Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Our interview for leading Classical music webmagazine Tokafi

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In November of last year, Harriet Adie of 4 Girls 4 Harps was approached about the band: "I got called by someone enquiring about my group '4 harps, 4 girls, 4 pianos'!", she laughs, "4 harps are enough!" They certainly are. Quadruplicating the harp's tone, the UK-based quartet are equally capable of dreamy lyricism and working up a racket, sporting a sound both versatile and powerful. In doing so, they have taken on a leading role in what has already been called by some 'the underground harp movement': the gradual emancipation of the harp from a negligible niche into a musical force to be reckoned with. Their success – the four piece has been featured extensively on national radio and already has bookings extending well into 2015 – is as much a result of their tight, carefully honed group sound as the individual qualities of the performers, all of which continue to enjoy fruitful solo careers. Of lately, two band members, Adie and Eleanor Turner, have also increasingly contributed original compositions to the live program of 4 Girls 4 Harps, adding exciting contributions to the still small repertoire for harp quartet. The hard work and commitment hasn't gone by unnoticed: The group's 2009 album Fireworks and Fables, collecting some of their favourite transcriptions as well as personally commissioned compositions, met with an enthusiastic response and last year's Christmas CD seemed to hold a subscription to album of the month nominations. Every step of the way, 4 Girls 4 Harps are turning your expectations about their instrument upside down. They may not be performing with 4 pianos. But they certainly could hold their own against them.
In this interview with all members of 4 Girls 4 Harps (including latest addition Elizabeth Scorah), we speak about the founding of the group, commissioning new music and the future of the harp quartet as a general format.

What is it about the harp that has kept it so interesting for so long and has made you dedicate so many years of your life to it?

A tongue in cheek answer might be that it is so large and expensive that we would be honour-bound to keep playing! But, in all seriousness, there are so many ways a harp can be played and such a variety of performance opportunities, that it remains fascinating and challenging. The modern-day harp is a relatively new invention and we have only just begun to scratch the surface in terms of what this instrument is capable of. Composers and harpists are constantly inventing new ways to play the harp: the unusual percussive and timbral effects you can create are particularly interesting, including playing with various implements and preparing the strings with crocodile clips and blu-tack! It is a playground of an instrument and we will never be bored by it!


For many performers, there tend to be a variety of performers who've inspired them. How is that for you?

Harpists like Catrin Finch have been trailblazers for the instrument in recent years. So many more people listen to harp music as a result of their performances. Jazz harpist Deborah Henson-Conant has pushed the boundaries of how the harp is perceived and taken it to places where people will have never heard the sound before. This is something we very much admire and hope to emulate with what we do as a quartet.
We are also very inspired by colleagues who are doing things differently with the instrument, particularly harpists who are commissioning and creating new repertoire such as American harpist Bridget Kibbey, and Dutch harpist Remy Van Kesteren who not only has a glittering solo career but has also established a fantastic harp festival and international competition in the Netherlands … these are people that put the harp on the map for years to come.

We have also found inspiration outside the harp world in artists who are totally dedicated to their chosen instrument and repertoire. Some of them have even drawn us to an instrument we might not have felt any special affinity for - for example, flautist Wissam Boustany or Ig Henneman with her totally unique viola playing.


How did the idea for a harp quartet come up?

The idea for the group came as a result of the harp ensemble classes Harriet and Eleanor participated in at the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music. After several concerts together as part of the JD harp ensemble, they were encouraged to take it further by Harriet’s mother (a concert promoter and founder of the Two Moors Festival), and within a few months, the quartet was born.


 
What were the first rehearsals and performances like?

Our first performances were very tame in comparison to how we perform now. Almost all the music was centred around pieces we could access and play, rather than having the luxury of creating our own tailor made programmes and being able to have a real vision for a concert, as we can now. The rehearsals were directed by JD harp professor Daphne Boden, so we had minimal input in to how we performed the music. As we were so young (under 20), it was probably a good idea that we didn’t make the big decisions ourselves as we didn’t have the musical experience to do so. One thing that has never changed however, is that we have always talked about the music in our performances. It is very important to us to make the music come alive for the audience, and telling them about its origins is a big part of that.

When we started out, we could never have dreamt that one day we would be able to devise an entire programme (or several) of our own creations and transcriptions. It has been a joy learning how to treat four harps as one instrument, yet bringing out the individual voices of each player. It's a total contrast to the early student days!


How would you describe the sound of four harps playing at the same time compared to just one?

Four harps are so different to a solo harp. The level of power we can get from four instruments is huge in comparison and it is one of the things we always get audience comments about. Having said that, it would still be a lot quieter than a full symphony orchestra so there would potentially be some very large venues where it might be hard to hear us in the back seats.

Three of the harps in the group are made by the same makers – Salvi Harps  - so they are quite similar in tone. However, even among identical models there can be big differences in how they sound, especially in terms of their individual volume. We do adjust for that in the group, so the loudest harp has to play at a comparable level to the quietest harp to keep the instruments balanced. It is also important to say that a lot of the difference in tone quality comes from the player rather than the harp, so again, we do have to adjust things depending on who is playing which part in order to come up with the perfect sound combination.


What are some of the complications in terms of performance and sound when playing with a harp quartet – compared to, say, a string quartet, where the individual voices are more sharply delineated?

As a group, it can be challenging to identify where a part is coming from, as all parts are basically the same sound. It doesn’t pose a huge problem for us now as we are so used to playing in that sound world, but for a group starting out, this could be quite challenging. One of the hardest things as a harp ensemble is playing exactly together. When we pluck a string, our fingers squeeze a little before we let go … all harpists do it in slightly different ways and this is why it is so hard to get notes exactly together.

As a general rule, we work for a sound where the most important parts musically are the ones that are heard most. The general timbre of the group should be well blended, but each harp has a massive timbral scope so we can create beautiful and genuinely unique textures by each harp simultaneously using a different tone - for example, a slightly brassy bassline, a warm glow from the middle gut register filling out harmony, an oboic sound or flutey harmonics for the tune if there is one, plus a rhythmic motif up high in the last harp, or an arrhythmic 'whisper' called a bisbigliando, or glissandi.


How has your concert repertoire developed over the years?

What a difference! At first, we were playing harp duets with two harpists playing each part. For example one of our favourite early programmes started with 'The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba' and ended with a rousing Welsh Duo by Victorian harpist John Thomas. Over the years we have tried several different formulas – programmes of lighter music, programmes packed with contemporary music, programmes where we mixed four harps with harp duets and harp solos - and finally come up with something that works very well.

A typical concert today consists of well-known classical pieces arranged for the group by either Harriet or Eleanor and pieces that we have commissioned specially for the ensemble. We think that this format works best as there is something for the conservative Classical listener – something we have to battle with is the misconception that four harps are a bit ‘wacky‘ – and something that pushes the boundaries musically and really shows the scope of what four harps can create.


Since the harp quartet is not exactly a particularly wide-spread format, transcriptions quite naturally seem to play an important role. What's your approach to them and how do you select the right pieces?

When it comes to the transcriptions, we work on the basis of what would work well in a programme. After that, it is a case of what would work well on the harp (there are certain types of figurations such as rapidly repeated notes and very fast chromaticism which aren’t really playable on the harp). We love to transcribe and usually look to orchestral pieces for the repertoire - we have always been taught to view the harp as an orchestra within one instrument, in order not to be limited by its image and more stereotypical characteristics. With our transcriptions, audiences are always impressed by what we achieve and we receive lovely comments about the transcriptions surpassing the orchestral version sometimes! We have great fun mimicking the instruments that the harp can sound a little like, but more often than mimicking we're using the orchestral original as inspiration for the dialogue, the structure, the timbre and the personality of the work - therefore, we choose pieces that are rich in those qualities. We are also lucky in that we have more flexibility on repertoire than a solo harpist would have, as we are able to split what would be too difficult for one harp between four harps, so this opens up a lot more possibilities for the group.


You also have two active composers in the line-up. Can you tell me a bit about your different compositional approaches?

Eleanor and Harriet write in very different ways. Eleanor is more experimental both technically and harmonically than Harriet and her pieces for the group have been quite contrasting in compositional style. Harriet has more of a distinct style of composing and is very keen on toccata-type rhythms and a mixture of jazz and french impressionist harmonies, and this is apparent in all her compositions for the group so far. Both girls agree that they have learnt a huge amount about how to write for the group over the years, and are not afraid to let their music have ‘space‘ now, whereas, earlier compositions were much more dense musically speaking, with all four harps playing together the majority of the time.

Other harpists are really interested in our new compositions and are starting to ask for copies. We are both working on publications, as once the works are more accessible it could really take off. Eleanor has been delighted that her "Aquarium" arrangement (Saint-Saens) has been performed by the American Youth Harp Ensemble and we think that our popular transcriptions should pave the way for harp ensembles to try our original works.

We also love the idea of leaving a musical legacy for the future, and over the past ten years, we have amassed a substantial number of new pieces for harp quartet which we hope will be enjoyed by the next generation of harpists.


Next to transcriptions and original pieces, 4 Girls 4 Harps has also made a name for itself by commissioning new music. What has the response by composers been like so far?

Whenever we have approached a composer about writing a piece for the group they have always been incredibly enthusiastic. In the early years we didn’t give them much direction so the finished piece was always a wonderful surprise. If we were to commission anything in the future we would be a bit more specific about what we were looking for, partly to complement the pieces we already have, but also because we have learnt through our own writing experience what works and what doesn’t work for four harps. It is very gratifying that we now have composers approaching us with pieces they have written for harp quartet to ask if we would be interested in performing them.

Our favourite piece written for the group so far has to be Edward Longstaff’s "Saraswati". Based on the Indian Goddess Saraswati (who has four arms) it is one of the most exciting pieces we have ever played. It is technically incredibly demanding and by the end of it we all feel like we have had a good workout, but musically it is also extremely beautiful and dynamic and really conjures up the colours and sounds of an Indian landscape. We recorded this piece on our last CD, Fireworks and Fables, with Tabla player Sanju Sahai. The addition of authentic Indian drums made it even more inspiring to play and listen to.

We are also looking forward to performing Harriet’s 2012 piece "Elemental" at the World Harp Congress in Australia next year, and hope to record this in the not too distant future.


What have been some of the landmarks for the ensemble over the years? When did it start to become clear that this was a concept which might last quite a long time?

One of our earliest landmarks was playing for St George’s, Bristol in 2004. The group was very new still and it was an honour to play somewhere with such an eminent history. Another early highlight was being selected to perform at the 9th World Harp Congress in 2005 – playing for an audience of ‘experts‘ was very daunting! We were also privileged to be invited to perform as part of the opening celebrations of London concert hall King’s Place in 2009. A more personal landmarks in terms of the quartet’s development have been the chance to collaborate with other musicians, such as tabla player Sanju Sahai, and (on our Christmas CD  released at the end of last year), soprano Helen Winter. We have learnt a huge amount from working with other musicians in terms of ensemble playing, creativity and interpretation.

We don’t think we ever had a long term ‘plan‘ for the group. We knew that we loved performing together and playing harp quartet music, and it never occurred to us that we wouldn’t be doing it years down the line! However, now we are over thirteen years into performing together, we do think more about the direction we want to go in and making sure the group continues to be successful. Perhaps with the confidence that longevity has brought, we are able to think in a more long-term way. We think we are fairly unique in the harp world to have been performing successfully as a group for such a long time!


Do you see the harp quartet as a viable model for the future in some form or will 4 Girls 4 Harps remain a unique proposition, do you reckon?

Since we started the group almost 15 years ago, we have seen an increase in the number of harp ensembles, both professional level and student groups. We are delighted that we are not the only harp quartet in the world and also that some other groups are playing some of our commissions and transcriptions. It would be fantastic to see harp quartets become a more recognised chamber group in years to come and we would like to think that we've paved the way for this to happen.


Does this show through in your audiences as well?

We are certainly seeing more diverse audiences - obviously this goes hand in hand with playing in a wide range of venues and at different times of the year, the day and whether it's a music society with quite a fixed audience or a festival that brings in a wider crowd. We're also getting a bit of a following with the young harpists - they definitely admire how we approach the quartet and the repertoire.

One of the most satisfying parts of our concerts are some of the comments afterwards from audience members who were blown away by the variety of the sound and repertoire. Some people might see the the harp quartet as a bit gimmicky but after actually coming to the concert, their preconceptions are completely disproved. We always programme such a wide range of styles and periods that there is something for every taste from Baroque to recent commissions to Jazz … we love surprising our audiences (well except those who have seen us many times!). Interestingly, the biggest prejudice we have to overcome is from concert promoters who are concerned that the harp quartet won’t sell well. They are always amazed when the ticket sales pour in, and most of our concerts now are sold out! This wouldn’t happen if the local audience were suspicious of the group – the harp is a very popular instrument to listen to now, and we think audiences are attracted to the idea of the spectacle of harps magnified by four!


You've recently commented on the hardships of life as a performer, which is more than understandable. Can you now tell me a bit about what makes playing in this group so satisfying?

TokafiOur friendships, the amazing opportunity to be so creative, and using the four harps as a unique colour palette for our own compositions and creativity! Being a harpist can be quite lonely (much of our career is spent either performing solo concerts or in a corner of the orchestra), so being able to play with three other people who can completely understand the ups and downs of the instrument is a lovely feeling. We have also met some wonderfully generous people in the places we have performed in – our hosts and the concert organisers are all so friendly and helpful, and the audiences we play to are always incredibly receptive and enthusiastic about what we are doing. It is also amazing to be part of something that is trailblazing and unique – it always feels as though we are a part of something very special and we are excited for all that the future has to offer!

Interview with 4 Girls 4 Harps by Tobias Fischer

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Spotlight on Helen Winter - guest artiste on our new album!



Helen Winter - Soprano

In honour of the imminent release of our newest CD '4 Girls 4 Harps at Christmas' we thought it would be interesting to highlight one of the special features of the CD. We particularly enjoyed recording three tracks with the soprano Helen Winter - we felt that it would add an exciting element to the main harp-tastic soundworld of the CD and, having listened to the finished product, she really accentuates the Christmas sparkle!

We thought it would be fun to get to know Helen a bit better and find out how she found the experience of working with four harps, so we asked her a few questions....

How did you get involved with 4G4H's new album?

I had been working with Eleanor Turner and we wanted to record some tracks together. Ellie thought about the idea of working with all the girls on a project and we thought that a Christmas CD would be most popular and interesting to work on.  
Have you ever worked with harps before? 
Only one, with Eleanor.
Was there anything that suprised you about the music that you were recording?
The arrangements that the girls had written themselves were really beautiful. They wrote perfectly for my voice. It was also quite tricky in places.
What was the most challenging thing about recording with four harps?
The most challenging thing was the rhythms in some of the carols, and also being aware which harps were communicating with me whilst I was singing. It was vital that I always knew who was my supporting part. It is so different performing with four harps than performing with a piano. The girls are so gelled as one. They know exactly what they need from each other all the time and for me to suddenly come into a close knit group like this, was like a thorn in their side. I also had to try and become one of them and know that each part was just as important as my vocal melody - sometimes I was even used as part of the accompaniment!
What was the most fun thing about recording with the group?

The way we all worked so hard to get it right and the laugh we had doing it. I love the girls, they are fab to work with and we all get on so well which is perfect on these types of projects. I was honoured to be part of it.
Do you have a favourite track from the new CD?

I think out of my songs, In the Bleak midwinter is my favourite, although I love the others too. I am looking forward to hearing all the other tracks they did on the album as I haven't heard them yet. 
 What other projects do you have in the pipeline at the moment? 
Currently I am working on a Poulenc opera which is happening in London on November the 30th. It is a one act opera, 40 minutes long, all in French and only one character in it: me! It is quite scary, but I am really enjoying doing it.
What do you enjoy doing away from the world of music?

Away from music I have a love of animals. I am a trained Rodentologist and keep guinea pigs as this is what I specialise in. I work alongside the Cambridge Cavy Trust helping people with sick guinea pigs. I also have a beautiful cocker spaniel who I adore spending time with, she also sings along with me and my pupils.
What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Spending time at home with my wonderful husband and my family. I love the sparkle and happiness that surrounds Christmas. 
Describe 4G4H in 5 words
Talented, beautiful, hardworking, great-friends (making that one word :)) and my fifth word: bonkers!

Official release date: 2 December




















































































Monday, 9 September 2013

Group member Harriet speaks to the Journal ahead of our concert for Hexham Abbey Festival on 27 September

Girls with harps descend on Hexham

A novelty of this year's Hexham Abbey Festival is a harp quartet.  David Whetstone talks to founder member Harriet Adie
4 Girls 4 Harps will play at Hexham Abbey Festival
4 Girls 4 Harps will play at Hexham Abbey Festival
Musical groups often come in fours and quite often with strings attached. But what those strings are usually attached to are guitars or maybe the instruments of the string quartet – violin, viola, cello.

Harps seldom turn up en masse. In the orchestra it’s usually a lone exotic beast amid herds of violins and cellos, its contribution an understated ripple of refinement rather than an attention-grabbing roar.
A harp quartet, then, is a novelty. And judging by the success of 4 Girls 4 Harps since the group was formed in 2000 by young women studying at the Royal College of Music, there is a public appetite for its sound.

“We’re pretty unique, certainly in this country,” agrees Harriet Adie – whose gandma, since you’ll be wondering, once established that there is no family link to Wearside-born Kate, the BBC broadcaster.
“When we first started we were the only professional harp quartet in the country. “Another one started a couple of years ago but I think they’re more interested in a mixed repertoire whereas we’re straight classical.”

Harriet, who lives in London, came to the harp as a child through the medium of the ballet. “I loved ballet when I was young and there’s a lot of harp in ballet music, Swan Lake and other works by Tchaikovsky,” she recalls. “It was the sound I was most drawn to and wanted to make.” Harriet comes from a musical family. Mother Penny used to be a singer and now runs a music festival in the West Country where the harp – surprise, surprise – regularly features.

“But it took me two years to persuade my parents to let me play the harp,” recalls Harriet. “They were afraid I’d start to learn it and then give up six months later. In any case, we were living in the Middle East at the time and finding a teacher wasn’t straightforward.” All obstacles were overcome and Harriet ended up at one of London’s principal music colleges with other young women of like mind.“We were just friends who wanted to do the same thing,” she says, explaining how the group came to be.

In the early days the repertoire was fairly limited, with group members having to adapt duets for the four instruments. “But over the past few years we have commissioned other composers to write pieces for the group and two of us, myself and Eleanor (Turner), are both composers. “We take well-known pieces and adapt them for the harp quartet.” The line-up has undergone one or two changes over the years but now comprises Harriet, Eleanor, Keziah Thomas and recent recruit Elizabeth Scorah.

All have thriving careers as soloists and teachers but come together as 4 Girls 4 Harps, having adopted that catchy name three or four years ago “to make it clear what we were”. It could hardly be clearer, although Harriet says with a laugh: “We’ve discussed among ourselves if we can carry on calling ourselves girls if we’re still playing together in 10 years’ time.”

In common with many musicians, professional and personal lives can sometimes pull in different directions. Harriet has a 17-month-old boy and another baby on the way while Eleanor also has two children, a 17-month-old and a 10-year-old. Parenthood, says Harriet, “does make it more complicated but we’re used to having to fit things in. We have rehearsals at my house because it’s the easiest to get to.”

In Hexham you will hear the girls perform pieces by Shostakovich, Faure and Handel as well as Harriet’s new work for harp quartet, Elemental.

The concert is in Hexham Abbey on September 27 at 7pm. Hexham Abbey Festival runs from September 20-28.
Box office: 01434 652477.
Details: www.hexhamabbey.org.uk/festival

Friday, 23 August 2013

Interview with our star bidder: Geraldine McMahon



Those of you that regularly check in with what 4G4H has been doing may remember that a few months ago we hosted an online auction. The auction was to raise money towards the cost of our new Christmas CD, which will be released at the end of this year. The top prize was the chance to book a concert from the group in a venue of the bidder's choice, and we were delighted (and extremely grateful!) when harp impressario Geraldine McMahon was our winning bidder!

