Esther Beyer Lunchtime Concert:

Hosted at the temple Methodist church in the picturesque Budleigh Salterton, this concert comes nearing to the end of the budleigh festival of music lunchtime concert series. This concert featured the Harpist Esther Beyer who is currently in her second year at the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Karen Vaughen.

Esther began playing the harp at the age of six, and has studied under Luc Walpot, Catherine White and Ruth Faber. Notable awards include a scholarship to the sixth form at Wells Cathedral School, coming runner-up at the Harp Chamber Music Competition with her flute, viola and harp trio, and more recently she was commended in the 2017 Guy Macgrath Harp Prize.

Esther has played in many major venues across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall and Birmingham Symphony Hall, so a small church in Budleigh should be a piece of cake for this credible young musician. As an orchestral harpist, Esther has played with many renowned orchestra such as NYOGB, The London Mahler Orchestra and The London City Orchestra.

With the luxury of the concert being free attendance with a retiring collection, the hall is packed with an audience who are ready for an enjoyable concert. Modern facilities enable the people at the back of the church to be able to see the concert projected onto screens around the building so they all have a clear sight of the performers. Maybe an added pressure on the performer?

Esther starts the concert off with a transcription of Scarlatti’s Sonata in F minor. Sometimes a straight transcription from the harpsichord to the harp doesn’t quite work as harpists play with 4 fingers on each hand rather than 5 for a keyboard instrument. However, that being said, this piece lends itself to the beautiful nature of the instrument. The modality of the piece also enables Esther to navigate with ease as the pedal changes aren’t too drastic and follow logical patterns. It is worth noting that Esther gives a clear interpretation to the piece with little rubato which was the style in Scarlatti’s day.

It is always good to see, in a harp recital, a player giving time to explain to the audience the development of their instrument, because a lot of their repertoire is written to promote different models and designs of the harp. The next piece “Premieré Aberesque” from the pen of the great master, Debussy, wasn’t originally for harp as it’s a piano solo however, this is his own transcription for the pedal harp which is the traditional harp used today. Pieces such as this championed this design and saw the collapse in the triple and chromatic harp. Esther opens the piece at a slightly faster rendition than the piano, however, every note is clear thought out and the sense of mood is conveyed perfectly. The harp lends itself to this piece with the large arpeggiated chords resonating so well in the space.

Dalwyn Henshall’s “Three Welsh Dances” presents contemporary composition in a traditional light, it is also important programming of a welsh piece as the harp has a strong link to Welsh heritage as well as its French roots. Using modal harmony Esther is really able to think about the music and the song-like nature of the piece. The 2nd movement is tentative and conveys a sense of a lullaby, Esther was able to capture this mood and convey it very well to the audience. With Esther truly in her stride, the 3rd movement showed the audience the virtuosic capabilities of the instrument. She works her way through this movement and from her face you are able to see the enjoyment she had whilst playing.

Scarborough Fair originates as a traditional folk melody but in this arrangement by Stewart Green the harp takes the theme to more of a jazzy place than originally thought of. Esther creates an ethereal sound through crisp bell-like harmonics and a beautiful produced melody. You can see Esther blossom in this piece with her nerves settling a lot more from the start of the concert. Moving into the jazz section Esther has to navigate through trickier pedal changes all whilst having to concentrate on the jazz influence harmony, rhythm and melody as she takes the original theme for a walk. She clearly understood how to craft her performance to meet the composer’s intention.

Moving onto my favourite piece of the concert, Tournier’s “Féerie”, when starting to write for harp I came across this piece in a workshop and fell in love. The piece depicts an enchanted forest with the title translating to mean “Fairy”. With a false start due to a string almost breaking Esther is able to recover and start with a clearer and more magical opening. The opening harmonics put the audience under a spell and were ready to be surrounded by the beautiful sounds of the enchanted forest. Moving into the dance of the fairies Esther began to rush through some sections however, being able to keep the music clear for the audience. The bisbigliandos were tempered well and the character of the piece was re-established ready for the ending.

Moving on to the last piece of the concert was Fantast on Themes from Tchiakovsky’s opera ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Walter Kühne. Fortunately, I had recently watch WNO’s production of this opera so those themes were still present in my mind when listening to the piece. From the opening Esther was able to capture that ambiguity of the storyline with the audience in suspense of how the piece will pan out. It’s clear to see this was written by a harpist as the orchestration is inventive and lends itself so well to all of the beautiful colours the instrument has to offer. Quickly moving into a waltz-like section the mood is quickly changed and the fast-paced music is beautifully controlled by this amazing young musician. Esther is able to finish the piece on a high and comedic note as one of the strings buzzes to the end. You are able to see the audience are rooting for her and let it slide.

Playing the harp will never cease to amaze me, from having to navigate through the pedal changes, the rapid movement and co-ordination of hands on the strings but most of all the prerequisite that you have to play without music. This was the case today, all of the pieces bar one were played without music which is a credit in itself. Nerves on stage can be the bane of every performer’s life so to have to perform without a safety net adds extra brownie points.

Today’s concert showed what an amazing set of skills Esther Beyer possess, from her technical precision, her uncanny attention to detail but also to her general musicianship as a whole. I look forward to seeing how she progresses in the near future.