By James Bacon: As the beautifully haunting sound of the Harp, expertly plucked by virtuoso Pauline Haas, majestically filled the room with Laura Palmer’s Theme, I felt incredible sensations and tingling throughout my whole being and was astounded that here at the National British Science Fiction convention, Innominate, I could experience such an incredible musical delight.
This was the recital by Pauline Haas and Thomas Bloch, produced by Adam Robinson, and introduced and indeed expertly hosted by Vincent Docherty.
On the stage were Bloch’s instruments next to an ornate classical harp. These instruments were definitely new to me and to most people in the audience — instruments that looked truly science fictional, and in many senses sounded it. Throughout the evening, in between pieces of music, Vince Docherty would talk about each piece and engage Bloch who would go through the history, use and his appreciation of the given instruments.
Vince also asked Haas about her harp, and Bloch translated her French into English for the audience. The performers were so comfortable on the stage, consummate musicians who were relaxed and obviously pleased to be among a group so willing and keen to hear their music and words.
Thomas Bloch is an expert and maestro at several instruments. Tonight he had the Ondes Martenot, an electrical device with a keyboard, string operation and three different speakers; a glassharmonica, which gives the same sound as glasses filled with water, but made in the 18th century to allow multiple playing, in ordered keys, with the fingers or percussion sticks; and the Cristal Baschet. This I initially thought had its name as it was something that one bashed, but no, it is in fact named after its inventor, a wonderful device that has multiple methods of playing, from bowing the large metal angled sheet, to striking it, to it taking the vibration from the cristal rods that he played. It felt both alien and fantastic, a special selection of new to us, yet older instruments, that were here tonight for our delight.
With some fifteen pieces making up the recital, it was an eclectic selection, securely grounded in its connectivity to genre.
Without doubt, after Laura’s Theme, Samual Barber’s Adagio for Strings, opus 11 was astounding. With Haas on harp and Bloch on the Cristal Baschet, known from Gattacca and The Elephant Man. I know it from Platoon and it was unbelievably brilliant, haunting as ever, but with these instruments, phenomenal. One looks at the Cristal Bashett and wonders how no power is connected to it, it exceeded my expectations.
The range of music was impressive. Haas has composed her own pieces and her piece, La lyre d’Ys (the Lyre of Ys), felt like a harp expert pushing the capabilities of the instrument to its musical limits. As she violently struck the strings with her hands, I pondered if this was a new element. Haas was unbelievable in range and sounds, as she plucked from ferocity to delicacy, and this song was again a stunning performance. Bloch likewise could call upon his own written work, and we were treated to Formule from the TV series Monk. Using the Ondes Martenot, there was a change to the sounds and it was indeed a very computerized-sounding feel to the piece. I was amazed that such an older instrument, there was less of the timbrel effect and it was sharp and modern, amazing given that the instrument is from 1928.
Quelques songes sur pont suspendu (Some Dreams on a suspension bridge) by Michel Redolfi and from the film Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was accompanied by a French reading of some of the book, and utilized both the Cristal Baschet and the glassharmonica, again the skills were demonstrated as the musicians enthralled the audience.
As the last piece came Fantasy on themes of Lucia do Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti, which was originally an opera and featured in the film The Fifth Element, a song by the Diva. I thought that this piece was a lovely rendition, and so easy on the ear.
The level of engagement with the musicians was special indeed, indicative of how amazing this evening was. Haas and Bloch treated the appreciative audience to an encore, where Haas sung in Spanish while playing the harp, accompanied by Bloch on the glassharmonica.
Afterwards, both musicians were happy to sign sheet music and CD’s and a line formed for some time, as fans offered thanks in a personal manner.
This was an incredible achievement, and an enjoyable evening. It exceeded my expectations and demonstrated the potential that conventions can bring to their members. Chair Steve Cooper and Head of programme Emma England received considerable applause for their faith and belief in bringing this unique experience to the membership. The tech set up was world class. As I watched the close-ups, two cameras were filming with big screens behind the stage, the lighting was unbelievable. The tech team outdid themselves, Keith Smith and his team made the stage and the performance a focus.
Adam Robinson of Pulcinella Music Productions, who arranged the Orchestra at the 2009 Eastercon and the Worldcon Philharmonic Orchestra, really brought a new and fresh experience to fans. Vincent Docherty hosted the event with charm, panache, knowledge and skill, and kept the tone lighthearted, whilst being informative and fascinating. This made the performance itself by Pauline Haas and Thomas Bloch something that I will treasure as an experience.
Pauline Haas — www.paulinehaas.com
Thomas Bloch — www.thomasbloch.net
Pulcinella Music Productions — www.pulcinellamusicproductions.com