Laurie Meister plays harp for Arts and Resilience

By Roman Petrowski, Office of Communications
March 21, 2019

The McGovern Center for Humanities & Ethics continued its Arts & Resilience program with a performance from Houston harpist Laurie Meister on March 14.

Meister serves as the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra’s principal harpist and performs regularly with the Houston Symphony, Houston Ballet, and Houston Grand Opera orchestras. Meister received her bachelor’s degree in music performance from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before earning her master’s degree in music performance from Rice University.

Each of Meister’s music throughout her performance at the Arts & Resilience program featured pieces from composers who also were harpists.

Meister opened the performance with a pair of songs from Irish composer Turlough O’Carolan, including his most famous piece, “Carolan’s Concerto,” and “Blind Mary.”

A case of smallpox blinded Turlough at the age of 18, and three years later, he began travelling throughout Ireland, with a horse and a guide, to compose songs. For nearly 50 years, O’Carolan traveled back-and-forth across the country, composing music that mixed the styles of Irish and continental classical music.

Meister then transitioned to music by Cuban composer Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. When Ortiz was 11 years old, he immigrated to Venezuela before moving to Medellin, Columbia, to attend medical school at Universidad de Antioquia. In medical school, Ortiz concentrated on musical therapy, while playing the harp to support his medical studies.

Five years after completing medical school, Ortiz moved to the United States, where he worked for eight years before dedicating his life to his growing family and his love for the harp. Meister honored Ortiz by playing his piece, “Cumbia Deliciosa.”

Meister’s next two songs featured compositions from American Deborah Henson-Conant. Henson-Conant has been nicknamed the “Hip Harpist” for her dazzling performances and use of the electric harp, and she describes her music as a cross-genre of “jazz-pop-comedy-folk-blues-flamenco-Celtic.”

Meister covered Henson-Conant’s song “Baroque Flamenco,” a piece which Henson-Conant composed after borrowing the melody of Jean Jacque Rousseau’s “Minuet in G minor.” Meister followed that with Henson-Conant’s take on the classic song “Danny Boy.”

Meister explored some of the local history of the harp with a song from Houston harpist Patricia John. John, also a graduate of Rice University, composed her song called “Sea Changes,” which features three different parts and has elements designed to sound like waves crashing along the shore.

Meister wrapped her performance with a quartet of songs from French harpist Carlos Salzedo. Salzedo receives credit for making the harp into a virtuoso instrument, effectively changing the way future generations play the harp.

Meister honored the International Composers Guild co-founder with three songs from “A Suite of Eight Dances” by playing “Siciliana,” “Gavotte,” and “Minuet.” Her final piece was Salzedo’s “Songs of the Night,” a piece written about a boat drawing closer and closer to a party on the shore, before eventually passing the party and drifting farther away.

The next installment of the Arts & Resilience program is “Afternoon Jazz with Ernesto Vega & Friends” and is from 12-1 p.m., on April 11 in the 5th Floor Gallery.

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