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Camac Harp Festival

Trinity College of Music 26-28 June 2007

Three days of music with harps galore of all shapes and sizes made for a seductive experience. The harp is such a visually attractive instrument that an illustrated report seemed appropriate.


The sponsors brought a lorry load of harps from Paris, exhibited them in the Theatre Studio, and had given Trinity an Atlantide Prestige instrument. The festival began with a duo-recital by Trinity professors Gabriella Dall'Olio and Anna Noakes, both of them distinguished soloists.

I was able to attend but a small proportion of the events on the following days.



Next morning Dall'Olio took part in a concert of music by Sue Rothstein, including some world premieres.Small junior students showed commendable grasp of rhythm and played little teaching pieces more than competently, quickly showing us why they took up that instrument. More advanced students brought developed skill to their pieces.





Towards the end of the morning we had a display of the harp in context, with singer (the excellent Maya Sapone) and a dancer (marking Trinity College's association with Laban).


Gabriella Dall'Olio (Trinity's Head of Harp Studies) and Rothstein herself took part in premieres of her latest concert pieces. And finally one of today's great harpists, Sioned Williams, was supported by string quartet in Rothstein's new Lament.

Disconcertingly all that music was in a determinedly traditional idiom, unruffled by any discordant ugliness, as if the 20th century had not happened, let alone the 21st !

And this is a theme which will have to be returned to summing up the festival as a whole - another is the instrument's unique gender exclusivity, q.v. my photos!

In the afternoon there was a recital in which I enjoyed Debussy's Danses Sacrée & Profane (Maria Chiossi and string quintet), with Dan James' bass sounding as sonorous in Trinity's lovely Peacock Room as do massed basses in the acoustically revamped RFH !

Because of a noisy military veterans event being prepared outside the Peaock Room, Isabelle Moretti's public master class had to be transferred to St Alfege Church nearby.

She urged a pupil to tackle Fauré's Une châtelaine en sa Tour more slowly and to adjust her pianissimo to the acoustic, but failed to make herself audible for the audience; a microphone would have helped. And time limits precluded actual work with the student, who had to content herself on this occasion with Moretti's general performance philosophy.

From the programme I noted that there was a Jazz Harp recital and workshop, but - surprisingly for a college noted for its espousal of contemporary music - virtually nothing on the contemporary harp.

Berio's Sequenza II (1963) was not to be heard, nor anything that it has surely spawned, save for Donatoni's Marches in the Dall'Olio/Noakes recital which launched the festival.

My visits to the Camac Harp Days finished with a showcasing of one of Trinity College of Music's strengths. Frances Kelly (Professor of Early Harp) had organised an afternoon concert with flutes and strings from the thriving Early Music Department, in which Frances demonstrated her "triple harp" (which is more suitable for baroque repertoire) and she followed with a lecture demonstration on the harp in Handel's time - she has an acclaimed recording of Handel's harp concerto, newly reissued together with the organ concertos, on Hyperion Dyad CDD22052, hugely enjoyable.

Most successful was Kelly's arrangment for ensemble of the blind 18 C. harpist/composer J.Parry's Lesson 1, with each of its movements taken in turn by three advanced students (illustrated) to great effect.

In thanking all concerned, Frances Kelly made an important point - so busy are all the students with exams, recitals etc etc at this time of year, that getting her complicated afternoon event together involved horrendous logistics (and I guess that applied to the whole week) making organising rehearsals very complicated.

That goes a long way towards explaining the slender attendances of non-harpist students in the modest audiences. Everyone found those events they could get to highly rewarding.

I look forward to the next Camac festival but perhaps a more propitious slot could be sought?

And why not try to involve the College's Composition Department by exploring funding for a new harp piece? That might help to achieve wider interest within the College (and for the public) with involvement in the harp as an instrument of the future too.

Whereas contemporary idioms are well established for piano teaching (q.v. for example the Spectrum series) there seems to be a problem with plucked instruments, which might limit the general musical development of young girls (only?) who choose to take up the harp? I have been interested to learn that Aldo Clementi [mode 182] has responded to the guitar repertoire being 'tied to a few keys that exploit its open-string sounds', by becoming himself one of the composers for guitar dedicated to 'finding ways of avoiding the instrument's stultifying tonal traditions'. An equivalent is needed for the harp.

A final note about the efficient organisation of the Camac Days by Gabriella Dall'Olio and her numerous colleagues. Stage management of the concerts was smooth and fast, and it was almost a balletic pleasure to watch the harp-moving between items!

And special congratulations to those responsible for the excellent, anonymously produced programme book. Looking to the future, there were even glossy burgeoning CVs of everyone who took part!

Peter Grahame Woolf