Canadian harpist Erica Goodman has seen her share of concert stages (and you’ve probably caught her over the years on our own stage at Hamilton Place). A professional performer in her teens, Erica played under the baton of Igor Stravinsky when he recorded in Toronto and, as a university student, was a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. She’s played onstage with music greats like Tony Bennett and Henry Mancini, and won a JUNO in 1995 for her album of Canadian harp music, which featured the piece From the Eastern Gate by Canadian composer Alexina Louie.
Commissioned by Erica Goodman, with the support of the Ontario Arts Council, From the Eastern Gate is a rich and virtuosic piece for solo harp. “Alexina is very interested in her Chinese heritage. So most of her work is connected with it in some way,” says Goodman. Traditional Chinese music is often performed on plucked or bowed stringed instruments and Louie imitates these Chinese plucked instruments, like the guzheng, by experimenting with unique and interesting techniques on the harp.
So how does Louie use the classical harp to create the sounds of the Far East? “Everything [Alexina did] has meaning and makes interesting sounds and sonorities,” says Goodman. “She even uses ordinary techniques in just a beautiful way. [For example] the use of harmonics, that’s where we divide the string in half, creates a kind of bell like sound…It has some very loud, powerful spots, but at the same time some extremely delicate ones, too.”
Louie also wrote for Erica to use unique and extended techniques that you wouldn’t normally find in harp music. “Some of the effects are that we have to take a metal tuning key and vibrate it between two strings. That gives a very Oriental feel. She also bends strings, which creates a very Oriental sounding effect,” says Goodman.
From the Eastern Gate is divided into six movements with a musical Haiku interspersed between each movement: Ceremonial Music, Haiku I, On Importance, Haiku II, Birds at the Mountain Temple, Haiku III and The Mandarins. In the second movement, Louie took inspiration from the poem “On Impermanence” by ancient Japanese poet Dogen.
We asked Erica how she thinks audiences will react to this distinctive solo performance. Here’s what she had to say: “They’re going to be feeling a whole gamut of emotions. I’m hoping they’re going to be feeling the power of the loud sections, which are kind of like a Chinese dragon dance. I hope that the gentleness of ‘Birds at the Mountain Temple’ is going to create a mood of peace and introspection…and repose. Even the places where you just listen to sound evaporate, I hope are inspirational as far as restfulness and meditation. To me it has a very wonderful palette of colour – emotional colour, as well. And I think it’s really a wonderful exploration of the harp as an orchestra unto itself, which is the way I like to look at the instrument itself. My love for it, that way, in the colours and the scope of it, I hope will transmit to the audience.”
Listen to harpist Erica Goodman in her beautiful performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Op. 78 Sicilienne: