When international competitions are scouting around for more unusual concerto ideas, I always think it’s a shame that Thomas Rajna’s harp concerto is never picked. It’s a fine work, the first musical composition ever to receive the UCT Book Award (an South African, annual award is given for an outstanding contribution to any branch of learning), and seems to have been barely performed since its premiere at the Fifth World Harp Congress in Copenhagen (1993). Nor is it in print, as far as I know, but Harpblog has a score because Thomas Rajna also happened to be my dad’s piano teacher because of our almost supernatural ability to be at the centre of harp world action. Email [email protected] if you would like to see a copy.
While Camac is also at the heart of much fantastic harp manufacturer sponsorship, to give credit where it’s due, it was our colleagues in Chicago who commissioned Rajna’s Suite for Violin and Harp for the Seventh World Harp Congress in Prague in July 1999. 2013’s Camac Voices begin with an excerpt from the Suite, performed by the young Serbian Duo Féerie: Milan Berginc, violin, and Ana Brateljevic, harp.
I have admired Ana for several years now. She seems to speak about five languages fluently, and is something of a musical polyglot too. She pursues a dual career as a harpist and a pianist, across an unusually broad range of styles – from her classical violin/harp duo, to creating a large number of new arrangements for flute and lever, rather than pedal harp, to performing with the Serbian punk band Vur on a Baby Blue electric lever harp, and collaborating with an Italian cinematic dream pop band - Sétamùr - on their album Hvala. Ana is also a piano teacher and accompanist at the Dimitrije Parlic ballet school in Pancevo, and has just started a harp PhD in Prague with Jana Bouskova.
“At its heart, I think music is about an exchange of energy between human beings”, Ana says. “You can’t give a sense of what makes a great professor without talking to their students, and I suppose I like to play a lot of different styles of music because if you have something to say to an audience, you need to find the right music to say it. Maybe it is a question of finding the right angle to capture children’s interest when you give school workshops, or for example while I never pictured the harp and punk music in the same frame, there’s a totally different energy in a punk concert I’d never experienced before, and which I discovered I really liked! I’ve also used my electric harp in working with a pop string quartet. It was a challenge at first to make my own arrangements by ear because I’m used to getting a sheet of music and practising it. But as a pianist, I found it interesting straight away to get involved in making new arrangements for harp, and all the music I’ve done where I haven’t just been given a score, has made me feel much more confident as a musician in general. I feel that if something goes wrong on the stage, at least I’ll be able to get myself out of it – and more importantly, I feel more able to communicate with different kinds of audience through different kinds of music.”
If you’re interested in taking a look at some of Ana’s work, she released a double-solo (harp and piano) CD in 2011, From Bach To Jazz, which is available on MySpace.