The third concert in the 2013-14 Smedes Parlor Concert Series, St. Mary's School presented a wonderful concert of harp and flute duets. The accomplished musicians, Vonda Darr and Mary Boone, performed together beautifully. Vonda Darr, who plays regularly throughout the Southeast, is the principal harpist of the Symphony Orchestra Augusta (Georgia), and the second harpist for the North Carolina Symphony. Mary Boone is assistant principal flute in the North Carolina Symphony and teaches flute at North Carolina State University. She has also performed with many other orchestras and at festivals around the country.
Inspired by the tango, "Bordel 1900," by the modern Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla, was first to be performed. It begins with a flourishing flute melody, accompanied by a syncopated rhythm in the harp. Interestingly, Darr punctuated her rhythm with knocks on the body of her harp. This added to the unexpected yet playful patterns in the music. Both musicians showcased their excellent control, Boone with rapid staccato notes on the flute, and Darr with the difficult mastery of spot-on rhythm on the harp.
Two selections from Melodies of Japan. by the contemporary Japanese composer Teruyuki Noda, were perhaps the highlight of the program. Before performing the pieces, the two musicians explained that Melodies was originally written for the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument with 13 strings. To replicate the koto, Vonda only used the corresponding 13 strings on her harp. The first piece, "Shikararete" ("Scolded Child"), has an open and airy sound. The folk-like melody was played on the flute while the harp strummed open intervals with a recurring rhythmic motive. Both instruments alternated playing fragments of the melody, leading them to rise and fall in volume. As a whole, the music was very calming, beautiful, and pastoral. "Sato-no-aki" ("Autumn in the Home Country") was performed next; it begins with a high and delicate ostinato pattern from the harp that resembles the sound of a flowing brook. As the piece went on, graceful sweeps of the harp strings were heard, adding depth to the sound. The flute's melody sounded somewhat like storytelling, accompanied by gentle melodies in the harp.
In the second half of the program, the duo performed a variety of pieces, including the adventurous and lilting "Lughnasa" ("Gaelic Feast"), and the calmly mournful "The Fog is Lifting." Then, they played instrumental arrangements of two Gershwin pieces, a great contrast from the previous selections. The classic songs "S'Wonderful" and "Someone to Watch over Me" were successfully played in a jazz style, showing the performers' ability to adapt to different genres of music. It was a delight to hear familiar tunes played in such an unexpected way.
"Taheke," by the New Zealand composer Gareth Farr, concluded the concert. "Taheke" is the Maori word for "waterfall"; each of the three movements of this piece was inspired by a different New Zealand waterfall. The first movement reflected the famous Huka Falls, a narrow and powerful waterfall fed by a seemingly gentle river. The movement begins gently and meandering but grows more complex in rhythm and tone to represent the great power of the waterfall. The movement ends calmly on a unison note. After the peaceful yet mysterious middle movement, inspired by a small waterfall in the composer's backyard, the sparkling third movement is a great contrast. Written on Whangarei Falls, the movement features complex rhythms intertwining together – a difficult feat that was made to look easy by the two musicians. The piece concluded climactically with a dramatic flourish.