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Grant will help TFO musicians create new piece for harp, percussion

By Kelly Smith and Anna Kate Mackle, Principal Harpist

For TFO harpist Anna Kate Mackle and her percussionist husband, John Shaw, their mission to create new music is personal: “We wanted to be able to play chamber music together, and we discovered that there is not a whole lot of music written for harp and percussion,” Mackle said. “We wanted to change that.”

Mackle recently was awarded an Individual Artist Grant through the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance that will help make that possible. The Alliance partnered with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to award $1,000 grants to 16 projects that encourage the public to engage with the arts.

Principal Harpist Mackle and Principal Percussionist Shaw will put the money to work on a harp and percussion piece by acclaimed composer Michael Ippolito, who grew up in Tampa Bay and already has a strong relationship with The Florida Orchestra. He has a short work premiering this season on the opening Beethoven’s Fifth concerts on Sept. 24-26, and he wrote the major work Triptych in honor of TFO’s 5oth anniversary season in 2017/18.

“I love commissioning new works because not only does it give John and me an exciting new piece of music to add to our repertoire, but it’s also a gift to other performers and audiences,” Mackle said.

She talks more about the new project:

Harp and percussion are an unexpected combination. Why does it work?  

As we have discovered, harp and percussion instruments work very well together. They complement each other very well, both the wooden mallet instruments and the metallic ones. One of our favorite projects that we performed recently is a piece for harp and steel pan, which you would never think of putting together, but the combination turns out to be beautiful.

What is the project with composer Michael Ippolito?

John and I were very impressed with Michael’s work when we played his piece Triptych in the 2017/18 season, and we thought he was a great guy. We also liked that he has a connection to the Tampa Bay area – he grew up here listening to The Florida Orchestra and now he is a rising star composer. We felt a connection to him and his music, and we wanted to find a way to develop a project with him. We hope the piece will be complete by spring 2022 with a performance later that year.

What are other pieces you have commissioned?

John and I have commissioned two other works, Labyrinth of Light from composer Nathan Daughtrey in 2018 and Humoresque from TFO Resident Conductor Daniel Black in 2019. We chose Nathan because John has performed his percussion music over the years and we both really love his work. He also happens to live in Greensboro, NC, where John and I spend our summers performing with the Eastern Music Festival, so we had that connection. When Daniel joined TFO, I found out he was a composer as well as a conductor, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to work with him.

Any other projects in the works?

I am constantly jotting down ideas of composers I would love to collaborate with in the future. There are more than a few women composers whose music I am fascinated by, so I think our next several commissions are definitely going to be by women.

Why are programs like this Individual Artist Grant Program so important?

We are so fortunate that St. Petersburg has the Arts Alliance, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to advocating and raising money to support artists in the community. Grants like this allow artists from all disciplines to explore different ideas and projects that in turn enrich the community. Each piece that John and I commission costs money, and this grant helps us pay a composer to create a new piece of music, bring that piece of music to life in front of an audience, and ensure that this piece will be enjoyed by performers and audiences for years to come.