Who is Ulysses, for you? This is the question Elisa Vellia has asked all sorts of people, all over the world. Call him Ulysses or Odysseus, the name means something to everyone. Great myths wend their way through our collective and private minds, wherever you come from and wherever you are.
Elisa, another constantly-journeying Greek, had already experienced the power of music in bringing people together, singing and playing for them with her guitar or on the piano. "I first discovered the harp in the London Underground", she explains. "A busker was playing a tiny harp at the foot of a long escalator down to the Tube. In the middle of this huge, bustling city, so full of people who are too busy hurrying past to look you in the eye - where, as with all big cities, you can feel completely alone - everyone who went past this musician felt compelled to put money in his hat. I immediately stopped and asked him to drink a coffee, and talk to me about this magical instrument he was holding in his hands."
As Elisa's own travels continued from England to France, and she found herself in Arles, she discovered a Greek community who have been based in the region for the last 150 years. She wrote a song for them: “Ulysses, you are their brother / Ulysses, you are their wind / On these lonely seas / You are their only, unique friend”. She found her audience were deeply moved by the music of a country they had themselves for the most part never visited, but which belonged to their grandparents, and whose language, songs and dances had been passed on to them in their cradles. And so it was, in Arles, that Elisa Vellia had the idea of a light, robust, concert-quality harp, with which it would be easy to travel to different audiences throughout the world.
We are very proud to announce the latest development in our range: the Ulysse (Ulysses). An ultra-light, highest-quality concert lever harp created together with Elisa Vellia, the Ulysse is a 34-string harp that weighs just over 8 kg. Elisa dreamed of a robust, light and reliable harp, with a deep and rich sound, for traveling to audiences throughout the world. After months of work, Jakez François, our master craftsmen and our in-house engineers have turned this vision into reality.
The Ulysse combines centuries-old traditions of luthiery, in particular through a magnificent spruce soundboard, with innovative modern materials such as carbon fiber and titanium. It is the quintessence of a savoir-faire acquired through years of experience with fine instruments, such as those that are the pride of our company: for example our Concert Mélusine, Aziliz, Janet and Telenn Kadiou. This expertise is combined with our state-of-the-art developments from the DHC ultra-light ElectroHarp.
The Ulysse is strung with Alliance™ fluorocarbon strings, for a supple yet strong touch ideal for traditional music.
The first stop on its journey will be Parisian. At L’Espace Camac on Sunday, March 8th at 6PM, Elisa Vellia will blend her voice with that of the Ulysse, in workshop and concert.
You are cordially invited to discover them both! Please reserve your places for the launch directly with L'Espace Camac: +33 (0) 1 40 40 08 40, email@example.com.
"Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow."
Hesse : Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte
The soundboard is the soul of a harp. It transforms the vibration of the strings into sound. The frequencies it creates, amplified by the soundbox, define the sound quality. Having a new soundboard fitted is always a time of great anticipation for musicians, because it is akin to giving the instrument a new voice.
There is no better material for a harp soundboard than spruce, because of its high stiffness-to-weight ratio. Spruce can take a lot of tension, without having to be at the sort of thickness that would make it impossible to capture the string vibrations sensitively. For example, we taper our soundboards from 10mm in the bass register of a concert harp, to 2mm at the top – and there are over two tons of force pulling on this soundboard from the strings, so you can imagine how strong the wood, at best a centimeter thick, has to be.
We source our spruce in collaboration with Holzwerk Strunz, a family company at the foot of the Alps, that has specialized in tonewood spruce since 1820. Now headed by Thomas Hilz, they make the first expert cut of the spruce. It is their two hundred years of experience in painstaking selection and cutting that allows us to guarantee the quality of the wood.
Perfect soundboard spruce needs have dense, even rings – that is, it needs to come from mature trees, which have grown slowly over the course of two - three centuries. Trees grow more slowly in cooler temperatures, which is why altitude is so important. For our soundboards, we only consider wood that has grown at a minimum altitude of 1000m, and from forests that are members of the PEFC sustainable forests programme. “Germany and Austria have the oldest sustainability laws in the world”, says Thomas Hilz. “It has been the law for over three hundred years that you must plant more wood than you cut.”
In the Alps, where the trees are chosen. The mountain in the background is called the “Bischofsmütze” or “Bishop’s hat”, because it looks like a Bishop’s hat. It is said to be a source of peculiar power and energy…
The second Cracow Harp Days will take place on March 21st and 22nd, 2015! This is our second festival project with Agnieszka Grela-Fedkowicz and the Szkoła Muzyczna I i II st im. B. Rutkowskiego. The first Cracow Harp Days were in 2010, and included an unforgettable recital by Anneleen Lenaerts of music from her then recent album of Chopin and Liszt.
