Mother of Invention

The Scotsman

Martin Parker
Sharp harpist Savourna shows herself mother of invention

Edinburgh International Harp Festival

THERE is a special kind of wit and energy behind Savourna Stevenson’s music for solo harp. The construction of her instrument, known as the clarsach or Celtic harp, works against harmonic flamboyance, contrapuntal melody and timbral colouration, but she still finds a seemingly limitless resource in the instrument’s supposed deficiencies.

Stevenson’s approach is to impose a style, genre or rhythmic pattern and experiment with extended instrumental techniques to find the most enjoyable realisation of her vision. Although her playing was of first-rate, virtuoso quality, some of her pieces were blurred around the edges, as if she was not certain if they belonged in the concert hall or supermarket. Fortunately, however, these saccharine moments were few and there was much to remember.

Her homage to Kermit the Frog, Silverado Squatters, impressively converted the harp into a one-woman, bluegrass banjo ensemble and her final piece, Fording the Tweed, shone with harmonic twists and turns that might ordinarily be impossible. Stevenson’s programme represented a forward-looking illustration of just how far the harp can go in the right hands.

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