard principal of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, who will return to Erie next fall as the soloist for the ECO’s October concert.

Mozart’s miniature Divertimento in F, K. 138, written for a small string orchestra when the boy genius was all of 16, begins the program. It’s juvenilia to be sure, but like the harp, it’s music from heaven.

The Erie Chamber Orchestra, with harpist Kathleen Bride, will perform a program of music by Mozart, Debussy, Ravel and Copland tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 707 Sassafras Street. The concert is free and open to the public. For more information on The Erie Chamber Orchestra visit www.gannon.edu/Visitors-and-Community/Area-Attractions/Erie-Chamber-Orchestra/.