Ovation for Harp Performance



“…a loving performance exposing Ravel’s lighthearted charms well…”
—Detroit Free Press



“…maintains a spirited drive…pleasant expression, delicacy and a considered sense of coloration…”
—The Herald, Monterey, California



“Riveting…every note sang a special song.”
—Charleston Daily Mail



“…the playing is first rate, the recording is excellent, and the music is irresistible.”
—Chris Felcyn, WDET – FM



“Allvin projected beautifully the work’s rapidly shifting harmonies and intricate finger work. She excelled at capturing the fleeting melodic pattern of the music.”
—The Flint Journal



“How does one write about [Larson/Allvin’s] wonderful music to make people understand how beautiful it was?”
—Skaraborgs Lans Tidning, Sweden


Flint Symphony Orchestra Season Ends With Lively Program

Flint Journal, April 1998
Review By Laurence E. MacDonald

… The FSO’s Principal Harpist, Kerstin Allvin, was featured as soloist in two works. Handel’s “Concerto in B Flat” provided Allvin many opportunities to demonstrate a graceful and delicate style of playing. The concerto’s three movements, which featured a number of technically demanding harp solos, seemed to totally charm the audience. An additional asset to this performance was the skillfully executed harpsichord playing of Ellen Walker.

The evening’s most charming moments came with Allvin’s lyrically inspired interpretation of Claude Debussy’s “Sacred and Profane Dances.” With excellent support by the FSO strings, Allvin managed to keep Debussy’s delicate music flowing and tuneful.


Harpist, Ensemble Offer Vintage Delights

Flint Journal, November 1999
Review by Laurence E. MacDonald

In view of the dreary gray skies that hovered over the city on Sunday, attending the concert in the Bray Gallery at the Flint Institute of Arts was a delightful was to brighten one’s day.

For this second performance in the new season of Bray concerts, harpist Kerstin Allvin and a group of talented musicians called the Woodland Ensemble presented a program of four works by modern French composers and one selection by a 17th century Italian.

The Italian work, which led off the program, was the Concerto VIII by Arcangelo Corelli, one of the leading composers of the Baroque ear. This work, which is also known as the “Christmas Concerto,” proved to be a charming opener for the afternoon. As arranged by Allvin for the members of the Woodland Ensemble, each of the five short movements benefited from the expert playing by flutists Jeffery Zook and Roma Duncan.

Their lyrical tones were accompanied by the sweet sounds of violinists Ron Fischer and Velda Kelly, violist Caroline Coade, and cellist Nadine Deleury.

Allvin transferred Corelli’s chord-like keyboard part to the harp without a loss of harmonic clarity. In fact, the gentle tones of the pedal harp added a nice lilt to Corelli’s Baroque-period melodies.

The next work had an even more overt Christmas flavor than the Corelli. Marcel Samuel-Rousseau’s “Variations Pastorales” featured the old carol “Sing Noel, Noel” as the basis for a set of intriguing variations for harp solo. Allvin projected beautifully the work’s rapidly shifting harmonies and intricate finger work.

Allvin was joined by Zook and three of the string players for the next work, the Serenade, Opus 30, by Albert Roussel. The shifting moods of the lively first movement provided a good introduction to the wide variety of effects Allvin could produce on her harp. Her supple fingers ran several graceful glissando up and down the strings, while Zook and the string trio tossed several melodic motifs back and forth.

The slow second movement provided plentiful opportunity for expressive playing by the entire ensemble, while the finale combined movements of jaunty dance tunes with slower passages of severe beauty. All on all, this work provided some of the afternoon’s most impressive playing.

The most captivating work of the afternoon came with Andre Capet’s “Conte Fantastique” (Fantastic Story), based on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.” After Allvin’s husband, composer and teacher James Hartway, read a synopsis of Poe’s horrifying tale, Allvin commenced to unleash a feast of impressionistic harp effects, while the accompanying string quartet produced a virtual catalogue of string effects. As the music progressed, one could picture the revelers at a masked ball dancing wildly, until the unexpected masked stranger arrived. The closing moments of the work vividly captured the sense of mystery and fear in Poe’s story. The entire ensemble was altogether impressive in its collective interpreting of Caplet’s picturesque music, which included some terrifically difficult passages.

