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River Town Duo Releases Debut Album Featuring Original Works By Six Contemporary Composers

This unusual yet captivating recording shares the stunning and beguiling sounds of a unique chamber music pairing.

River Town Duo Releases Debut Album Featuring Original Works By Six Contemporary Composers

Known as one of the nation's leading bass-harp ensembles, River Town Duo today announced the release of its debut album: River Town Duo: For Claire & Philip (Furious Artisans, TBR 01.15.21). Featuring commissioned works written over the past six years by six diverse 21st century American composers, the album is the latest addition to what has historically been a limited repertoire for bass-harp instrumentation. Performed by double bassist Philip Alejo and harpist Claire Happel Ashe, this unusual yet captivating recording shares the stunning and beguiling sounds of a unique chamber music pairing.

"It is our great pleasure to be able to release our album and share our music at this most strange moment in modern history," says Philip Alejo, co-founder/bassist of River Town Duo. "More than ever before, we must share art and make human-to-human connections."

The album opens with the recording's catalyst: its eponymous work For Claire & Philip by Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw (based in New York City). "Claire and I were most fortunate to share friendship with Caroline Shaw during our graduate studies at the Yale School of Music," explains fellow Yale alumnus 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."

Four of the CD's works evoke landscape, which is appropriate considering that the instrumentalists formed the River Town Duo because of their shared experiences growing up in nearby Mississippi River towns in Iowa and Illinois. Leaves, Space by Hannah Lash (professor at Yale) explores the rather plant-like growth of a movement from a single stem. The pastorale pair by Evan Premo (based in Vermont), Two Meditations of Poems of Mary Oliver, takes inspiration from "a beautiful stone wall in the middle of the woods from pastures past" and "from the natural world," says Premo. Circuitous Six by jazz composer/pianist Whitney Ashe (based in Illinois) evokes both the stark beauty of the desert and its looming sense of danger. On Lotusland by pop songwriter Derick Evans (based in Buffalo, New York) was conjured up after the composer's moonlit walk to the top of Wasson Peak, the tallest mountain in Saguaro National Park West in Arizona. The album's final four-movement Oxygen by Stephen Andrew Taylor (art + science composer based in Illinois) occupies a different setting altogether: the cellular, the molecular, the inner landscape of the human body.

About River Town Duo
Founded in 2012, River Town Duo has presented dozens of recitals 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 recitals as invited artists at the International Society of Bassists Convention and the American Harp Society Summer Institute. Although there are only a handful of double bass and harp duos in the world, over 20 composers have written works for this instrumentation. River Town Duo is committed to commissioning new works from influential composers and adding to the growing repertoire of pieces for double bass and harp. River Town Duo comprises double bassist Philip Alejo and harpist Claire Happel Ashe.

Philip Alejo is the Associate Professor of Music, Double Bass at the University of Arizona and Artist Faculty at the Bay View Music Festival. Previously he served as Associate Principal Bass of the Quad City Symphony and Visiting Professor of Bass at the University of Michigan. A former member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra, Philip has additionally performed with the Tucson Symphony, Arizona Opera, Ensemble Dal Niente, Flint Symphony, and Ann Arbor Symphony. His numerous music festivals and residencies include Spoleto Festival USA, Lucerne Festival, Swannanoa Chamber Music Festival, Mackinac Island Music Festival, Oaxaca Instrumenta, Aldeburgh Festival, Tucson Winter Chamber Music Festival, Pacific Music Festival, and Aspen Music Festival. Philip teaches at the Arizona ASTA Bass Jams and the Richard Davis Bass Conference at the University of Wisconsin. He was recently named Guest Professor at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music and MusAid Teaching Artist at El Sistema, El Salvador. Philip holds degrees from Oberlin College (BA, BM), Yale University (MM), and the University of Michigan (DMA), where his principal teachers included Diana Gannett, Donald Palma, Peter Dominguez, and Thomas Sperl.

Claire Happel Ashe is a versatile performer known for integrating diverse aspects of movement and music. As a harpist, she has appeared with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica Nacional of the Dominican Republic, and the Newberry Consort among many other ensembles. She regularly collaborates in chamber music performances with oboist Karisa Werdon (Immer Neu), and guitarist James Moore and mandolin player Jeremy Harting (Noble Fowl Trio). An advocate of new music, she has performed with contemporary ensembles such as the Chicago Composers Orchestra, International Ensemble Modern Academy, and the Pulitzer Series of St. Louis, and commissioned new works with grants from the Urbana Public Arts Program, City of Chicago Cultural Affairs, American Harp Society, and the Illinois Arts Council. In the summers, she has performed at the Midwest Harp Festival, American Harp Society Conferences and Institutes in Chicago, Logan (UT), and Tacoma (WA), and presented at the World Harp Congress in Dublin and Alexander Technique Congress in Chicago. In addition to performances on the modern pedal harp, Claire has performed on the Baroque triple harp since 2016 mentored by artists such as Cheryl Ann Fulton, Charlotte Mattax Moersch, and Christa Patton at the Madison Early Music Festival and Queens College Early Opera Workshop. She holds degrees in music performance from Yale University and the University of Illinois, where she also received a BFA in Dance, and was a 2007-08 Fulbright Scholar in Prague. She has served on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary's College, Illinois Summer Youth Music, and Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, and as a teaching assistant at Yale University, the University of Illinois, and the Music in the Mountains Festival. She currently teaches harp, Alexander Technique, and movement at the Music Institute of Chicago, Valparaiso University, Olivet Nazarene University, and the James Hart Harp Program in the Homewood Public Schools.


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