The 2015 Days will follow the same format of a festival weekend, a balance of concerts and masterclasses, and a blend of classical music and jazz. We are looking forward to hearing Florence Sitruk, Artistic Director of the International Harp Contest in Israel and Visiting Professor at the Cracow Music Academy, who will give a recital, and a day of masterclasses for conservatoire students and young professionals.
We are also delighted to celebrate young Polish artistry with Klara Woskowiak, first prize winner ex aequo of the London Competition 2014. Klara is also the winner of the Slovenian International Harp Competition (2013), and a host of other prizes, collected throughout her studies in Poland with Ewa Jaslar, Paris with Isabelle Moretti and Geneviève Létang, London with Karen Vaughan, and now in Lausanne with Letizia Belmondo and Germaine Lorenzini. Klara will give a lunchtime solo recital, followed by a masterclass for school-age harp students.
On Sunday evening, we will move to the Alchemia club in the Kazimierz district for a concert by Tara Minton with guitarist Tristan McCoppin. Tara is no stranger to Harpblog's pages: we love her soulful and original mixture of jazz, folk and rock and roll, a fabulous ambassador for the blue harp.
Entry to all concerts and masterclasses is free. Please reserve your concert seats or masterclass participation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find all information about the festival in Polish on the Harp Days Facebook page.
On the harp making side, we will hold an exhibition throughout the festival, with a special 20% discount off all strings and accessories. It would be very helpful if you could preorder, so that we know what to bring with us. If you are interested in particular types of harps, it would also be great if you could tell us in advance, that we may plan the exhibition.
You can also book to have your Camac harp regulated, for free, by Camac's senior technician Enric De Anciola. For all exhibition special requests, pre-orders, and regulation bookings, please email email@example.com by March 9th.
We are very happy to be working with Agnieszka again, and hope to see as many of you as we can in Cracow!
Katryna Tan and her harp centres, Rave Harps in Singapore and also in Malaysia, are no strangers to Harpblog's pages. Be it concerts and recordings, books, awards, visits to France or an full-on harp opera - we never cease to be impressed, delighted and at times truly amazed by the creativity and professionalism of Katryna and her colleagues.
The Singapore branch of Rave Harps have moved into gorgeous new premises at 73 Ubi Road 1. I was lucky enough to get a video tour on Skype this morning. On entering the centre, you'll find a light and airy duplex with a concert / exhibition space in the centre. The ground floor also includes series of teaching and rehearsal rooms - the Ravel room, the Debussy room and the Mozart room (and yet another rehearsal room, the Beethoven room, in the basement) - plus a comfortable waiting room for parents. Upstairs are offices, reached via a walkway looking down on the central space.
"We would like the centre to be like a home from home for the sixty-odd young harpists who are now part of Rave Harps", explains Katryna. "Students are welcome to come and practise, look through music, practise performing in the central space, and basically hang out together. We wanted to create a really pleasant environment, peaceful, friendly and not crowded. This is important for making art and music."
The new centre's official launch party will be held on January 18th. Katryna will outline the plan of events for 2015 - including the fifth HarpFest - and there will be a chance for beginners to explore the harp, with "harp tasting" sessions. There will be performances by Rave Harpers - including a new, more professional division to the ensemble. "We have been teaching children for over a decade now", explains Katryna, "and some of them have grown up, gone on to university or other studies, but they miss playing in the group. So we are creating a new group, for graduates from our junior ensemble!".
The centre's official International Artistic Advisor, Isabelle Moretti, will return to Singapore in the summer for a series of masterclasses.
As well as feeling impressed, delighted and amazed, we at Camac all also feel very proud to be associated with such a beautifully-conceived organisation. Music education, and indeed music itself, is not only - or perhaps it is better to say, not exclusively - about music. It is also about teamwork, about self-expression, about learning how to handle pressure, and about the sparkling heights you can achieve if you work at something steadily and hard. Some children will go on to become professional musicians, others won't, and this is only as things should be. But the effect of dynamic and inspired music education on all children lucky enough to receive it can be immeasurably enriching, and something they will never forget.
