Giant String Harp Takes Over Ford Amphitheatre
By Paul Zollo
String Theory, a performance ensemble, brings their show incorporating music and dance complemented by the unearthly sound of a large harp to Hollywood on Thursday.
A harp stretching the span of the stage at the Ford Amphitheatre and over the audience's seats is ready to make its debut in Hollywood tonight.
String Theory, a performance group, calls their show a sonic sculpture — incorporating a venue's landscape into their performance that includes music and dancing.
Tuesday evening they installed their Curve Harp, an instrument with rich and unearthly tones, into the amphitheatre. The large instrument and other self-made harps and percussion pieces will blend with sounds of a saw, theremin, sax, accordion, tablas, vocals and more.
String Theory was founded by three artists: choreographer/director Holly Rothschild, instrument designer/builder and composer Luke Rothschild and cellist/composer Joseph Harvey.
They are known around the world, from performing at the 2008 Grammy Awards to doing a private performance for the King of Singapore.
The group performs with other instruments of their own invention, including Circle Harps, Cyclodrums, and their largest resonator of all, the 7-foot tall Moon Harp.
When the trio enters a new venue, they have the challenge of transforming its architecture into a harp. At the Ford, it's about 120-feet from the top of the lighting structures at the back of the venue, where one end of the harp is secured, to the stage. After securing the harp's large wooden resonator to the stage, they painstakingly string the instrument – string by string – which takes many people to pass the long brass wire from the lighting rack over the audience and to the instrument onstage.
Luke is on top, securing and sending the wire down to Joseph, who walks it through the empty seats to Holly, onstage, who connects it to the resonator. With 24 strings in all, this process takes about an hour. Each string is tightened, and Luke — up on a high ladder above the audience's seats — attaches a wooden block that sets the tone of each string.
Holly is happy to talk even while in the midst of this undertaking, making it evident this is something they've done many times. Holly explains that with her husband of 10 years, Luke, they share the idea that music is unlimited — even to the extent of creating their own instruments.
They met in Chicago, where Luke and others explored the potential of long-string harps, inspired and informed especially by the work of Ellen Fullman. Soon he was creating resonators and tuning systems that enabled musicians to play western music on these harps utilizing a 12-tone scale.
When Luke teamed up with Holly and Joseph Harvey, the instrument began to bloom. Harvey's classical background and knowledge of sound and harmony, in concord with Holly's dance background, blended with Luke's ongoing journey of musical invention, and String Theory was born. Though she doesn't have the musical training of her partners, Holly's the one who primarily plays the harp in shows.
String Theory's repertoire is as diverse as their sound. "Joseph has a real love of early music and Renaissance music whereas I love Led Zeppelin and our music encompasses all of that, from 15th century Spanish music to rock," Holly explained. "Mostly we do original music – both Luke and Joseph are brilliant composers, and both score films – but we occasionally do a cover. This time we're doing Pink Floyd's 'Us and Them.'"
Thursday night they're inviting singer-songwriter David Poe – who Luke met at a Sundance composers lab – to join them. "String Theory can be so much cacophony," that we thought it would be nice to have the intimacy and focus of a great singer-songwriter like David," Holly said.
String Theory is employing a total of 12 musicians and dancers in this show, though it's a number that shifts. "Sometimes we have more dancers or less – we always have the same musicians, though," she said.
Suddenly she's interrupted by the stage manager, who asks a question rarely asked of modern bands: "How many banjos are there going to be?" She thinks for a moment, smiles, and says, "Five. Five banjos."
Hearing herself, she laughs, and says, "This is a fun group to be part of. And it's always an adventure."
String Theory performs Thursday night, Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. at the Ford Amphitheater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, CA 90068.