River Town Duo’s debut album, For Claire & Philip, features newly commissioned works written by six compelling 21st century American composers. Performed by double bassist Philip Alejo and harpist Claire Happel Ashe, this captivating recording shares the beguiling sounds of a unique chamber music pairing. For Claire and Philip is the culmination of River Town Duo’s collaborations with composers Caroline Shaw, Whitney Ashe, Derick Evans, Hannah Lash, Evan Premo, and Stephen Andrew Taylor.
The album opens with the recording’s catalyst: its eponymous work For Claire & Philip by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw. “Claire and I were most fortunate to share friendship with Caroline Shaw during our graduate studies at the Yale School of Music,” explains Alejo. “We knew we had to ask Caroline for a piece. Of course, this resulted in a musical gem and inspired us to commission a handful of other works by young composers.”
Since its formation in 2012, River Town Duo has presented dozens of concerts at venues including the University of Arizona, University of Illinois, Avaloch Farm Music Institute, Mackinac Island Music Festival, University of Notre Dame, and the University of Wisconsin, among others. River Town Duo has also performed as invited artists at the International Society of Bassists Convention and the American Harp Society Summer Institute.
“intimate and inviting… a commendable and beguiling collection.”
“The album argues for many things, two of them the diverse range of material the composers created for their instruments and the superior musicianship demonstrated by the duo in their performances. Perhaps the primary takeaway, however, has to do with the possible terrain opened up by Alejo and Ashe: it's conceivable that an abundance of future works composed for River Town Duo and the harp-and-double bass combination in general will materialize as a consequence of this release.”
– New York Music Daily
What binds these diversely styled compositions together is the beautiful performance by Ashe and Alejo. Their collective sound is luxuriant and vivid, their individual sounds finely etched. Ashe’s playing is sensitive but sharply focused; Alejo’s signature is a smooth arco that’s forcefully robust in the lower register and highly refined in the upper register. A delightful album.
– Daniel Barbiero, Avant Music News
John Schaefer featured a couple of tracks from the album on New Sounds Live.
River Town Duo's album reviewed on Harp Column
Perhaps the most lovely are Evan Premo’s Two Meditations on Poems of Mary Oliver, played as rhapsodically and longingly as the poems they are based on. Contrast that with Derrick Evans’ Lotusland. Inspired by an unsettling experience atop a mountain peak at night, he uses extended techniques liberally to recreate that jarring moment.
– Harp Column