Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Diversity of the harp enhanced in Wittchens' 'Duo Nouveau'

Thoughts of Valentine's Day bring thoughts of romance, and what better way to celebrate than with music that sets the scene. All comes to life Sunday, when mother/daughter Andrea and Samantha Wittchen present a special recital celebrating 20 years of performing together. "Duo Nouveau – From Baroque to Bowie" will be held 3 p.m. at Baker Theatre at the Zoellner Arts Center, Lehigh University, Bethlehem.

According to Samantha "Sam" Wittchen, the performance will feature traditional tunes, original work, and "some surprising, unexpected stuff." Her goal, she said, is "to get people to see the harp as something more than that giant instrument in the back of an o

rchestra." Just as her daughter, Andrea Wittchen believes taking the harp off the pedestal shows what a "far more interesting and versatile instrument" it is.

She described Sunday's program as "an eclectic mix of music ranging from classical to pop with some ragtime along the way." Composers include Handel, Krumpholz, Andres, Ravel, Joplin, and Morel. An original piece, "Ziggy Harpist," arranged by Sam, is a David Bowie medley of "Life on Mars," "Changes," and "Space Odyssey."

Sam, 36, recalls her senior year at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, where she and her mom first performed together on the harp. It was a time when she started getting serious about the stringed instrument and thinking about pursuing music after graduation. Though her mom gave her a small harp when she was in kindergarten, she favored piano lessons through her early teens. She studied harp performance under Kathleen Bride at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, before transferring to the University of Virginia to complete a degree in mechanical engineering.

Today, she maintains a balance as a new mom to nine-month-old daughter, Petra, and as a professional associate for harp with the University of Pennsylvania. As a freelance harpist, she's performed with the Pottstown Symphony, Allentown Symphony, Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Schuylkill Symphony, and University of Pennsylvania Symphony. She’s also performed in studio orchestras for such recording artists as McCoy Tyner, Olivia Newton-John, and Connie Francis.

Sam chuckles as she recalls her experience as a film "extra" in the 2009 thriller/drama, "Law-Abiding Citizen," starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx. She can be seen in the last scene playing her harp. She said she's sure being in the last scene is what kept her from the cutting room floor.

Andrea found her niche in the region as a solo, chamber, and orchestral harpist. She's marking her 50th year of playing what 

she calls "a fascinating and challenging instrument." For 26 years, she was principal harpist with the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra and the Schuylkill Symphony Orchestra. She's appeared as a soloist with the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Schuylkill Symphony, and Bloomsburg University Orchestra, and as a solo recitalist as part of Musikfest's Chamber Series.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Andrea, 63, was raised in Wyomissing, Berks County. She was valedictorian for the Class of 1970 at Wyomissing Area High School. She moved to the Lehigh Valley in 1976 and studied harp under Dorothy Knauss of Allentown. She holds a bachelor of music degree in harp performance, magna cum laude, from Jacksonville University, a master of music degree in harp performance from the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, and an MBA from Lehigh University. She also studied harp under Marcel Grandjany. She currently teaches harp at Lehigh University and Moravian College, and also maintains a private studio.

Chances are if you've attended events in the Lehigh Valley, you've experienced Andrea playing with the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Lehigh University Philharmonic Orchestra, Lehigh Choral Arts, Moravian College Community Orchestra, and the pit orchestra of Muhlenberg College's Summer Music Theatre and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.

There have been many opportunities to share the stage with well-known entertainers, including Bernadette Peters, Matthew Morrison, and Marilyn Horne. She even played with The Beach Boys years back at the State Theatre in Easton, with Brian Wilson’s “Pet Sounds” and a two-day rehearsal of a whole new orchestral arrangement. She recalled how, at 16, she would listen to the music of The Beach Boys on the AM radio in her car.

"I never thought I'd be playing for them, for Brian Wilson!" she exclaimed. "To be on the same stage with the group was incredible."

