Artist Interview: Bridget Kibbey

By Erik Petersons on January 29, 2020
Avi Avital & Bridget Kibbey
Avi Avital & Bridget Kibbey

Bridget Kibbey debuts with the Chamber Music Society on February 13 in collaboration with mandolin player Avi Avital. The pairing is a unique one, combining the grace of the harp with the energy of the mandolin. To get the background on this collaboration and their program, we connected with Bridget for a quick interview between her lessons for harp students at Bard College.

Erik Petersons: You are appearing with Avi Avital on February 13. How did you know him and what is your collaboration like?

Bridget Kibbey: I can't wait to take the stage with Avi! I met him over ten years ago, in a collaboration with Dawn Upshaw, and we became fast friends—geeking out over a work that demanded complicated rhythmic interplay between the harp and mandolin. Fast-forward a year and we found ourselves trying out repertoire, playing on air or on camera to share our passion for how beautiful these instruments sound together.

EP: It’s rare to hear a concert with mandolin and harp. Tell us about your program and what the audience can expect to hear. What are the challenges of arranging works for this duo?

BK: The unique resonance of the mandolin and harp is very well-suited to so much repertoire, due to their similar sound world but broad registers. The mandolin often acts as violinist, vocalist, etc, while the harp functions as guitar or keyboard. Therefore, it's not surprising our repertoire stems from the Baroque and heads to the folk. Was that a bad rhyme?

Bridge Kibbey

EP: What drew you to the harp and who have been your major influences as an artist? What characteristics or potential does the harp have that you hope to introduce our audience to?

BK: I first encountered the harp in a country church in northwest Ohio at the age of nine. Having played piano for six years, my dad had the wise idea that transitioning to harp wouldn't be too much of a leap. Once I got past Twinkle-Twinkle and Suzuki Book 1 (resenting the fact that I had already played these pieces on piano six years earlier as a toddler), I was HOOKED. I am still completely mesmerized by my instrument. Aside from the power of its resonance that reaches out and hugs an audience, like the mandolin, it exists in many traditions around the world. Not just the Baroque lute or the French Belle Époque (Debussy, Ravel, etc.), but in folk traditions, from the kora to the Celtic clarsach to the Colombian, Paraguayan, and Venezuelan uses for the instrument. My hope is audiences would understand just how much expression comes from the harp, regardless of time or place.

EP: Prior to your concert, you will hold a master class for students in the city. Describe the master class experience and what you hope students will take away from the experience.

BK: I love teaching the students at Temple and know many of them! They come with so much talent, and my biggest obsession is talking about sound quality and physical ease at the instrument that helps us "get out of our own way" so the harp can resonate and sing the best. I see these classes as a conversation, back-and-forth, and always learn so much!

Bridget Kibbey appears with the Chamber Music Society on Thursday, February 13 at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater.