Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance has long been an exceptionally innovative and musically open-minded conservatoire, and it was during the Camac Harp Days we held there in 2009 that we met Dominic Murcott, head of composition there. He has been a fantastic creative partner to several harp/electronica projects we have done since then, most notably in the development of Graham Fitkin's MIDI harp concerto. We have never made any secret of the fact that we don't yet know what directions the MIDI harp will take, which is why we've not yet put the harp into commercial production. As a non-harpist specialist in electronic and avant-garde music, Dominic's response to the instrument has been very educative and encouraging. When Gabriella Dall'Olio approached him about the Camac Days, he was initially sceptical: because MIDI technology is so widespread outside the harp world, it had become more or less synonymous for Dominic with "bottom range" electronic music, on cheap synthesisers or basic computer programmes. On seeing the harp, however, he changed his mind, perceiving at once the instrument's potential and suggesting many ideas we would never have thought of without him. All in all, he has been an invaluable source of artistic focus and support.
Dominic Murcott and Jakez working with the MIDI harp. Photo: Yvonne White
There is now another exciting piece of news from Trinity's composition department. Maria Christina, the avant-garde Greek harpist who won the pop harp competition at the Wales International Festival in 2010, is now based in London and this year has begun a PhD with Dominic. As part of this, she is collaborating with composers to write new music for the harp - "and to write really for the harp", MC explains, "not for something somewhere between a piano and a guitar".
Maria Christina's commissioning process started last summer. The works will be for pedal harp, sometimes amplified, sometimes not, often exploring the tension between the nature of acoustic and processed sound. We can look forward to a new work from Rhodri Davies, and last week we also sent a blue harp to London for MC to work on with Dominic, who is writing a piece for her himself. The music will explore feedback, and the extent to which we can control sound waves.
While the blue harp was in London, Maria Christina also gave a workshop about it to the Trinity harp class. The more opportunity there is for conservatoires to hold such workshops, the better, as the harp cannot enter the electronic music scene without instruments that are capable of participating fully, and harpists knowing how to use them. We're really looking forward to the results of Maria Christina's work with Dominic at Trinity. It's wonderful to see artists we at first encountered at one-off events going on to collaborate so richly and substantially.