A harp is a beautiful instrument. It can be imposing like the sea, it can sparkle like a waterfall, it can dance like a butterfly or it can be sad as the rain on a grey morning.
On A La Source, the first song of Whispering Woods, it is caressing my ears, flowing and sparkling through them like a young stream over small rocks on an early spring morning, the sky full of pastel colours, relaxing yet energising every single ounce of my being.
It’s only one harp I hear, nothing more, she is delicate and soothing, yet she has the power to take me away to those happy moments I’ve spent hiding in the morning mist with my camera, the sun starting to turn the water into diamonds, a wren defiantly hopping around me, closer and closer, as I was waiting for a kingfisher to flash by. This, dear readers, is the beauty of a harp.
I’m listening to Whispering Woods, the ninth album of harpist and singer
Whispering Woods is a title well chosen for this solo harp CD, as the delicate tones of this lovely album indeed take me away to the woods my girlfriend spent hours in during her youth. The place I’ve also learned to love. A place not far from the birthplace of Nadia actually. A small stream flowing through the forests surrounding the Scharpenacker in the hills above Wuppertal and magically called the Murmelbach.
Nadia Birkenstock herself was born in Solingen, Germany a town quite nearby. She started playing the piano at 5 and she started singing with various choirs and vocal ensembles during her teenage years. She first discovered the harp during a concert of the legendary Scottish harp duo
At the age of 16, she started to play the harp herself, first teaching herself, later taking lessons with classically trained teachers including masterclasses with
in the USA and Scottish harp player
Nadia earned herself a one-year scholarship in the USA and got her first vocal training during her stay at the
in Connecticut. She continued her vocal training at the
in Düsseldorf, Germany.
During her vocal studies, Nadia created her first solo performance for Celtic harp and voice and she never looked back, touring the world, playing festivals like
the Southeastern harp weekend (North Carolina, USA),
the Sentmenat harp festival
the Rencontres Internationales de la Harpe Celtique
in Dinan, France and the
in Italy among many, many others.
In 2001 Nadia released her first solo album: Emerald Isles. She herself describes this CD as a mix of Irish harp music, Celtic songs, dance tunes, and original compositions. A CD that got her positive reactions from
and Celtic world radio in Australia.
Wondering Between The worlds was released in 2003, followed by Winter Tales in 2006, a lovely Celtic folk Christmas album that indeed mixes the magic of Christmas with the beauty of Celtic harp music. You can find it on Spotify here.
In 2007 Nadia released another themed CD, one I haven’t listened to yet but which sounds really interesting. A mix of lullabies from around the world called Les Berceuses De Coline.
The next album, Strange New Land, came out in 2008 and Nadia sees that as her songwriter debut. In 2011 she did another very interesting project that came out in two languages; The Enchanted Lake (English) and Der Verzauberte See (German). According to Folk World it’s a mix of exquisite harp music and outstanding storytelling by Dublin actor
Mick Fitzgerald and I’ll happily take their word for it. This combination of Celtic harp music and fairytales earned Nadia Birkenstock the global music award 2011.
In 2010 another interesting collaboration started, this time with Welsh percussionist and gong makerSteve Hubback.
The two played the opening concert at the international harp festival at Sentmenat, Barcelona in 2010 and kept making music and playing concerts together culminating in the 2013 album The Glow Within, an album that combines Celtic folk music with more freer, experimental pieces.
Finally, to conclude Nadia’s more than impressive biography she also plays concerts together with the German string quartet
In these concerts the five ladies focus both on Nadia’s own compositions and on traditional Celtic songs and dance music.
And now there is a new album, the first one from Nadia’s hand that made it to CeltCast HQ, but it certainly won’t be the last one! Whispering Woods came out in October 2019. Although it still has one or two pure Celtic songs on it -including my personal favourite; The Musical Priest, with a lovely sparkling harp arrangement may I add- most of the songs have a timeless beauty to it. Purely featuring the beauty of the harp and the skills of Nadia as a harp player and songwriter. There are no vocals on Whispering Woods and it’s almost completely done solo. Only occasionally, percussionist and guitarist
who also recorded and mixed Whispering Woods– joins in to assist Nadia. You might think that there is not too much to say about a pure harp album, but how wrong you would be then. Whispering Woods presents gem after gem. I already mentioned the sparkling opening track A La Source and the Celtic folk classic The Magical Priest, but there are many more.
The second track on Whispering Woods, The Lady Of Gollerus is a bit calmer than A La Source, it has a more gentle melody. But just as in A La Source, Nadia plays really cleverly with stereo effects and different layers in her arrangements, she together with producer Thomas Vogt also added small musical touches all over the CD to enrich the music. Here it is mainly the waves of harp chords sprinkled like fairy dust over the main melody. It may sound like a small touch, but it is so important to keep the music interesting and is therefore really smartly done.
Spesbourg starts with some strong harp chords, going into a fragile almost classical harp intro. If I close my eyes, I can easily see a single ballerina floating over a dark stage. And then suddenly there is Thomas Vogt on percussion and the song turns into a cross between Celtic folk and the kind of instrumental singer-songwriter music
played so expertly well on her latest CD Touches. I love the catchy melody. I also love the layers of percussion, harp chords and the harp lead voice laid over each other. I deliberately say harp voice, of course I know it is a lead melody, but Nadia has the ability to make her harp sing. I never knew pure harp music could be so catchy.
Nadia keeps that Celtic pop-folk feel with Toccatta. I can hear hints of the sound of
Pagan Folklore sound in the intro -people who love Jenny’s Naked Harp album should really check this CD out, you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise- but soon Toccatta flows into another lovely combination of Celtic harp, pop-folk and flashes of classical harp solo. Nadia Birkenstock officially called her CD Whispering Woods – Celtic Harp solos, but that title doesn’t fully do justice to the music. These tracks are far more than just harp solo pieces. They are true songs. With intent and purpose. Just like Jyoti Verhoeff, Nadia is a singer-songwriter by heart, who decided to let her instrument do the singing. And what an amazing voice her harp has. I can’t begin to imagine what would happen if she and Jyoti happened to meet up and start a project together. It would – most likely- be stunning.
Enough of this daydreaming, back to Whispering Woods. As I said this album keeps giving and giving. The Glow Within is another tender ballad ‘sung’ by the beautiful harp voice. It’s amazing how this album works in both ways. You can listen to it as I do now, through headphones, with full attention and you’ll find it’s intriguing, captivating music. But played as background music, it will flow through you. Calming. Relaxing.
This album will show you what happens when a gifted artist becomes one with her instrument and with the music she is playing. It becomes true beauty.
We are not even halfway through the CD, and there are many more gems to come. Be it fragile tender harp solos, beautiful ballads, lovely midtempo instrumental singer-songwriter tunes or up-tempo Celtic folk classics, but I’ve said all I need to say about Whispering Woods. Every extra syllable added would just take away from the music. any extra word more would only be reviewer blah blah blah.
With this album, Nadia has inspired me for pure harp music. She has shown me the versatility of this impressive instrument. And I thank her deeply for that.
Editor: Diane Deroubaix
pictures: Thomas Zydatiß