On the cold Saturday afternoon of January 5, nearly 50 multi-generational music enthusiasts gathered in an intimate setting in a Colonial pre-war residence in the heart of Forest Hills to hear the sounds of professional orchestral harpist Tomina Parvanova, as well as learn about her background and repertoire through self-narration.
The event evoked memories of a salon, where people would traditionally gather, enjoy a form of art, and acquire an education on a more personal scale. Historically, salons were affiliated with 17th and 18th century French literary movements, whereas salon music was typically Romantic-style pieces orchestrated for the piano in 19th century Europe, where the composer would engage audiences in a close-knit setting.
“Musicians were at one point directly dependent upon their community to support them,” said Support-an-Artist event host Karyn Slutsky, a 25-year Forest Hills resident and assistant director of Long Island City’s Queens Paideia School. “There is an old-world charm to this moment, which a lot of people respond to since it is a live performance with no electronics involved.”
Support-an-Artist originated in fall 2012 with Long Island City Academy of Music Director Oliver Sohngen, and the first event of its kind came to fruition as a result of his partnership with Slutsky. They believe there is an abundance of hidden talent in Queens that should not be wasted, and this creative program will place the community behind artists to help them receive their break.
Slutsky emphasized the competitive nature of New York City and its relatively few spots for orchestral positions, which reflects the greater need to build an artist’s foundation on a localized level.
“There’s so much dynamic energy in Queens, and people are starting to awaken,” she said. “We don’t need to travel to Manhattan for everything.”
Besides giving exposure to an artist, the event’s admission fee of $12 helped raise funds to support Parvanova, and proved that patrons can spend an enjoyable afternoon minus the hefty price tag. In addition, patrons 14 years and under were admitted free.
Parvanova played a Concert Grand Harp featuring 47 strings and 7 pedals. She exhibited an exceptionally enriching tone and emotion, as evident by the expressions of younger and elder generations, who could view her touch first-hand.
She wore a graceful royal blue dress, which contributed to her professional demeanor. Her repertoire consisted of “Le Tic-Toc-Choc ou Les Maillotins” by François Couperin, “Sonata for Harp in Bb Major” by Giovanni Battista Viotti, “Fantasy in C Minor op. 35” by Louis Spohr, “Histoire du Tango” by Astor Piazzolla with Dilyana Zlatinova-Tsenov on violin, and “Rhapsody for Harp” by Marcel Grandjany.
She selected some of her most admired pieces, which spanned various eras, so the audience could acquire a broad perspective of the harp. She explained the harp as one of the earliest instruments in which every European region had its own.
Act II was turned to the audience. The school’s students featured Julia Mechner playing her original composition “A Sad Walk” on the harp, and Ben Mechner performing “Scherzo & 4th movement of Sonata in C major” on piano.
Karyn Slutsky performed “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach on harp, followed by Dr. Francis Mechner playing “Fantasie-Impromptu” by Chopin. Michael Perlman sang “A Time For Us” from Romeo & Juliet, and was accompanied by Scott Harris on piano. Francis Mechner accompanied Oliver Sohngen on “Das Wandern” and “An Die Musik.” Sohngen’s students then formed a chorus.
Parvanova made Astoria her home in October 2012. In May, she began teaching the harp at the Long Island City Academy of Music, which opened in 2010 as Long Island City’s first music school. Situated within the Queens Paideia School, it also prides itself on individualized instruction, and offers a full line of instruments, voice, and musical genres.
“Tomina was suggested as a piano teacher, but upon hearing her play the harp, I decided to open a harp department, which is a rarity in New York City,” said Sohngen.
Parvanova emigrated from Sofia, Bulgaria, at age 19 and settled in Boston in 2005. She achieved her Bachelor’s of Music in Harp Performance at the Boston Conservatory in 2009, and a Master’s at Boston University in 2011.
Some of her many achievements are performances with the Boston Ballet, Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Tanglewood Music Festival as a harp fellow, and holding principal harp positions with the New England Philharmonic Orchestra and Claflin Hill Symphony Orchestra.
Despite Sofia being the capital, its music scene is not as active as one may think. In addition to the end of Communism in 1989, Parvanova explained that art programs are first to face cuts due to an economic crisis.
“So many talented people come from Eastern Europe and hope to succeed in New York,” she said. “A concert there is once a month, unlike the New York Philharmonic performing at least twice a week.”
Parvanova’s musical inspirations come from her family and her Conservatory’s harp professor. At age 11, she picked up the harp. Her father is a prominent opera, symphony, and choral conductor in Bulgaria, who teaches at the Plovdiv Music Conservatory.
“I’ve been surrounded by Classical music from a very early age by attending his opera performances,” she said.
Her sister plays the viola, and her talents were further cultivated by hearing recordings from Milan’s La Scala and Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. “Along with ambition and inspiration from accomplished harpists, you need about a year of practice to play beautiful pieces,” she said.
Advice was offered to young artists.
“The arts can be a hard way of survival, but being an artist has the greatest payoff emotionally,” Parvanova said. “Continue doing what you love, and you will achieve it.”
Heather Lewerenz of Jackson Heights attended with her nine-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter, both students at Queens Paideia.
“This event exposes us to music we might not be able to hear,” she said. “It’s nice to see and hear the performer and meet them, rather than just buying a recording.”
“Younger generations need to be exposed to Classical music, which is tranquil and meditative,” said clinical psychologist Marianne Sturman of Teaneck, NJ, “and may provide greater abilities to deal with abstractions in comparison to other music.”
Ten year-old Noah Ballinger of Astoria, who performed in the LIC Academy of Music’s chorus, is proof that the younger generation can enjoy Classical music.
“Today was beautiful,” he said. “I love to go to Carnegie Hal,l and sometimes I hear orchestras with harps. My first concert was at age four, where I saw a violinist and a harpist.”
Ballinger also plays violin, appeared in plays and operas, dances, and envisions developing his passions for opera and violin into a career.
Scott Harris of Pound Ridge, NY is a keyboard player for wedding band RSVP. “I love anything that brings live music to places where people may not expect to hear it, so introducing it in homes is great,” he said.
To host a Support-an-Artist event in your neighborhood and play a role in the future of virtuoso quality musicians, contact the Long Island City Academy of Music at www.licmusicacademy.com.