Geraldine is a harpist and also runs a successful business Affairs of the harp, catering to harpists from all walks of life, whether it be buying or selling a harp, providing harps for theatres and cruise ships, selling beautiful harp merchandise and even information on how to learn the harp and find a teacher! 


Brocket Hall
Geraldine and her harp




We thought you would like to know a little bit more about Geraldine and her business so we thought we'd ask her a few questions:

What drew you to the harp?
 
I went to a Grammar school in London and there happened to be a harp there – locked away in the staff dining room !  I was lucky enough to be able to start harp  lessons and I loved it. I was a relative late starter – I began lessons at 12 years of age – but I had played the piano from the age of 7. I used to stay behind after school to practise and go in at weekends – on Saturday mornings. It was a Convent School – so the nuns were always around to let me in and out !I was so lucky to have that opportunity – I was one of a family of 5 and my parents could not afford a harp.  I eventually got my own harp and  that was because my teacher – Gwendolen Mason – was moving from a big house in London to a small cottage in Cirencester. She had to downsize, obviously, and she sold my mother an Erard harp for a “giveaway” price. 

      What harpists do you admire and why?

This is a difficult question ! There are so many fabulous harpists that I admire.  Historically my favourite has to be Grandjany for the technique, repertoire and the legacy that he has left for  harpists. Modern day harpists Xavier de Maistre – his technique and his transcriptions of Orchestral works that are simply wonderful ! Catherine Michel, Suzanne McDonald, Nancy Allen, Marisa Robles, all fabulous harpists who all in their own way are marvellous performers and teachers. My own harp teacher, Daphne Boden, who actually turned my technique around ! It was, I have to admit, pretty appalling – legacy of some awful  teaching – until I went to her.  She was a very patient and a marvellous teacher. She has turned out some phenomenal  harpists- well, 4 girls 4 harps are a case in point !

      Affairs of the Harp is pretty unique! When and what made you decide to start it up?

I came up with the idea in 1998 – I realized that there were no shops around in which to buy second hand harps.  I had begun to import Lyon and Healy harps – I had lived in America for nearly five years ( and in Chicago for 2 years) and that was where my love of Lyon and Healy harps began ! There was also no source of harpists- I would often hear the comment from people that they had looked for a harpist for a function but couldn’t find one. So, I set up the website. It took me nearly two years to get it up and going- the first “webmaster” was good but seemed to lose interest half way through ! The second wanted to present the whole website in a very black and white business like way – but that is not “harps”! I knew what I wanted and eventually got there ! The title seemed very apt !  People laugh when I tell them that the website is called “Affairs of the Harp “ – but they remember it !

      What challenges have you faced in running a business over the years? Is the fact you have a selective market helpful or a hindrance?

One of the main challenges has been to keep the business going in a pretty tough economic climate.  It is a very small business and  luckily I do not have massive overheads to pay. Because it is my own business  it is very much a twenty four hour a day job ! I will sometimes get phone calls at 11.30 at night!  I had an agent once phone me at midnight on a Saturday night  in an emergency – a harp was needed to go onto the Queen Mary Cruise ship the next morning at 7.00 a.m. I got it there !  A large corporation could not do that – firstly there would be no-one in the office at 11.30p.m.  to answer the phone ! The fact that I have a selective market is helpful –  the harp world is utterly delightful  !  But mainly from the point of view that I do not want to expand massively and become a huge business . “Affairs of the Harp “ has an identity and individuality that I would not like to lose. I feel  that if the business became very big and money orientated, the charm would go !

      Where would you like to see Affairs of the Harp in 5 years time?

I would love to see “Affairs of the Harp” known and recognized across Europe ! I have had many buyers come in from Germany, Spain, Portugal, Holland and Italy and I would like to see that client base very much expanded. I speak French and some Italian and am doing a German degree – so I hope that that will be helpful in a few years time !

Do you stock any unusual items and have you ever had any strange requests from customers? 

