Camac Voice, January 2012: 4 Girls 4 Harps
January’s Camac voice is the exhilarating finale to a substantial work for harp quartet, commissioned and performed by the British ensemble 4 Girls 4 Harps. This work, ‘Saraswati’ by Edward Longstaff, is inspired by Saraswati the Hindu goddess of music (as well as of knowledge, art, science and technology). She is usually depicted with four arms, portrayed here by the four harp parts. For this recording, 4 Girls 4 Harps added a tabla line, from Sanju Sahai, to emphasise the work’s powerful rhythmic quality as well as its Indian influences.
Harpblog posted an article about 4G4H nearly two years ago, in February 2010. You can read about the group’s beginnings here. As they have scaled the ranks from student quartet to a highly polished professional ensemble, they have remained true to their wish significantly to expand the harp quartet repertoire - also for other harpists.
Despite band member Keziah Thomas now spending half her time in America, 4 Girls 4 Harps have gone from strength to strength, proving that an established ensemble can continue to work even if other commitments necessarily pull in different directions. Their CD from 2010 (on which you will find ‘Saraswati’) has been repeatedly played on Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. They have appeared several times on Welsh television (S4C and Nosen Lawen), were part of the opening celebrations for London’s major new concert venue King’s Place, and maintain a busy schedule of concerts around the UK. As for new original quartet repertoire, 4 Girls 4 Harps premiered Edward Cowie's ‘Nymphaeas’ at the Warehouse, London, in 2008, and also gave the second performance of Paul “Spiders” Patterson's similarly animal-themed ‘Avian Arabesques’ (originally written for the Royal Academy of Music Harp Ensemble). Adam Gorb plans to rearrange his Christmas work, 'Harp of Gold' for harp quintet, for the group too.
In addition, 4 Girls 4 Harps have commissioned ‘Celtic Springtime’ by Edward Watson, the Old Testament Quartet by the Rev. Phillip Joy, and - very important - two members of the group are composers themselves. Harriet Adie and Eleanor Turner have composed ‘Sun, Moon and Stars: A Middle Eastern Sky’ (Adie, 2004), ‘Rambla!’ (Turner, 2008), ‘The Island’ (Turner, 2002), and a new piece by Harriet - ‘Elemental’ - will be premiered in June 2012. Harriet and Eleanor are also responsible for the many fine transcriptions you can hear 4 Girls 4 Harps perform: Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, and Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of the Animals, to name but three. The Lichfield Gazette took note of their work in a recent review: “With the exception of Paul Patterson’s whimsical “Avian Arabesques”, most of the music we heard tonight was actually arranged or composed by members of the group. That included arrangements of Handel, Mozart and Khachaturian as well as a brilliantly effective original composition by Turner and – most impressive of all – Adie’s transcription of three movements from Ravel’s “Mother Goose”. With its whispered tremolandi, jewel-like harmonics, and deep, clangourous gong effects, this was superbly transcribed and equally superbly played. It made the more familiar piano version seem positively drab by comparison."
As well as tabla in 'Saraswati', 4 Girls 4 Harps have experimented further with adding other instruments to their sound. You can find videos of Rachmaninov, Saint-Saëns and Ravel arrangements (the Rachmaninov 18th Paganini Variation arranged by Harriet, the rest by Eleanor) with choir and strings here. 2012 will see a new programme of arrangements for soprano and harp quartet, for the Bradfield Music Festival.
Sometimes, the quartet performs on matching pearlescent white Camac electric harps (which they commissioned from Camac in 2005). They use them for jazz or film music arrangements - such as music from James Bond, The Exorcist, The Wizard of Oz and Twilight!
You can order 4 Girls 4 Harps’s CDs here, find details of their concerts here, and follow them on their blog, on Facebook or on Twitter. Can’t get to a concert? Enjoy the videos on their YouTube channel, here. If you are interesting in getting hold of scores, you can buy some of Eleanor Turner's arrangements and compositions via her sheet music store, and you can contact Harriet through her website to ask about her work.
The review in the Lichfield Gazette quoted above begins like this: “4 Girls 4 Harps” was what it said on the poster, and four girls with four harps was exactly what we saw on stage at the Lichfield Garrick. That was it: no gimmicks, no stunts, no fancy costumes beyond elegant evening wear – just engaging chat and rather lovely music.” They are a great example of an ensemble that knows what it’s doing and does it very well. They are serious about the quality of their performance and the musical integrity of their arrangements, and realise that this does not exclude having fun with lighter music, adding other sound effects, or performing for a wide range of audiences.