Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade formed Duo Scorpio in 2010, drawn together by a shared interest in revitalizing the conversation around harp music. Today, with a growing body of new works—many commissioned by the duo itself—and a number of diverse cross-genre appearances and collaborations, they've made very tangible progress toward that goal. Among the duo’s recent and upcoming commissions are new works by Andy Akiho, Paul Patterson, and, via a CMA Classical Commissioning grant, Nico Muhly—works that the duo says each play a part toward debunking the stereotype of the harp as a “delicate, fluffy instrument."
CMA spoke with Andrews and Shade about the current state of the repertoire, working with Nico Muhly on their CMA commission, and what lies ahead for Duo Scorpio and harp music in general.
Chamber Music America: Maybe you can begin by talking a bit about the history of the duo? How long have you been performing together? What drew you to each other’s work?
Duo Scorpio: We met shortly after finishing grad school in New York City. Years later, after several discussions of the possibility of forming a harp duo, we realized that we were born on the exact same day! It was all too much of a coincidence. We were two harpists, from different parts of the country, starting their musical careers at the same time in New York City with similar goals in mind, born just hours apart. So in 2010, we gave an astrological nod to our birthday of November 5th and made Duo Scorpio official.
We feel there is a real need for this new music, not only in the harp community, but in the contemporary classical community in general.
CMA: Can you describe the current repertoire for the harp duo? Does it present challenges for you? How would you like to see it evolve in coming years?
DS: When we began working together, the majority of the harp duo repertoire we found were just arrangements of pre-existing works—Ravel's Mother Goose Suite, Bach’s Sixth French Suite, etc. As a duo, we are more focused on playing new works written specifically for harp duo, not arrangements. So, most of the repertoire we now perform is exclusively by living composers, and a majority are works that we have commissioned. New works always present challenges because they are often written in a way that takes full advantage of the capability of the modern harp, but that is what we find exciting. We also love that we are getting to help create a new chapter in the history of the harp, by expanding the relatively uncharted territory of harp duo repertoire currently out there. We would like to see it evolve simply by growing the repertoire and having it available for other harpists to perform. In the past 5 years, we have seen this process begin, and we are excited to see where it goes.
CMA: How would you characterize Fast Dances, the Nico Muhly composition you’ll be performing at Bryant Park?
DS: Nico Muhly’s Fast Dances is a very fresh and exciting new sound for the duo harp repertoire. It’s extremely virtuosic and showcases the instruments in a new light. He really manages to push the harps to their limits with extremely complex rhythms. There are many instances when the two harps are playing in completely different meters, but he somehow still manages to make each movement feel like a dance.
CMA: What led you to work with Nico? Was there something specific that drew you to him?
DS: We love the unique sound world that Nico Muhly lives in. You can hear his influences of Glass and Britten, but there's also a newness to his sound. We had been fans of his music for awhile and loved the fact that he seemed to cross into musical worlds other than just the classical world. His collaborations with current pop and rock bands was very exciting to us, and it gives his own music a great energy and unique colors.
CMA: What are you listening to that might surprise your audience? How does that music influence your work as artists?
DS: We both are extremely interested in other musical genres. Both of us perform regularly on Broadway, we individually have performed and recorded with jazz musicians, and we performed together with Florence + the Machine. All of these different worlds that we expose ourselves to influence our work as artists, and push our desire to make music that is not just for classical listeners to enjoy. We hope that everyone can relate to and like this music.
CMA: What’s next for the duo? What do you have planned for the coming year and beyond?
DS: We are currently working on collaborations with several composers, including Paul Patterson. We plan to premiere the Patterson commission at the 2017 World Harp Congress in Hong Kong. Next year, we will record that piece along with our other recent commissions for our next album, including Nico Muhly’s Fast Dances and Andy Akiho’s Two Bridges and more! We continue to regularly perform in NYC and around the country. Our long term goals include expanding this repertoire even more by commissioning and collaborating with top composers. We want to break the stereotype of the harp being a delicate, fluffy instrument and want to showcase its ability to be taken seriously.
CMA: How do you make time for and balance the administrative and creative sides of your work?
DS: It helps that we are both very passionate about what we are doing. We feel there is a real need for this new music, not only in the harp community, but in the contemporary classical community in general. Commissioning new works is a full time job outside of the actual rehearsing and performing part of our duo. We have to budget time to write grants, have meetings with composers, and all of the other business aspects that are involved with running an ensemble. Because we both love what we are doing, it makes the “work” a lot easier. We both have prioritized this ensemble in our careers, and we believe that this is only the beginning of a very interesting and rewarding journey.