As mother/daughter, Andrea and Sam are part of The Wittchen Initiative, "dedicated to the development of public appreciation for the harp in diverse musical genres." It explores the harp's use in jazz, blues, country, Broadway, contemporary, pop, and world music, as well as presenting original compositions. Members include daughter/soprano Alexandra Wittchen, 28, vocals, and Dan Nosheny, tuba.

Back in 2003, in collaboration with the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, Andrea commissioned Steven Sametz's "Earth Wind Fire," Concertino for Two Harps and Chamber Orchestra and premiered the work with Sam and the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra. The two premiered a revised and expanded version of the work at Lehigh University in 2010.

The weeks ahead in 2017 hold even more engagements for this mother/daughter duo. Andrea will be guest soloist with the Southwest Symphony in Hobbs, New Mexico, in April, performing Debussy and Saint-Saens. As for Sam, she’s the harpist for Three Men and Three Women in Black, a band widely recognized in the Philadelphia area for performing the music of Johnny Cash. Members include sister, Alexandra, vocals; Dan Nosheny, tuba; EJ Simpson, guitar, mandolin, and vocals; Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz, violin, and Doug Walsh, drums. The show is slated for March 10, 8 p.m., at the Dawson Street Pub in Philadelphia.

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Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Diane Wittry, the music director and conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, has put together a program of Viennese music this weekend at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. It won’t just be musicians on stage, but also the addition of dancers and singers to heighten the action which will take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Special guests include pianist Katie Mahan, soprano Jessica Lennick, the Bel Canto Children’s Chorus of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem with Artistic Director Joy Hirokawa, and ballet dancers from the Ballet Guild of the Lehigh Valley.

Musical selections include Nicolai's "Merry Wives of Windsor," Schubert's "Ballet Music from "Rosamunde,"

 Suppe's "Morning, Noon, and Night in Vienna," Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 17 (First Movement)," Lehar's “Merry Widow Waltz," and Strauss' Overture to "Die Fledermaus," "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," and "Radetzky March."

Mahan, an American pianist, has performed with a wide range of orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. In her mission to foster the arts through music, she founded the Katie Mahan Foundation "Music for a Bright Tomorrow" in 2014.

Lennick, an acclaimed soprano, has performed at the Caramoor Festival and with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. She was a finalist in the Annapolis Opera Competition and a finalist in the Great Lakes Regional competition for the Metropolitan National Council Auditions.

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Fecho Productions presents an indoor scavenger hunt murder-mystery event, "C.C.S.I." (Convention Crime Scene Investigation), at the amphitheater of the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Reading on February 18 at 7:30 p.m.

The event, sponsored by Genesius Theatre, gives participants the chance to be like Grissom, Willows, and Captain Brass in the investigation, similar to forensic experts, as they search all over the DoubleTree.

They'll get to examine the crime scene, dust for fingerprints, fingerprint suspects, sift through clues and analyze police reports, and investigate and grill the suspects and the detective -- plus a "Forensic Fest" in a race against time to capture the convention hotel caper. Prizes will be awarded.

The event is rated PG-17, with sexual innuendo, adult situations.

Reservations must be made by 2 p.m., February 15.

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Tri-state area artists are presenting their visual expression of the theme of biomimicry, "The New Mimesis," opening Friday and continuing through April 16 at the Nurture Nature Center, 518 Northampton St., Easton. An opening reception will be held 6:30 p.m.

The exhibition of prints, paintings, sculpture, and various media asks what we can learn from the patterns and forces of nature in order to better understand ourselves, improve our technology, advance our science, and evolve our culture.

Co-curator is Lafayette College art major Julia Brennan '17, and New York City neuro-artist and "SciArt in America" editor Julia Buntaine. 

Artists are Brigitte Caramana, Donna Cleary, Evan Daniel, Lia Embil, Michael Flomen, Nestor Gil, Luis Schettino, Ken Jones, Robert Lach, Anthony Heinz May, David Mazure, Connor Pirruccello-McClellan, Jocelyn Shu, Jim Toia, Hanna Washburn, Rebecca Welz, Rachael Wren, and Jing Zhou.

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