Hear the Swedish nyckelharpa in the hands of a master

Morgan O’Shaughnessey plays the Swedish nyckel-harpa with fluid grace and mathematical precision
Photo by Jennifer Lollie

Like many baroque and folk musicians, Morgan O’Shaughnessey keeps a full and eclectic calendar; he regularly juggles classical concerts, Irish jams and church services, proving that versatility is the resourceful child of survival for romantic 21st-century minstrels.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music grad and Harry Potter fan is best known as a violinist and violist; he recorded Stravinsky’s solo viola piece “Elegie” in a German castle for his recent, same-named album. He is also adept at rowdy Celtic-style fiddling and Chinese erhu, a two-string spike fiddle, as well as banjo and bagpipes. For the latter, he’s been known to don a kilt like a faithful Scottish highlander.

Come Saturday, blue and yellow would be more appropriate than plaid, as the instrument that will bring O’Shaughnessey to the Odyssey Theatre is the Swedish nyckelharpa, a traditional bowed instrument played at waist level that looks like some exotic offspring of a sitar and a hurdy-gurdy. Also known as a keyed fiddle, the nyckelharpa has been around in one form or another for at least 600 years; it was heading the way of the lyre-guitar when it was rediscovered during the 1960s folk revival.

The modern 16-stringed nyckelharpa sounds like a fatter violin, thanks to a dozen sympathetic strings that provide deeper resonance, and a subtle percussive effect created by at least three-dozen wooden keys that are depressed by one hand as the other draws the bow across the strings.

It demands near-mathematical agility to play, which O’Shaughnessey does with fluid grace. His concert is part of the Odyssey’s month-long music festival, and a fittingly offbeat melding of classical form with folk evolution.

— Bliss Bowen

Morgan O’Shaughnessey performs at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 4, at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West L.A. Tickets are $20. Call (310) 477-2055 or visit odysseytheatre.com.