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.
The distinguished harpist-composer Benoît Wery has just released a new words-music CD, with flautist Philippe Pierlot, and one of France's most famous actors: Marie Christine Barrault. April's Camac Voice is an extract from the final track on this album of French poetry and music: L’Isle de la Fée for harp and narrator, by Benoît Wery, based on the tale 'The Island of the Fay' by Edgar Allen Poe.
Benoît Wery is much in demand both as a performer and composer, in and beyond the harp world. He has particularly made a name for himself as a champion of French music. He was awarded five diapasons for his CD "musique française avec harpe" (Chant de Linos CL0946), and his discography also includes a disc of French violin and harp music (CL1061) with Jean-Pierre Wallez, and one of French flute, bassoon and harp music (REM 311283).
The closing date for the Third International Harp Competition in Szeged (November 28 - December 3, 2013) is not until the 30th of September, but if you're going in for the competition you're probably working on your programme already. In which case: there's an interesting interview with Attila Reményi, whose Miniatures are the set work in the competition's senior cateogry.
The Miniatures, which won the Third International Composition Competition in Fukui, Japan in 1998, are not Reményi's sole contribution to the harp repertoire. He has written no less than ten solo and chamber works (catalogued at the end of the interview), including for pedal harp, lever harp, harp duet, harp ensemble, flute and harp, and fl/vla/hp trio.
Classical music, in its generic sense, is the art music stemming from Western liturgical and secular traditions. Today, one of its most interesting aspects is how it travels. The harp has long benefited from amazing work in the Asia Pacific region, like in Singapore, Thailand, China, and Japan. Increasingly, for all they are ringed by desert, the Gulf states are also proving a fertile source of new musical life. The ongoing success of the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra is one example, and another is what's going on in Dubai.
Dubai has quite a lot of job opportunities for harpists to play in its luxury hotels. This was how Shelley Frost first arrived in the country, having taken such a job in order to fund a new harp. She has stayed, taken playing for corporate events to an entirely new stratosphere, and has now applied her vision and professionalism to developing the concert scene. In 2009, we blogged about The Fridge, Shelley's arts centre. Since then, she has also, together with her composer colleague Joanna Marsh, created an organisation specialising in art music: The Score. Shelley and Joanna's concept is not only to bring top performers to the audiences of Dubai, but also to feed into the grass roots of the local music culture. As a result, all of the concerts in the season are surrounded by an array of workshops, master classes and music educational activities.
Under the auspices of The Score, Catrin Finch will be making her concert debut in Dubai on March 25th. This will include a masterclass for professional harpists of the region, a matinée for and with school children, and the world premiere of a work by Joanna Marsh, "A Short Handbook of Djinn". This work consists of three movements, each about a different djinn, and each preceded by a short narrative explaining their role in Arabic culture.
The Camac Voice of February is one of the artists who recently performed at Camac Ibérica’s birthday party in Madrid: François Pernel. The extract now playing on camac-harps.com is part of François’s own arrangement of J S Bach’s first cello Suite. The cello suites are tricky to bring off on the harp – perhaps because of the very different colour of bowed cello bass notes – and it’s impressive to hear this one, the most famous, so successful on the lever harp. If you like that, check out François’s SoundCloud page, where you'll find everything from a Vivaldi-based classical waltz mix, to "Irish groove", "Celtic Breton jazz", and "Rachman'hip'hop".
Despite the sound of its name, traditional music is an exceptionally creative medium, adapting and adopting whatever musical styles it finds and likes. In the lever harp world alone, you’ll find so-called “Celtic” music (itself native to at least five different countries and traditions) married to classical, jazz, world music, rock, pop, electronica and the avant-garde. With its spirit of constant discovery, this music is anything but entombed in aspic, and proves that tradition is as much a question of individual talent as anything else.
François Pernel is one of the lever harp’s most individual talents. Composer, arranger, performer and teacher, his music is distinguished by a particularly skilful appropriation of diverse influences. He has released more than a dozen albums - which you can order here, or download as MP3s - from his composition ‘Gnossienne’ in homage to Eric Satie, to his album ‘Harpe Corps’, on which all the tracks feature amplification and sound processing in one way or another.