Saturday, 29 January 2011

The Uncommon Harp

It was great to see so many harpists at the premier of Graham Fitkin's Concerto for midi harp this week.

I finally got to meet Graham's partner Ruth Wall, who has a really lovely solo harp CD that she released in 2004. All the music is performed on a 33 string lever harp built by Mark Norris and it is a CD of new accessible tonal music.

My personal favourites are the Farewell to Stromness by Peter Maxwell Davies, Opening by Philip Glass, and The Peninsula Run by Ruth Wall.

Two Movements for Small Harp by Laurence Crane is a bit too minimal for my liking, the 2nd movement especially so, but it does open up a good debate which I think is a problem that besets most harp music.

Because of the natural decay in sound when you pluck a harp string, I think there is a tendency to want to "fill up" the gaps left in what would be sustained notes if played on any other instrument. When in fact it is good to hear the gaps/silences between the plucked notes. Personally I feel there are perhaps too many "gaps" for me in this piece but maybe I'll grow to like this piece more?

All in all a very enjoyable and inspiring CD!

So much so I've just bought the sheet music for the Maxwell Davies and I might even have a go and try it out on my lever harp instead of my concert harp...

Thursday, 27 January 2011

No Doubt

I went to see SIoned Williams perform the new concerto by Graham Fitkin for midi harp and orchestra with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at their Maida Vale studios in London yesterday.

Called "No Doubt", Graham used sample voices from public speeches, mostly US politicians during the Iraq war and after about 5 minutes into the piece, the harp strings stopped being used as an "electric harp" and the strings then started triggering sample voice sounds. The harp could then "speak" words. Fascinating stuff!

It was a ground breaking concert which was well supported by lots of harpists coming to see this new instrument in action in a concerto for the first time. The technical aspect of this new harp is that of course not only does each string act as a "trigger" to start a sampled sound but that trigger lasts for as long as the string vibrates. SO for some trigger sounds you would need to damp the string very precisely. All in all, thinking about the possibilities on this instrument certainly makes my head hurt!

Fantastic playing from Sioned and now that she has "laid down the gauntlet" hopefully there will be more good music to come on this new and exciting instrument.

The performance is being broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and is well worth listening to. Also very much worth a listen is the In Tune programme that Sioned played on prior to the concert where she and Dominic Murcott (who operated the programming and technical interface side of the midi harp as Sioned played) explain more about the project and how the instrument works.

BBC blog with links to all the programmes here