Grégory Cappoen has just released his debut CD: Du crépsucule à l'aurore, From Dusk to Dawn. It's a very personal musical journey, all original compositions. The disc also weaves a lightly chronological path through Grégory's own life, beginning with works he wrote a decade ago, and continuing from there. "The album is called "From Dusk to Dawn", Grégory explains, "because the time between the evening and the morning can be conducive to introspection and reflection. When I talk about this CD, I often describe a meditative pause, an internal journey", and reflecting back on one's own experience. That is because each composition is connected to an important moment in my own life.
Speaking of composers: because the harp is still something of a mystery instrument, collaborations between harpists and composers are often particuarly close. This leads to lifelong friendships. It's great that our profession is a human matter, and doesn't divide the personal and the professional.
Mercedes Gómez has written a wonderful account of her work with Javier Álvarez. He has written two fascinating pieces for harp and electroacoustic sounds: Acuerdos por Diferencia, and Sonoroson. These are now being released on disc, as part of a retrospective collection of his music (Casete-Agricultura Digital, supported by CONACULTA and in co-production with CMMAS-org, Gobierno del Estado de Michoacán, ENM-UNAM, MUAC, Camac Harps, and Radio France).
I well remember Mercedes performing Acuerdos por Diferencia at the World Harp Congress in Dublin (2005). The piece depicts a train travelling at speed, through a landscape dotted with electricity poles. The poles swoop by and seem to loop; similarly, the harp and the electroacoustic sounds interweave in a manner that is both clever and moving. The tape imitates the harp sounds, but in unplayable figurations. The impossible figures weave about the live performer, entrancing us as much by their unattainability as by their brilliance. There’s a powerfully plastic flow around both limits and the limitless. Alvarez writes: “Picture yourself travelling at ease on a train. As you look through the window, you notice the power cables running parallel to the tracks. These tracks seem to turn as a volume that gently rotates and changes shape. This flow accelerates before being interrupted by the posts that hold them at more or less regular distances. In this piece, I have attempted to draw a musical parallel with a similar sort of speculation, playing with point of accord (Acuerdo), and variations, juxtapositions, superimpositions (Diferencia), between harp and tape. Thus my title could freely be translated as “accords within differences.”
Mercedes also played Sonoroson, Álvarez's second work for harp and electroacoustic sounds, at a World Harp Congress (Vancouver, 2011). In fact, you can still watch her talking about this on the revolutionary video project that took Vancouver by storm: CamacCam.
Read Mercedes's account of her work with Álvarez here!
I once had a fight with a well-known German publishing house, who wanted me to add pedal changes to a score I was editing for them. I explained this wasn't helpful, because every harpist likes to write pedals in differently, and it also depends on your harp and all the rest of it. They weren't happy about this so in the end, to show them I wasn't just trying to get out of doing the work, I marked up the changes and told them not to print them. They printed them anyway: I suppose they decided it would look more wise or something (they also went to print without doing the corrections, and never paid me. But I digress).
In a variation on the wise adage that “it is better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt”: having got a good point in my hand, I’m a great believer in making it several times. For the third time in as many days, I’ll therefore tell you that the Dutch Harp Festival are doing fantastic blogging, tweeting, photography and FB-ing. If you want to follow what's going on in Utrecht, read all about it on their central site.
Above all, the DHF is an event with strong ideas. And strong ideas propogate, or at any rate, they get their audiences thinking. Rather than attempt a poor copy of the festival's own brilliant reportage, I thought I'd blog about things the festival makes us think about.
The composition contest final has just presented a new documentation project: composingforharp.com. This website is the brainchild of Miriam Overlach and Sabien Canton. It serves to document harp playing - how it works, how it sounds and how to write it down - in the service of new music, and free exchange between harpists and composers. Composers can look forward to ten explanatory videos, notation guides, sound files, a library to promote their scores, and a forum to post their questions. The site's tone is relaxed and warm, which always aids communication. Composingforharp.com will be released later this year, so watch this space!
"Life is our dictionary", said Emerson. Not everyone wants to write dictionaries, but everyone needs to use them. They are the unsung heroes of knowledge and experience - especially in the era of open data, which will be revolutionary if there are enough analysts to structure it. Composingforharp.com's friendly, clear and above all useful e-doc has reminded me to sing the praises of two excellent harp dictionaries never far from our desks in Mouzeil. They're both in French, without English versions, so you can either call up the publishers and offer your translation services, or add this to "experience Camus in the original" and "sound a bit more je ne sais quoi" in your list of reasons to learn French.
This year not one, but two fantastic harpists have been nominated for the Scottish Traditional Music Awards. Corrina Hewat, Principal Scottish Harp Tutor at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, is up for Music Tutor of the Year, and Ailie Robertson is in the running for Composer of the Year. You can also vote for Ailie's band, The Outside Track, as Live Act of the Year.
Vote online here: polls are open until November 22nd.
The repertoire for the diverse competitions of the third Wales International Harp Festival is now out! In the year when William Mathias would have celebrated his eightieth birthday, the festival focus will be on his compositions, and the topic of composing for the harp in general.
Competition registration will open on November 15th; meanwhile, more information is available on the festival website. It's good to see that the WIHF, like the Dutch Harp Festival, has started to use some screens.
As the new season begins, it's time to announce a fantastic new project that'll be more helpful. Miriam Overlach and Sabien Canton want to build an an international, multimedia platform and forum for composers: composingforharp.com.
Firstly, composingforharp.com will feature a general introduction to the harp, describing its parts and construction, and its various categories of playing techniques ('damping', 'pedals', 'arpeggios', 'glissandi', 'harmonics' etc). These sections will be illustrated with short excerpts from typical repertoire. Moving on from the basics, short films will present the whole range of sounds which can be produced on a harp, by so-called 'standard' and by extended techniques. The viewer can listen to the sound and see the way it is produced at the same time, and also learn how to notate it. will additionally provide an interactive forum where composers and players can exchange ideas and questions. They will have the opportunity to upload excerpts of pieces, creating a new database of compositions for harp.
Jean-Michel Damase, while president of the jury of the Concours Cité des Arts, 2011. Photo: Jean-Marc Volta
As many of you will have already heard, Jean-Michel Damase died the day before yesterday, at the age of 85. Son of the great harpist Micheline Kahn, he leaves behind him an exceptional, prolific and imaginatively diverse contribution to our instrument. From absolute beginners to the most virtuoso artists, a concert harpist's repertoire is not complete without at least one work by Jean-Michel. Those fortunate enough to have known or met him personally equally treasure his kindness, open-mindedness and good humour. Like many distinguished musicians, he was first and foremost an exceptional human being. He will be sorely missed.