This is a fun question ! Harp wise- I have one unusual harp – well, really, more unique ! It is a stunning Salvi Electra Harp – about 30 years old but in immaculate condition. It belonged to an old lady who had had it from new and she died and her family wants to sell it. It is simply stunning!  The Electra is not made any more  and this harp is simply beautiful – even just to sit and look at !   I also have one harp – unplayable- that  I keep for  theatre productions of “The Price”. It is a play written by Arthur Miller and the stage props include a harp.  It has been in theatre productions all over the country and was even used by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  My “Affairs of the Harp” was named in the  RSC programme ! I am very proud of that !  I think that harp deserves its equity card ! 

I am currently working on a range of excellent quality tote bags and tee shirts all with harp related themes – “Home is Where the Harp is”, “I left my Harp in San Francisco” and so on ! I found a wonderful artist who has come up with some fabulous artwork which I have commissioned !  The items are unusual, unique  and I have to say fabulous! (I am just a little bit biased !)  You can find them in my online shop on “Affairs of the Harp” . 
 
Strange requests? I get them all the time !  I have people who want to buy a harp that must have a colour or finish to match their dining room furniture. I had one man who hired a harp off me – he was a mature student beginning harp lessons- and I hired out a particularly beautiful old gold and maple lyon and Healy. He phoned me up two days later to take the harp away – his wife didn’t like it because it didn’t go with the d├ęcor of the room. She didn’t like the gold and wanted a plain harp.   I had one lady who wanted an ebony gloss harp because her daughter had “exotic colouring- olive skin and dark eyes”  – and the harp would set off her looks.  I am not making it up !! 

One of Geraldine's T Towel designs
 


 
      What is your favourite piece of harp music?

I have several ! I love the Gliere Harp concerto. The Smetana  “Ma Vlast”  transcription .  I also recently heard a concert of Schubert and Strauss Lieder sung by Diana Damrau with Xavier de Maistre on the harp.  There were arrangements of some superb lieder – which are normally accompanied, obviously, by piano, but Xavier de Maistre’s arrangements were stunning.  My favourite was the last of Strauss’ “Four last Songs”Beim Schlafengehen” . The orchestration  for the “Four last Songs “ is simply superb and what Xavier de Maistre did with his harp arrangement  was outstanding – so creative and full of the colour that Strauss put into the original score. 
So, that particular piece tops the bill of my favourites at the moment ! (Along with his “Notte Veneziana “ album  ! )

What made you decide to bid on the 4G4H auction? You bid for the main prize (a concert by the group) - do you have anything specific in mind for this?

I very much admire the group – all excellent and creative harpists – and I have the first cd! When I saw that a Christmas Album was being planned and that an auction was online to raise funds for the cd, I thought I would bid for something.   I bid for a “mention” on the Cd but then thought that I would go for the concert !  There is a series of concerts run every Summer  in Cambridge and I approached the organiser of those concerts. She was delighted with the prospect of having 4 Girls 4 Harps for a concert and from that a second concert in Cambridge has been organised. It is on Saturday November  23rd . There is a wonderful  music scene in and around Cambridge but not enough harp music  and very few harp teachers !  It would be marvellous if more concerts for the quartet came from this – but mainly, lots and lots of cd sales for the group !!

What is your favourite way to relax?

My favourite way to relax?  Walking my dog ! I have a crazy but adorable dog  and I walk her for miles in my local park or the countryside around St Albans. I also love reading and the theatre but my main passion is Opera ! I head off to Covent Garden when I can and Glyndebourne in the Summer. I just saw the most wonderful production of “Billy Budd “ there- simply superb. I don’t go off on expensive holidays – my holiday is the Opera !

How do you feel about the UK harp scene at the moment - is it vibrant or do you think we need to do a lot more to promote the instrument to a wider audience?

The UK harp scene is very lively at the moment ! There are some great harp festivals taking place around the country and there are some fantastic young harpists on the scene. There is always more that can be done to promote anything in the arts – I despair of the fact that the government is cutting back money for the arts all the time – especially music funding.  In spite of that, music and harp music and performance is flourishing!  The harp has become a more popular and accessible instrument – thank goodness ! When I started out in school there were very few harp teachers  and not many harps – those that were available to students were generally old Erards that had seen better days !  Look at the harp world now ! So very different!



For more information about Geraldine, you can visit her websites http://www.geraldinemcmahon.com/ and http://www.affairsoftheharp.com/