Dame Myra Hess May Day Concert Review - A Rare Lyrebird Duet Treat

Marry the sweet song of flute with the magical strumming of harp and you get Lyrebird, a Chicago-born musical ensemble that delivered a rare repertoire created for the harp/flute duet combination.    That the duet’s performance, so reminiscent of birds and magic, was delivered to us on a day that seemed to shout to all Chicagoans “SPRING IS HERE” made it all the sweeter.


Lyrebird Ensemble has two talented performers:  flutist Ellen Huntington and harpist Lillian Lau.  In addition to Lyrebird and many other gigs and academic positions the two each hold, they regularly collaborate in the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.  The duo shared that many of their choices for the program had to do with the magnificent Preston Bradley Hall space and how well it would show off their instruments.


Soft-spoken Huntington explains that they chose the first piece, “Rondoletto No. 2 on A Favorite Air by Rossini”, from Robert Nicolars-Charles Bochsa as a 19th century counterpoint to the rest of the program, which was 20th century compositions. 


Schaposhnikov is a rarely heard composer who had been appointed a “People’s Artist of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic”.  His Sonata for Flute and Harp is the most widely known of his compositions.


Next came a rarely heard performance, Danse Lente Op. 56b, from Belgian composer Joseph Jongen who is more commonly known for his organ compositions.


Finally came a powerful showcase of how the flute and harp combined sound can define fantasy – William Alwyn’s Naiades: Fantasy-Sonata for Flute and Harp.   Here too, the audience was treated to a piece not often heard compared to the many film scores for which the late composer is better known.


A piece of Chicago musical history was also on the stage in the form of a Lyon Healy harp played by Lau.  Founded in 1864 in Chicago, Lyon & Healy Harps built its first pedal harp in 1889 and has become recognized around the world in concert halls, music schools and private homes as the professional choice.  

The company also happens to be a part of harpist Lau’s personal history, as this was where she met the harp technician who became her husband, John Papadolias, who, when he isn’t repairing harps, is a gypsy jazz guitarist with the Chicagoland group Chanson du Chat.


A husband knows, and what he knew in this case was that the two performers loved the acoustics of the hall.



Both Lau and Huntington noted that the great weather and everyone’s buoyed mood also made for a great audience and better performance. 


Next stop for Lyrebird?  Playing for the national flute association meeting in New Orleans this summer.  That sounds a bit more challenging both in terms of the audience and the weather. 


Meanwhile, back here in Chicago Lyon & Healy Harps just announced that it will be hosting the Lyon & Healy 150th Birthday Festival in Chicago from June 4-7, 2014 with concerts, master classes, an exhibition of historic harps, factory tours and a birthday celebration.  If you haven’t walked out of the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s loop edge and into their showroom you have missed a local treat.  It’s well worth the trip.  More information about Lyon & Healy can be found at www.lyonhealy.com.


Dame Myra Hess  Concert series

Every Wednesday 12:15  - 1:00 PM

Preston Bradley Hall

Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington St., Chicago, IL 60602.

Phone: 312-744-6630.

 All Dame Myra Hess Concerts are Free Admission.  Donations are Accepted.

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