Mary Duplantier on the Millennium Stage, May 18, 2015

Mary Duplantier is a junior in high school and joined my studio three years ago when her family moved to this area. She had previously studied for about eight year.

Mary is Principal Harp in the American Youth Philharmonic, the top youth orchestra in the area. A select chamber ensemble was chosen to perform on the Millennium Stage. Mary is playing the Debussy Danses sacrée et profane, which is second on the program at 14:15.

This entry was posted on May 19, 2015.

Kai-Lan Olson on the Millennium Stage, May 13, 2015

One of my finest students, Kai-Lan Olson, is a junior in high school and began her harp studies with me about six years ago. She is a participant in the Youth Fellowship Program of the National Symphony Orchestra. Through this program the students get weekly lessons, ensemble coaching sessions, and opportunities for side-by-side with the NSO–all on full scholarship. It is a very competitive application process.

Kai-Lan has thrived, playing the Dussek Trio in the fall semester, the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique in side-by-side, and here, in her second Millennium Stage performance of the year, she plays the Pescetti Sonata in c minor, Tournier Jazz Band, and the Persichetti Serenade #10 for Flute and Harp.

This entry was posted on May 14, 2015.

A Trip to Chicago to Select a New Harp

I have been thinking of getting a new harp for a long time. The harp I use for performance is a 32-year old Lyon & Healy Style 23, walnut finish. I love my harp. I have never played one that sounded as beautiful and I have traveled the world with that harp. But it is suffering from old age. I have replaced the neck, had it the mechanism reriveted, replaced the base assembly, but kept the original soundboard. I have maintained it well. A few weeks ago Mike Lewis, a wonderful harp technician from San Francisco, regulated the harp. In spite of the recent attention, the half steps were still not perfect and I found myself at the National Gallery Concert on October 9th having to make many adjustments to compensate for the intonation.

The next day I called Lyon & Healy Harps and arranged to travel to Chicago to select a new harp.

On Thursday October 20 I arrived at Lyon & Healy around 10:00 a.m. and was treated like royalty. Steve Fritzmann showed me around the facility. They have a room devoted to Marcel Grandjany and another to Carlos Salzedo, two important French harpists who spent much of their lives teaching and performing in the United States. There was also a fascinating collection of old harps and I spent some time looking at those.

The sales staff had assembled six harps on the stage of their recital hall. I had asked them to pre-select six harps for me to choose from. I sat down and ran a scale and an arpeggio on each harp and realized immediately that this was going to be nearly impossible. I would be honored to have any of the six harps! But I had to choose one. There were four Style 23s and two Style 30s. I immediately eliminated the two 30s as I preferred the sound and touch of the Style 23s.

I am often asked how to choose a harp. I'm not sure what is the best method, but this is what I did. After playing a few scales and arpeggios to get a sense of each harp (and also to warm up a bit!), I had chosen four excerpts to play on each harp: the Nutcracker Cadenza, the Haydn Theme and Variations, the Interlude from the Britten Ceremony of Carols, and the first harp solo from the Bingham Procession and Carols. I felt like these excerpts explored all the tonal possibilities of the harp and also were representative of the things I play. After about two hours I narrowed it to two harps. One harp I preferred in almost every excerpt, and I also felt a connection to the harp, that it responded well to me. The other harp felt like an old friend, as it shared many of the same quirks, strengths and weaknesses as my harp of 32 years. Steve Hartman, another sales associate, came into the hall and played the two harps so that I could hear them from the back of the hall. Ultimately I chose the harp I connected with, not the one that was closest in sound to my current harp.

Once I made the choice, Steve Fritzmann commented that the harp I had chosen had beautiful craftsmanship and the bird's eye maple was particularly stunning. I didn't even look at it. I have never cared what a harp looks like, but rather only the sound interests me.

My new harp should arrive on November 4, or shortly thereafter (I am out of town for several days next week). I am looking forward to playing it many hours to "break in" the soundboard and have it develop the richness of my old harp. And I look forward to traveling the world with this new harp! I will still play the old one for outdoor concerts and concerts where the repertoire doesn't present a challenge for the intonation and where a rich, mellow, "old harp" sound is desired.

My new harp!

This entry was posted on October 22, 2011.

National Gallery Orchestra with the Saint Petersburg Symphony Orchestra

On Sunday evening, October 9, I had the pleasure of participating in a joint effort with the National Gallery Orchestra and the Saint Petersburg (Russia) Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Titov. The program included the Overture to Candide by Leonard Bernstein and Pictures at an Exhibition by Moussorgsky. This is a wonderful program for harp and I was thrilled to be able to play.

We had one rehearsal for the concert, which took place in the East Wing of the National Gallery. The space is beautiful, but an acoustical nightmare. There were so many echoes that it was very difficult to discern which beat was which! Still, the orchestra was very fine and the conductor a superlative musician so it was a good experience.

Above there is a photograph of the rehearsal. The sculpture on the ledge above the orchestra is appropriately named:

During the rehearsal and concert I had the pleasure of viewing the Calder mobile for which the East Wing is so well known, in many different lightings as the afternoon turned into evening. That more than made up for the frustrations of playing in such a live space!

The review, which appeared in today's Washington Post, confirmed my opinion: a wonderful concert in an acoustically challenging space!

This is the view of the Calder mobile from my seat in the orchestra!

A few comments about the harp part in the Moussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. When I coach this piece there are a two questions that always come up.

• The first is how to play the solo octaves right before rehearsal number 10 in the Gnomes. My answer to that question has changed over the years. There have been times when I have played the first one as a slide in the right hand and then split the second one between the hands. Now I just use fingers 2-3 in each hand on each one and jump. Leonard Slatkin always took that measure in three and did it quite slowly, so it was easy to play. Most conductors keep it in tempo. This conductor asked me to play it just a tiny bit slower than the previous tempo and not to muffle quickly.

• The second is the chord in harmonics at the end of the Catacombs. A three-note chord in harmonics in the second octave is difficult and risky, however I think it is preferable to simply play it as written. If that seems uncomfortable, I think it is acceptable to play the chord in harmonics an octave lower. The flutes double the chord and I think the color of the harmonics is what is essential, not the pitches, so I do not advocate playing the chord without harmonics up an octave, at sounding pitch.

This entry was posted on October 11, 2011.

Harpo Marx
How many times have I been asked if Harpo was a good harpist! I think he was very fine and also did a lot to popularize the instrument, which is always a good thing.

There is a fine autobiography, Harpo Speaks, which is not only hilarious but tells a lot about the period in which he lived and worked. I highly recommend the book.

I recently ran across a website, set up by his son Bill Marx. It is very comprehensive and you can learn a lot about the man as well as his character.

Here is a video of Harpo playing an excerpt from the Second Hungarian Rhapsody of Franz Liszt. Not an easy piece to play!

This entry was posted on September 18, 2010.

Terrific article about the physics of the harp

Harpblog, the blog of Camac harps published the link to a fascinating article on the physics of the harp. It is in French, but if there is enough interest I will ask for permission to translate into English.

This entry was posted on August 10, 2010.


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