Jeremy HerigstadSpecial to the Free Press

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February 28, 2013
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PART TWO: Don't harp on my 'best kept secret'

My 'best kept secret' story last week (Feb. 22 edition) alluded to the fact that Grand Junction Symphony Maestro Kirk Gustafson introduced the harp concerto "Soando en Espanol" to GJSO harpist Elise Helmke only a year ago. That statement is not entirely true. The discovery of the full harp concerto by Gustafson was news to Helmke even though she has been performing the third movement, "Baroque Flamenco," composed by Deborah Henson-Conant, since the 1990s. It seems destined for Helmke that she would debut "Soando en Espanol" with her home orchestra at Tuesday's 7:30 p.m. "American Portrait" concert presented by the symphony."I first met Henson-Conant at a workshop she gave in Denver when I was in high school in the late 1990s. She was showing us some of the techniques of the 'Baroque Flamenco.' She had multi-colored dreadlocks down to her waist, a mini-skirt, thigh-high black leather boots, a vibrant and fearless personality and obviously a talent for performance, which had me in awe, especially as a student at a Catholic, all-girls school. "Deborah told the story that 'Baroque Flamenco' started out as a solo when she was playing a gig for a brunch at a hotel, and hadn't learned to play the harp yet. She knew literally eight bars of this baroque piece and decided she would wing it for three hours. The result was 'Baroque Flamenco.'"I've played the solo version of this piece on and off throughout the years. In high school, my harp teacher put together a whole show with flamenco dancers and arranged it to have different parts for us to play at a harp conference in Tacoma, Wash." said Helmke."Last year Kirk asked me to think about some harp concerto for a possible future concert. I was really honored and came up with a list of slushy French harp music for him to consider. Then there was a Western Colorado Chorale concert where they asked me to play a solo. Even though it was a Christmas concert, I decided Spaniards celebrated Christmas and so this piece ('Baroque Flamenco') would work. Kirk was in the audience and liked it. After some research, we realized the third movement had a symphonic version. Then Kirk contacted Deborah regarding the part and we found out it was a whole concerto."The March 5 concert will mark the first performance of the concerto by a harpist other than the composer. Some big, thigh-high black leather boots to fill considering Helmke has looked up to Henson-Conant for the last 15 years or so. But Henson-Conant has complete confidence in Helmke's musical abilities.In Skype sessions over the last few months, Helmke played some newly written parts for Henson-Conant."She played the final movement which almost blew out the sound control on my computer. Ha! Yes! It's that passionate. I thought: She is going to give an incredible performance of this!" said Henson-Conant.If you have been on the fence about coming to a live symphonic concert, use this to make that leap. Well-known pieces by American composers Leonard Bernstein, George Gershwin and Charles Ives complement the Colorado premiere of "Soando en Espanol," performed by GJSO harpist Elise Helmke.

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The Post Independent Updated Feb 28, 2013 03:37PM Published Feb 28, 2013 03:35PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.