The closing work of the concert, Claude Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances, again featured the harp as soloist with the accompaniment of a quartet of strings. As in the Caplet piece, Allvin excelled at capturing the fleeting melodic patterns of the music. Especially lovely was the sweet-sounding first dance, with rapidly shifting chord patterns on harp and an often-repeated four-note ascending idea.

The ensemble expertly conveyed the romantic qualities of Debussy’s music, and brought the charmed audience to it’s feet at its conclusion. A better ending for a concert could not have been chosen than this richly inspired music.

Allvin, who for the past several years has been the harpist with the Flint Symphony, clearly convinced everyone that attending this musically rewarding program of her status as one of Michigan’s premiere harpists.


Composer Has Romance With The Harp


CD Release, Affair of the Harp, Kerstin Allvin Plays the Music of James Hartway
Detroit Disc, Detroit Free Press, May, 2004
Review by Mark Stryker, Free Press Music Critic

Some instruments speak louder than others to a composer. For James Hartway, Distinguished Professor of Music at Wayne State University, the harp has always held a special allure. Of course, Hartway’s wife, Kerstin Allvin the compelling soloist here, has been an influential muse. The partnership has led to significant expansion of repertoire.

Hartway understands the harp’s expressive possibilities, calling upon its celestial qualities, guitar-like strumming, melodic and rhythmic clarity or sweeping grandeur. The pieces range from solo works to various duos and a trio for flute, viola and harp, “Images of Mogador.” One of Hartway’s most fetching works, “Images,” manages the neat trick of evoking an exotic Middle-Eastern locale without slumming. The Woodland Trio – Allvin, flutist Jeffery Zook and violist Caroline Coade – gives a charismatic performance.

“Detours” for flute and harp speaks with an easy melodicism girded by jazzy harmonies and an incisive rhythmic bite that takes advantage of the harp’s percussive attack. The Haiku-inspired “Basho” for harp and narrator is a collection of epigrammatic miniatures while ‘Message from Garcia” for cello and harp is a discursive meditation on the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. The players weave into and out of solo statements, call-and-response ideas and deftly interlocking passages. Like Hartway’s best music, it is well-crafted, communicative and worth a listen.


Chamber Concert is a Charmer

Charleston Daily Mail
Review by Rick Justice, Daily Mail Music Critic

There was a lot to be excited about at Christ Church Methodist where Charleston Chamber Music Society presented one of the most charming concerts of the season.

Saturday evening’s performance was all that much more enjoyable because of long-awaited acoustic improvements of the sanctuary by church trustees. The results already are telling.
Kerstin Allvin and Jung Wha Lee as the Arianna Harp Duo, delighted an inquisitive audience of music lovers at a warm and “harp felt” evening of entertainment.

So inquisitive was the crowd, that when the two performers came to the stage during intermission to tune, they were mobbed by folks with questions. A mysterious instrument, the harp.

Josef Blanco’s Concierto No.1 was played as the evening opener and established without a doubt that Allvin and Lee are the fastest page turners in the history of music.

With both hands and feet committed to the playing of the instrument, it’s no wonder brevity of page turn is essential. They were so fast and smooth that it reminded you of a Michael Jordan slam dunk.

Two transcriptions from Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite” had audience members hushed in their seats, as the delicate rippling waters of “en Bateau” were clearly enunciated throughout the hall.

“Cambria,” a three movement salon suite by John Thomas was a virtuosic tour de force filled with melodic skills and harp techniques that Arianna tossed off with precision and elan.

Paris harpist and leading composer Bernard Andres composed “Parvis” (Cortege et Danse) with all of the contemporary techniques and notation for harp available. Playing with fingertips, fingernails, knocking on the resonant wooden body of the instrument and using the wood end of the tuning hammer to strike and stroke the strings, they produced a cornucopia of diverse sonorities.

A transcription of George Gershwin’s Preludes No.2 and No.1 somehow managed to sound like selections from “Porgy and Bess.” Not bad, but lost in fast company.

Fast company was in the form of “Two Night’s in Spain” by James Hartway.

