Jeremy HerigstadSpecial to the Free Press

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February 21, 2013
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Don't harp on my 'best kept secret'

Ordinarily a "best kept secret" article exposes a virtually unknown happening in the Grand Valley. This piece tips that concept a bit to shed light on an often overlooked orchestral instrument.While large in stature, the harp does not typically have the chance to shine independent of the orchestra, and in all honestly this writer did not see the appeal of the harp until recently.In the early planning stages of the current Grand Junction Symphony concert season, Music Director Kirk Gustafson approached principal harpist Elise Helmke about a contemporary harp piece he had discovered titled "Baroque Flamenco" by Deborah Henson-Conant. The piece was soon discovered to be the third movement in a concerto for harp and orchestra titled "Soando en Espaol," which was then programmed for this coming March 5 in a concert of all American composers.When Helmke takes the stage on Tuesday, March 5, to perform "Soando en Espaol" with the Grand Junction Symphony, it will be the first performance by a harpist other than the composer. Because of the fact, Helmke, Henson-Conant and the Grand Junction Symphony have been working very closely together to prepare the concerto. A major obstacle lied in the actual notation of the concerto because each movement is played without pause and connected by improvisatory interludes."I improvise a lot of the piece when I play it," said composer Henson-Conant, "something I can't expect other harp soloists to do. Every note and subtlety is written out for all the other instruments in the orchestra, but the harp part has big areas where I've notated only chords and slashes in the music, which tells me what to do, but gives her (Helmke) no clue." An interesting and entertaining blog has been published and constantly updated by the composer over the last few months regarding her creative process and working with Elise. You can find the blog at by searching for the post "Soando Today."This concerto masterfully showcases the harp as a beautifully complex and versatile instrument and it only took this writer five years of working with the Grand Junction Symphony to realize that fact. Don't wait another minute to hear the harp as you have never heard it before and make plans to attend the concert. Special thanks to Karen Combs for her continued support of the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra.Editor's note: Stay tuned to next week's article for a continuation of this story and a discussion with harpist Elise Helmke about her preparation for the March 5 concert.Herigstad is the marketing director for the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra.

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 21, 2013 03:48PM Published Feb 21, 2013 03:47PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.