Trained in three countries, fluent master of four languages and with concert and teaching engagements stretching all the way to Tasmania, Gabriella is a cosmopolitan figure in the London harp scene. She is also exceptionally well-loved. Warm, generous and energetic, in the space of five years she has built up a thriving harp department, while continuing a busy performing career.
London has always been an exceptionally dynamic musical centre, full of diversity and enterprising musicians. To this day, the culture remains highly freelance. It is hard work for musicians, but fosters the variety and creativity for which the city's music is so famous.
Trinity Laban - formerly Trinity College of Music, it has now joined forces with the Laban dance school - strongly reflects this sense of creativity (it is the only London conservatoire to offer a degree in Indian music, for example). Now in a magnificent setting in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, it is gaining more and more of a name for itself, and Gabriella's harp department is one of its leading lights.
Gabriella describes her approach as "collaboration and democracy with high standards". Students are expected to work hard, but are also encouraged to express their opinions and make suggestions. The atmosphere (and I speak from personal experience, because I had lessons with Gabriella) is one of mutual respect and support. It is also excellent preparation for professional life, because everybody shares the responsibility to have an idea and make it happen.
"You could say preparing for the profession has three strands", Gabriella explains. "The first strand, of course, is musical. You need a broad repertoire, a realistically high standard - it is so competitive out there that it is no good believing you are playing something well enough when you just aren't - and the ability to take on work in as many musical fields as possible. I have the students learn a lot of orchestral excerpts, we use them also for exercises and studies. I don't believe you have to play book after book of studies, if you do the same technical work on other material - and our students are terribly busy, so it makes sense to kill two birds with one stone and equip them for orchestral auditions at the same time.
Trinity is lucky in having an excellent Early Harp professor, Frances Kelly. All students learn a certain amount of triple harp, and Early Music on the pedal harp. We supplement these core studies with special projects, such as some recent work we did on the Spanish cross strung triple harp. This helps students discover interests they never knew they had, and again come up with new ideas and directions for themselves.
We are also fortunate that Sioned Wlliams, Principal harpist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, is also Senior Fellow at Trinity Laban and has been giving at least two masterclasses every year to the students. Sioned was the first person in the UK to set up the integrated harp course when she was Head of Harp at Trinity College of Music back in the 90s, and her model still exists, although it has undergone some changes and updates because of new requirements in place, and the everchanging music world, streching now as back and forward as never before.
Another thing I think is important particularly for students in Britain, where there is such a strong choral tradition, is the choir and harp repertoire. We do two harp choral concerts a year, one of course at Christmas with A Ceremony of Carols, and one other, all in all covering music such as Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, Brahms's Four Songs Op.17, Holst's Rig Veda, Janacek's Otcenas, etc.
Trinity has a Saturday junior department attached to the main programme, and some of the senior students teach when Frances or I are away. It is nice for the little ones to be taught by younger people, nearer examples to follow, as well as being an excellent experience for the neo-teachers. As Frances Kelly also teaches in the Junior Department, we have naturally started teaching Early Harp alongside the traditional individual and chamber music and ensemble lessons. We have also started working with an Alexander Technique teacher: he observes lessons and intervenes with suggestions, which is very exciting for all of us. Although this is happening in the Junior Department, it is so interesting that the older students come in specially to watch, and some are also taking the opportunity to pair their lessons with Alexander technique. I have to say I find this particularly interesting and a learning curve for myself as well!
Ever since the time of the Camac Harp Days in 2009, where student composers did a project writing for the blue harp, we have worked closely with Dominic Murcott's composition department. Last year the student composers could choose a module on writing for harp trio, and five composers wrote five pieces. One composer, Amir Sadeghi Konjani, uploaded his piece onto YouTube: someone from the BBC saw it, and cameramen and recording engineers are coming this week to record the work for three harps as well as a new BBC commission - also for three harps! The BBC has also video-recorded a work for orchestra from him and have commissioned more works. Last year, we performed student harp compositions at the London Planetarium and the Royal Observatory for the Harmony of the Spheres Festival of Time and Space, and in 2011 on March 24th, there will also be a big project in and around the Queen Elizabeth Hall. As part of the Ether Festival, Dominic is organising a Graham Fitkin / Trinity Laban day. The Fitkin Band will perform with harpist Ruth Wall, and we are also commissioning students to write music for eight harps."
Born in Italy, Gabriella studied first at the university of Verona with Anna Loro, before further studies in France with Jacqueline Borot and Pierre Jamet, who greatly influenced her musical development. She was awarded a scholarship by the French government to study at the Ecole Normale de Musique in Paris as a student of Fabrice Pierre (harp) and Michael Hentz (chamber music). A scholarship by the German government provided the opportunity for her master studies with Gisèlle Herbert at the Musikhochschule in Wurzburg, in 1994. She has lived in London since 1995.
Gabriella has two highly acclaimed solo CDs to her name on Claves label, as well as concertos, duos and chamber ensemble CD recordings (Stradivarius, Dal Segno, Ambitus, AVS, etc). She collaborates regularly with some of the world's finest orchestras and conductors including the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Vienna Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bavarian Radio Symphony, Orchestra del Teatro Regio di Torino, etc, Gruppo Musica Insieme di Cremona, Wiener Virtuosen and with the German contemporary music ensemble Kontraste.
Her recordings have received critical acclaim and include solo (2 highly acclaimed CDs including major solo repertoire and premiere recordings of Ginastera Sonatina and Parish-Alvars “Voyage d’un harpiste en Orient”, chamber and orchestral works on Claves (Turina, Ciclo Plateresco for harp and strings), Koch (solo and chamber music works by Marek), Stradivarius (dedicated to music of Donatoni), Dal Segno (together with Flutist Wissam Boustany) and Ambitus. Together with fifteen other international harpists, Gabriella also recently recorded two new CDs now just released by Cala Records: the London Harp Sound, and Baby Harp.