Dr. James Hartway is chairman of theory and composition at Wayne State University. He also is a teacher, composer and, as husband of harpist Allvin, totes the harps when the duo is on the road.

His composition is a mental music retrospect of nights in Barcelona, and so accurate is his recall that you are taken back with him.

All the stars were in alignment. A premium commissioned work specifically for Arianna, it was played in a manner that riveted your attention to the players and music and a hall that allowed every note to sing its special song.

Read about the Arianna Harp Duo.


Harpist Strikes Tuneful Jazz Strings

The Flint Journal, January 2002
By Laurence E. MacDonald, Contributing Writer

If one does not immediately associate the harp with jazz music, the truth is that there haven’t been very many jazz harpists. As if to correct that impression, Sunday’s Bray Gallery Concert at the Flint Institute of Arts presented a delightful program, “An Afternoon of Jazz,” featuring harpist Kerstin Allvin.

Allvin is no stranger to those who attend Flint Symphony concerts; she has been the Principal Harpist of the FSO for most of the past decade. Still, few in the large and enthusiastic Bray Gallery audience had heard Allvin playing jazz before. As Allvin explained during one of the informal introductions, her classical music training resulted in a career with symphony orchestras, but a longtime interest in jazz led in an opposite direction, one that produced very interesting results Sunday.

The program, which included a clever mixture of both familiar and unfamiliar selections, began with an Allvin original composition entitled “North Beach.” Here, as with most of the entries on the program, Allvin was joined by clarinetist Christopher Collins, bassist Jeff Halsey and percussionist Dan Maslanka. From a simple beginning with the sound of tom toms, Allvin added a delicate melodic line that was soon joined by the other two players. Collins then played a couple of free-wheeling improvisational clarinet passages while Allvin provided a chordal harp background. At times, Collins’ tone was a bit shrill, but he soon adopted a less bracing quality.

Allvin’s music set the tone for the concert, which continued with the first of two original works by Detroit musician James Hartway. His “Impressions of Childhood” added a swing-style flavor to the program, with both Allvin and Collins excelling in the improv department. Halsey also got into an improvisational mode in this piece, with delightful results.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was the five-movement suite “The Victorian Kitchen Garden.” Which Collins arranged from a British TV score by Paul Reade. In the opening prelude, Allvin’s soft harp sounds, without the benefit of any amplification, were somewhat overshadowed by Collins’ ingenious clarinet. His clever use of an upward sliding pitch enhanced his solo passages.

Of the other four movements, the finale, “Mists,” provided relaxing and very pleasant listening. When Collins moved toward the rear of the ensemble, the way was open for Maslanka to provide the afternoon’s most dynamic moment, a dynamic and boisterous drum solo.

The first half of the program also included tasteful jazz renditions of two familiar pieces, the Gabriel Faure “Pavane” and J.S. Bach’s “Wachet Auf.” In both, Collins excelled with expressive clarinet solos.

The second half of the program took on a Celtic flavor, with Allvin playing the smaller Celtic harp on a rendition of “Danny Boy,” with Collins switching to a low D pennywhistle. The versatile Collins also demonstrated his abilities as a tenor saxophonist on another Allvin original, “First Things First.”

Collins took the composer spotlight for the concluding three works. Of these, “The Swan’s Lullaby” was especially charming, with Collins playing a smaller variety of pennywhistle. Halsey also excelled with a nimble-fingered bass solo.

Saving the best for last, the group launched into “Mergaugh,” which included a wonderfully rapid-paced drumming sound, over which the ensemble improvised expertly. If Allvin sometimes took a back seat to the other musicians during the program, this may have been purposeful, since she surrounded herself with a trio of extremely talented and accomplished jazz musicians. The somewhat limited dynamics of the harp were a drawback at times. One simply could not always hear the harp above the sounds of the other three players.

Still, as a showcase for Allvin’s expanding skill as a jazz harpist, the concert provided a tasteful and altogether charming mixture of musical sounds. Judging by the reaction of the audience, the return of this group to Flint for another concert will be eagerly awaited.

Read about the Collins / Allvin Jazz Quartet.