Local harp star Heidi Krutzen puts strings to the solstice

After Heidi Krutzen’s Couloir duo appearance at the Music on Main concert, she jets off for London

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      Heidi Krutzen’s big Christmas present came early: a contract naming the Vancouver musician as the new principal harpist of London, England’s Philharmonia Orchestra. But what initially looks like a loss for local music might soon prove a boon, as Krutzen explains in a telephone interview from her Kitsilano digs.

      “Vancouver’s my home, so I’ll be keeping a harp here, and I think I’ll be back and forth fairly often,” she says. “But one of the numerous things that I’m very excited about with this new transition is that it’s going to provide a wonderful, more international platform to share all of the amazing Canadian music that is going on in our country. We have some of the most incredible composers here, and I’m a big champion of new music, so I’m really looking forward to sharing Canadian music on an even larger stage.”

      There’s obvious spinoff potential, too, for Krutzen’s three Vancouver groups: the Krutzen/McGhee Duo, Trio Verlaine, and Couloir, her innovative duo with cellist Ariel Barnes. Local listeners will get a chance to hear that last unit one more time before its distaff half jets off to a bigger spotlight, with the charismatic duo being one of the featured acts in Music on Main’s annual Music for the Winter Solstice concert. And, true to the mandate that Krutzen is taking with her to London, the focus will be on new works by living composers.

      Couloir’s program was still being set at press time; among the possibilities is music from Caroline Shaw, MoM’s composer in residence. (Shaw herself will be in attendance, singing, playing violin, and leading an audience sing-along of her “Winter Carol”.) Definitely in the cards, however, is James Beckwith Maxwell’s Serere, originally written as a dance score for Ballet Kelowna.

      “Serere means ‘to join, to link, or to bind together’. And that connects to Couloir in different ways,” Krutzen says of the electroacoustic composition. “We’re interested in working with different media, and with different types of artists, and also within the music we’re trying to create there’s that whole notion of joining and linking and binding together.

      “It’s a piece that needs to be experienced, and it’s sort of a journey,” she continues. “It’s really hard to describe, actually, because it has so many different aspects to it, from extremely peaceful and serene to extremely lyrical and sad—at times Ari almost sounds like a cantor—to extremely rhythmic and aggressive. At times, it even has more of an alternative kind of feel to it. James and I actually go way back: we’ve known each other since high school, when he was the drummer in a band, and so that’s one of the many influences in his music. It covers a huge scope.”

      Two versions of Serere—acoustic and electroacoustic—will feature on Couloir’s next CD, along with Dark Sisters composer Nico Muhly’s Clear Music. And although distance is soon to separate the duo’s partners, their sonic bond seems strong.

      “The feedback on the duo is always that the soundworlds we create are just limitless,” Krutzen notes. “And we’re so excited by that that we just keep finding new things and exploring new depths. For example, with one of our commissions last year, by the wonderful [Newfoundland-based] composer Andrew Staniland, the character word at the top of the piece says ‘Metallica’. We were like, ‘Right on!’ It’s so much fun to play that kind of music, because it really throws the idea of cello and harp on its head,” she continues. “I mean, we do a few transcriptions—Debussy and that kind of thing—that are a little more mainstream, but we’re really trying to find a whole new language, and a new way of moving our instruments forward.”

      Couloir performs at Heritage Hall on Friday (December 11), as part of Music on Main’s Music for the Winter Solstice. For more information, visit the Music On Main website.