We are very proud to have created a special Big Blue electroacoustic concert harp for Caroline Lizotte - with a pure chrome, mirrored finish. When the harp arrived in Montreal, Caroline wrote to Jakez: "I have been gazing at its reflections for three days now, and reflecting too that I was really spoiled in being able to collaborate on this crazy project with you ! You should be proud of it too, I have every respect and admiration for you. This harp is a perfect image of our friendship, determination, audacity and our freedom!”
Caroline and Jakez outside our ateliers in Mouzeil
We have been making chrome-plated harps for a while, but Caroline's harp finish presented a particular challenge because of the very clear mirror effect we all wanted. Before we started, we had to research and seek specialist advice about this process. We would be lying if we said this was also the quickest project we have ever brought to fruition, but the results have been worth the wait. Caroline continues: “You well know that before connecting it, I couldn’t resist exploring it acoustically and I must say I am very impressed by the sound. The bass is deep and has great soul, I love the middle register – it is absolutely exquisite – and I find the top subtle, with the flexibility that will take sound processing well.
And then, connecting it up! In these few days I have rediscovered the intense joy that I experienced in Vancouver in 2011 – I am finally back with such a powerful harp, which could fill the Forum de Montréal all by itself!
Now I am familiarizing myself with its electric side, with the incredible possibilities afforded by its four outputs. I have a life’s work ahead of me unlocking its technical and its physical potential, and there you have it, I am happy!”
The "Mirror Harp" safely arrived in the Maison Symphonique, Montreal
Caroline has been dreaming of a harp like this ever since she was seventeen. In the 90’s, she joined her brother's rock group Mange l’Ours Mange, and amplified her acoustic harp herself as best she could with all kinds of pickups. If you have ever tried to do this yourself, had a sound engineer crying as he or she tries to do it for you, or if you have read Jakez's Blue Dictionary - you will know that it is not easy to amplify an acoustic harp successfully. Especially not for rock, where everything is highly amplified, including problems. "Nonetheless, I knew this was a musical direction I wanted to continue", Caroline says, "and all the experiements I had to do with microphones and sound effects also influenced my compositions.
At the beginning of the noughties, I started playing with the techno group Eden 106. This inspired me to write my Concerto Techno for harp, live techno and orchestra in 2003, which techno parts were created and performed by Guy Pelletier, founder of Eden 106. And of course it also widened my experience with the amplification of a harp. It was also during my techno phase that I started to dream of a chrome-plated harp. I covered my black, acoustic harp with chrome-finish Mactac, which was better than nothing.
Caroline's harp covered in mirrored contact paper
In 2008 I was invited to perform at the World Harp Congress in Amsterdam, and while I was there, I also heard Edmar Castaneda give an extraordinary concert on the Camac blue harp (in silver finish). The next day, I went straight to the Camac exhibition. I was bowled over by the blue harp - it was exactly what I had been searching for, for so long.
When the next WHC came around, this time not so far from home, in Vancouver, I was able to borrow a blue harp for the performance of my Concerto Techno. That settled the matter - I had to have one, and I ordered it mirrored. Fortunately, Jakez was willing to collaborate with chromeurs to realize the idea. It's the first mirrored electro-acoustic harp in existence!
Performances, compositions and developments in instrument manufacture all support and energize each other, and I feel rejuvenated by the arrival of my new instrument. I’m currently working on my compositions specifically written for electroacoustic harp, and on the new possibilities I have with it as opposed to an amplified acoustic harp.
For example, in April 2015, I will give a concert of my own compositions - "Lizotte plays Lizotte" – among them I will give the world premiere of my Danses Métales opus 47 for electroacoustic harp, a series of miniatures that I have composed in the 90s on an amplified harp; my husband and multi-instrumentalist Étienne Ratthé and I will also perform the chamber version of the Concerto Techno opus 40 ; harpist Éveline Grégoire-Rousseau will join me for Stellae Saltantem opus 49 for acoustic harp and electric harp, a recent commission from the Atlantic Harp Duo.
I am very interested to expand the repertoire of the electric harp, and I can finally make it since I have now the instrument in hand!
I still have to pinch myself to check that this great dream of mine, which I have had for more than twenty-five years, has finally become real."
Ayelet's String, our partners in Israel, are official sponsors of the Israel Harp Festival in Tel Aviv at the end of December. There will be three days of competitions, workshops and concerts, with free regulations from Ayelet's Nadav Konieczny for the winners in each competition category. Nadav will also be giving two technical workshops - one on regulation, the other on the construction of the harp.
Ayelet's String will also be exhibiting a substantial number of new pedal and lever harps at the event. Jakez will be there too, so don't hesitate to come and find him and Nadav on the stand, for all the answers to your harp questions!