by Steven Pisano
In recent years, to prove that classical music is not dead, we have seen the canon, as well as contemporary works, presented in ways other than the conventional concert hall. The impressario Andrew Ousley has carved out a particularly unique niche with The Crypt Sessions held in the crypt at the Church of the Intercession in Harlem, and his new series, The Angel's Share presented in the catacombs at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Earlier this week, Bridget Kibbey hauled her harp into the graveyard at Green-Wood Cemetery to put on one of the more spectacular shows of the summer. Rarely have I heard an audience of 20- and 30-somethings so feverishly discussing a classical music concert after a performance. All around me I heard couples and friends passionately arguing for which piece they had just heard was the best. This was so cool to hear because at most classical music concerts, audiences afterward agree, sure, that was nice, but they are so passive. Kibbey and friends shook some life into these folks!
The catacombs are usually off limits to the public, even as the rest of the cemetery, which dates to the mid-nineteenth century, welcomes guests to explore its grounds. It is an unusual space, very narrow and long (not to mention dark and a tad damp), but in the same way that 1950s doo wop groups headed to the tiled acoustics of the school bathroom to sing their songs, the acoustics are surprisingly good, particularly for strings.
If before the concert anyone was thinking, oh how cute to have a harpist in a graveyard, with visions of angels, Bridget Kibbey quickly dispelled that fancy as soon as the program began with Saint-Saens "Fantaisie." When Kibbey puts her fingers on the strings, she means business. (The only other harpist I can think of who similarly commands attention on the current scene is the jazz musician Brandee Younger, who actually makes a harp rock like a Stratocaster when she wants to.)
They played particularly strongly on an appropriate piece, Andre Caplet's 1908 "Conte Fantastique," based on the famous Edgar Allan Poe tale, The Masque of the Red Death.
The highlight of the evening for me, however, was Debussy's "Danses Sacree et Profane." Kibbey's masterful playing was mesmerizing, but what had the entire burial chamber enthralled was the back-and-forth playing with the violinist Hoopes, who played so achingly beautifully that I am confident the souls of the graveyard were lifted just a little higher toward Heaven.