Lovely CLOUDS review

As part of the CLOUDS tour that happened a few weeks ago, we did a concert in Eastgate Theatre in Peebles.  This concert received a wonderful review and we are all really proud.  I wanted to share this with you…


A feeling of expectation fills the darkened room, lit by tiny flickering candle flames. A young woman floats in, the candle in her cupped hands lighting the folds of her many coloured silks. She asks us to go with the stars to the furthest cosmos and, like a butterfly, flutters down behind one of four huge harps, where her fingers pluck out a tinkling ostinato. She is joined by three more beautiful silk butterflies and the four harps blend the magical sounds of ‘Interstellar Clouds’, transporting us all to stars beyond imagination.

It is two years since I heard a concert by Clouds Harp Quartet. Then their music delighted, intrigued and moved me. I looked forward to hearing more. The four harpists, Elfair Dyer, Rebecca Mills, Esther Swift and Angelina Warburton, have grown up and developed with their music. They have been together for four years and have built a strong ensemble in which the chemistry between then is almost visible. They give more than a concert. It is a complete performance, the music enhanced by subtle lighting, costumes, props and seamless introductions with charm to draw us into the magical musical world of Clouds. These four lovely girls still look absurdly young, which belies their assured adult musicianship – for it is not simple music that they play.

Peebles’ own Esther Swift has composed much of the music, which makes use of the many voices of the concert harp – not all of them familiar or traditional. The extended technique uses plucking strings with fingers, finger tips or nails; glissandos; harmonics; sliding and striking the strings; tapping or banging the soundboard; even slipping card or metal inserts behind the strings. One harp creeps in with an insistent ostinato, which grows until all four harps play as one, the give and take of rhythm building sound and mood. The regularity of the ostinato lulls us into a false sense of security to be shattered by a sudden intense volume of sound – hands urgently slapping strings and soundboard. It is exciting, strong and dramatic. Esther’s music is not just pretty tinkling harp strings – from tiny, almost inaudible
sounds to huge crescendos; lilting folky rhythms to jagged syncopation – she makes the 188 harp strings speak and sing… 

‘Interstellar Clouds’ was composed by Esther and it was excellent to have another chance to hear her ‘Clouds’ inspired by a walk up the Sware and her father’s poem about the clouds.

And whose mother would not be delighted with a Mothers’ Day gift of an original composition – a song for voice and harp?  Deeply moving.

The main work performed was Esther’s latest composition ‘Water’, which took us from
the single raindrop that starts a river, through a delicate snowstorm to the ocean. From the rippling burn to the strong river currents the music really sounded wet, climaxing in the strong and aggressive pull of the moon on the high tide.  Finally, as earth and water come together, all four players left their harps to sing softly in harmony close to their rapt audience. It was an unforgettable musical journey full of colour, drama and mood swings.

Throughout the concert we shared the fun and joy that the players obviously get from their wonderful instruments. A quartet of concert harps is unusual (and must be a logistical challenge!) but this girl band really is something special, as many will discover on this tour.’

Claire Garnett – thank you so much for this wonderful review!


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