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

Unfriending Facebook

the break-up

A couple of minutes ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. Because this is such a ubiquitous and easy method of communication, I want to say that you can still reach me. It’ll just be a bit more difficult now. And maybe that will make our interactions a bit more valuable. We’ll see.

My coordinates are:

P.O. Box 2074
Erie, PA 16512-2074
+1 814.882.9464 v
+1 708.850.9464 f

Twitter: @JohnChacona

AIM: drimedawa

Skype: john_chacona

FaceTime: johnchacona [at] gmail [dot] com

R.I.P. George Russell

Jazz Workshop

The news of George Russell’s passing sent me to my LP stacks for my 1962 reissue (jazz reissues in 1962!) of The Jazz Workshop. The original was released in 1957, a year some regard as the apogee of the music. This record doesn’t have the cachet of Mingus’ tectonic Tijuana Moods, Miles Davis’ Miles Ahead or even Max Roach’s Jazz in 3/4 Time, all of which were released that year, but it was just as predictive of the music’s future direction.

Like Mingus, Russell loved polyphony and formal exploration, though the busily interwoven lines of Russell’s “Round Johnny Rondo,” owe more to West Coast cool and Bach than they do to Mingus’ roots in trad jazz and Ellington. Russell and Miles frequented Gil Evans basement, and Workshop employed players from Miles’ past (altoist Hal McKusick) and future (Bill Evans). And it’s worthwhile to remember that Russell was a drummer (he plays wooden drums on one cut of The Jazz Workshop) who was bumped from the chair in Benny Carter’s band by no less than Roach himself.

George Russell’s greatest contribution to jazz (to music, really; his influence is broader than that) is his Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, a theory I couldn’t hope to explain even if I understood it (I don’t). Needless to say that Russell opened doors to harmony that giants would stride through giants named Davis, Coltrane and Evans. Russell spent many of his mature years in Scandinavia, far from the jazz spotlight, but he belongs in its glow, even though he’s no longer around to enjoy it.