Even though I am busy with gigs at the moment, it still feels like the calm before the storm. It seems that every day I get calls asking for last minute gigs before Christmas, my diary is bulging at the seams – which is great.
Last Friday was slightly manic. I was performing some background music for the annual fundraising dinner and awards ceremony for Christians Against Poverty at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – there were about 400 people there and the place looked great…
I had to dash off after the main course for a rehearsal with Leeds Symphony Orchestra. I felt slightly silly turning up to a rehearsal 20 minutes before the end – but the programme had lots of harpy moments so for the sake of the conductor’s sanity I thought it was important to go so we could chat about important entries, the speeds of different sections etc.
The concert was the following evening in St. Chad’s, Headingley. It started with Verdi’s Force of Destiny Overture. This is one of my favourite harp parts! It’s an excerpt that all harpists learn as early as possible so we can perform it at a moment’s notice without too much stress. In fact, the best thing to do is memorise it so you can just stare at the conductor and still hopefully get all the notes in the right place (the excerpt is fast triplets with lots of pedal changes but SO much fun). I will always remember performing it in Italy in 2010 with the RNCM Symphony Orchestra on the Piazza in Montepulciano. I remember the warm Mediterranean breeze causing the harp strings to sound, and the promise of ample Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for us all to drink each evening. It was a fantastic time.
The next piece in the programme was Britten’s Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. I’m doing so much Britten this year due to the fact that this Friday would have been his 100th birthday. I feel a great affection for Britten’s music and am very proud and happy to be able to perform it so often (on the last count I am doing five performances of his Ceremony of Carols this year). I first did the Sea Interludes with the Yorkshire Youth Orchestra in the summer before I started at RNCM. Back when I was a sweet young thing of 18 – hitting the pub with the brass players every night for a week. There was no harp tutor on this particular course and I remember being really nervous about it! But actually it was a great introduction to a wonderful set of pieces.
The final piece I was involved in on Saturday was Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde. Now, Wagner has caused me a lot of stress these past few months (from beyond the grave – so rude). So he’s not my favourite person, but actually, I have to say the Liebestod is probably the most charming music by him that I have played, it’s not easy but it sounds nice – maybe you have to grow into liking Wagner and I’m just not mature enough yet. We shall see. Was it Edgar Wilson Nye that said ‘Wagner’s music is better than it sounds’? I know what he means.
Saturday’s concert was highly convenient in that I wasn’t needed after the interval so I could dash off home… and prepare myself for Sunday.
On Sunday I was to drive to Nottingham from York to take part in An afternoon of Britten – yay more Britten! The only annoying part of the day was getting to Nottingham and realising I’d left my purse in York – I won’t repeat what I said when my mum called to inform me of this. Suffice to say my wonderful daddy met me at Ferrybridge Services to drop off my purse so I could get straight back to Manchester in time for my planned evening of carbonara and wine.
The only piece I was involved in was the Ceremony of Carols. The cathedral was almost full, a really good audience. I want to know their secrets of such successful concert promotion. Maybe I’m not alone in feeling very proud of the English music being performed. Neil Page and Alex Patterson both conducted wonderfully, and the pianist, Peter Williams, was particularly good as well. The concert started with the Fanfare for St. Edmundsbury before going on to Ceremony of Carols. The next few pieces I had honestly never heard so this was a fascinating afternoon. First up was Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, for countertenor, tenor and piano – a really moving piece of music and excellently performed by Tom Williams, James Lister and Peter Williams respectively. Next were Six Metamorphoses after Ovid with Anna Williams playing the oboe.
The next piece was The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard, which tells a grim tale of betrayal and adultery – the music of which was apparently parachuted into a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1943 where it received seven performances. The concert ended with the whole choir coming together to perform the Hymn to St. Cecilia – how fitting to end this wonderful, at times emotional, afternoon by honouring the patron saint of music.
So that was last weekend. There are so many gigs coming up between now and Christmas, things are going to get a little crazy! A friend of mine recently described my harp career as ‘taking off’. This was a really sweet thing to say, but, as musicians, what does a ‘successful career’ mean? Right now I feel successful if I can afford to cook myself decent food, run my car, keep warm in my flat and stay within my overdraft limit. I wonder, is it the number of gigs that defines success? Or is it the fee for those gigs? Or, more likely, the caliber and reputation of those you perform with? It’s not like there’s a promotion I can go for. I’m just ‘harpist’. But the best thing about doing lots of gigs is that it will lead to lots of gigs, this Christmas I’m also invading areas that I’ve never played in before (Bradford and Ilkley for example) so hopefully that will lead to more work for me in these areas. We shall see.
As always, a big thank you for reading these posts of mine, if you have any comments or feedback… get in touch!