Between March 21st - 22nd, we will be in Onex, Switzerland, for a harp weekend with François Pernel and the association Harpes en Coeur. François has composed a Stabat Mater inspired by the music of Gershwin and Bernstein, for: counter-tenor and tenor solo, harp solo, a choir of twelve lever harps and four flutes. The rehearsals are well underway, with the classes of Elise Estavoyer, Sylvie Laville, and Alessia Lepori. The world premier of the Stabat Mater will take place at the Église du Christ-Roi, 6 chemin de l’épargne, 1213 Petit-Lancy, at 5PM on March 22nd.
Throughout the weekend's rehearsals and courses there will also be a Camac exhibition, and the chance to have your Camac harp regulated for free. For regulation bookings and exhibition enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On January 29th (with a repeat performance on the 30th), Petra van der Heide will give the European premiere of Chinese composer Tan Dun's new harp concerto, with the Royal Concertgebouw Amsterdam. "Nu Shu: The Secret Songs of Women" is a co-commission from Japan's NHK Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Concertgebouw, and has already been performed with harpists Risako Hayakawa in Tokyo, and Elizabeth Hainen in Philadelphia.
A "symphony for thirteen micro films, harp and orchestra", Tan Dun's piece is inspired by Nu Shu, a disappearing language with a long vocal tradition created by women for women in Hunan, China in the 13th century. It was, the composer's website goes on to explain, "created during a time in China when only men received any kind of formal education, and women were kept illiterate. Nu Shu was passed on through the generations from grandmother to granddaughter, aunt to adolescent niece, mother to daughter. It is the only known language that is gender specific, used and understood only by women. It has also only recently been exposed to the modern world.
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.
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.
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.