Duo Scorpio is back in the news with the release of their new album Two Bridges on the American Modern Recordings label. The new project features entirely original compositions for harp duo by composers Andy Akiho, Ferdinando DeSena, Christopher Dietz, Nico Muhly, Paul Patterson, and Giovanni Piacentini, along with the ensemble’s iconic photography by Frances Melhop. The duo brings their music to the masses with an album release concert on Tuesday April 18 at Brooklyn’s National Sawdust. We asked them to tell us more about their latest project…
Let’s start with the fun stuff first. You’ve done it again with another amazing photo shoot! How did you come up with the “Two Bridges” photo concept?
The concept for our photo shoot comes from the title of a new piece we commissioned by Andy Akiho called Two Bridges. Andy’s inspiration for the piece came from looking at the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the East River in Manhattan and imagining that they were two colossal harps. When we decided to name the album after this piece, we discussed the concept with our amazing photographer Frances Melhop, who we were lucky to work with once again! She did all of the photos for our previous album, Scorpion Tales, as well. Frances imagined us at two giants wading in the river playing the two bridges as if they were harps.
Tell us more about the album name and what it represents.
As we mentioned, the album name is the title track of the piece, Two Bridges, by Andy Akiho. The album is made up entirely of new commissions, which is why it has been five years since we released a new album!
I’m sure when you launched your first project back in 2010, some people probably thought “oh, another harp duo.” But you have taken the ensemble into some untraditional venues and made it mainstream. How did you do that?
We believe in our mission, which is commissioning new pieces for two harps by respectable living composers and expanding the harp duo repertoire, something that was not really being explored for many years. There was a need for new exciting music for harp duos—it needed to be brought into the 21st century. We also wanted musicians other than harpists to also respect our instrument and the music that we play. By working with current composers and performing in great venues, we hope the harp and harp duo has been brought into the mainstream and opened audience’s minds to what the harp is capable of.
With Two Bridges, you’ve continued your mission of new commissions for harp duo. Tell us why that’s important to you.
Our shared passion is with pieces that were specifically written for two harps, rather than arrangements. As we explored the repertoire early on, we realized there wasn’t much out there and we wanted to change that. We want this repertoire to expand for other current harp duos as well as harps duos in the future. We also feel lucky that we live in the same city as so many amazing composers and have the ability to work with these composers to write more music. Some of them have never thought about writing extensively for the harp before, let alone the harp duo, and we want to change that! There is so much exciting new music happening and the harp needs to be a part of it.
Do you think the concept of a harp duo can last into the future? Will harpists be playing these commissions in a hundred years?
Absolutely. Two harps performing together is an indescribable awesome sound combination. Once limited by the chromatic challenges of one instrument, two harps can pretty much do anything. This is an intriguing concept for composers who have always felt a little limited with what they can write for one harp. Besides the chromatic options, two harps together create a dynamic sound world that is musically and visually exciting for audiences. As for the pieces we have commissioned, we do think they will stand the test of time. We are very careful when we select which composers we work with and truly believe the pieces that have been created are incredible and will be enjoyable for many harpists and audiences in years to come.
What’s Duo Scorpio’s dream gig?
We feel that we have already lived some pretty amazing dream scenarios. One of our first gigs together was performing with Florence + The Machine at the Met Gala in NYC. We have also performed around the U.S. for different chapters of the American Harp Society. It has been so much fun meeting different communities of harpists and sharing our music with them and hopefully inspiring them to play some of the pieces we have commissioned! Performing at the WHC in Sydney was also an amazing experience and now we look forward to performing in July at the WHC in Hong Kong. Our dreams looking ahead would be more commissions. We definitely have a ‘wish list’ of composers that we would love to work with!!!
When you’re not playing together, what do you do?
When we aren’t playing together, we are also very close friends. We spend a lot of time together working but also enjoying the incredible friendship we have built over the years we have been together as a duo. This friendship and bond makes performing together so much more enjoyable as we can connect on so many levels.
Anything else you want to let Harp Column readers know?
Duo Scorpio is very excited to be premiering our new commission from Paul Patterson, Scorpions, at the World Harp Congress in Hong Kong this July. And, if you happen to be in the New York City area, our album release party is this Tuesday, April 18th at National Sawdust in Brooklyn! We are making this concert a visual experience as we are incorporating lighting, videos and even a dancer for the different pieces. It should be a very fun show and we hope to see many of you there!