Friday, 12 December 2014

We'd like to present our brand spanking new Harp Chamber Music Competition!

We are super excited to announce the inaugural British Harp Chamber Music Competition, taking place in 2015!

For some time we have dreamed of putting something back into the harp world and encouraging the next generation of harpists to champion chamber music in the way that we have tried to. It hasn't been easy competing against the established and accepted (more traditional) string quartets and piano trios. We have always had to battle against the (incorrect) perception that a harp quartet won't sell and won't be able to provide the musical quality that the promoter needs to bring to their audience. We like to think that our staying power over the last 15 years proves this to be otherwise, and the sold out concerts and standing ovations definitively show that audiences like, and more importantly, enjoy what we do.


We want to continue to bring the harp to the forefront of British chamber music, and this competition is our way of doing so. There are two separate competitions: one for Young Professionals, and one for under-18s. Each competition is then split into two categories: multiple harps, and harps with other instruments. The final of the competition is on Sunday, 14 June 2015 at Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre, Surrey. Whilst the prizes of course include some cash, we have focussed our attention on providing recital opportunities for the winning ensembles. As an up-and-coming group, the most useful thing we were given was the chance to perform in public: not only is it invaluable concert platform experience and a chance to hone musical (and performing) skills, it is also a chance to showcase to other concert promoters and meet valuable industry contacts.


We hope to see a real variety of entries and look forward to discovering some new and unusual pieces. We are also working on a resource providing information on sourcing original pieces for varying combinations of instruments, with a focus on British works.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Composer Series - Eleanor Turner

Another month has flown by and Christmas is hot on our heels. We are delighted to reveal the next person in our series of composer interviews is the ensemble's very own Eleanor Turner!

Eleanor has been involved in writing and arranging for us pretty much since we first started playing together. An internationally recognised harpist as well as composer, Eleanor has written two pieces for us to play as well as countless other arrangements. The first piece, 'The Island' was written in 2002 whilst she was pregnant with her son, and even features the sound of a baby's heartbeat in the womb! The second piece, 'Rambla!' was composed a few years later, in 2008, and depicts the flashfloods that can happen in Spain - full of fiery spanish rhythms and panache, it is great fun to play! You can listen to 'Rambla!' here

As a performing member of 4G4H what do you like most about writing for the group?
I love writing for an instrument I know so well and have at hand to try things out on. I try to imagine a certain sound, especially a particular texture I could only get from using four harps and then use a combination of compositional techniques and trickery (such as recording and layering parts on my laptop, or using a loop pedal) to get the best idea of how the effect will sound across four of the same instrument. It can take a long time to work out how to achieve a certain sound for the first time, but then it is in your repertoire as a technique that you can draw on in future compositions.

Have you always composed alongside your harp playing and do you ever feel tempted to go into composing on a more full time basis?
My first piece for the harp was called “A Sad Farewell” – the harp can be such a melancholic instrument and even pieces written in major keys can sound so longing and sad on the harp! I love playing all my emotions into the harp and find playing it and writing for it deeply therapeutic. I worry that if I composed concert music full time I would go into a darker place, in my mind, more often than would be good for me. However, my main ambition is to study composition further, in particular to attend some courses for song-writing and also writing music for films. (There is a Faber Music course I would love to go on when my children are older.)  I can definitely imagine writing music for nature documentaries and would love to do this; this would mostly be happy music, which I have plenty of inside me as well

What musical styles are you most inspired by – is there any particular composer or piece that you identify with?
I love so many different styles but as a constant, I have always been passionately into Shostakovich and his music. As a teenager, I used to keenly spend my birthday money on a subscription to the DSCH journal (the twice-yearly printed magazine, dedicated to the life and works of Dmitri Shostakovich). There were two peaks of happiness in my year, therefore, when this journal would drop onto the doorstep, and the memory of that excitement still makes me shiver! I also had a hamster that I named Dmitri, in honour of the great man.

Are there any challenges in writing for four harps – what do you find most frustrating?
The only frustrating thing for me is finding the best way to notate harp effects and complex passages of writing. Sometimes you are looking at a mass of confusing arcs all over the music: tied notes, phrasing arcs, notes to ‘let vibrate’ without damping and maybe one or two special harp effects going on all at the same time – perhaps colour-coded scores will be my next venture!

 You have composed two pieces for 4G4H; ‘The Island’ in 2002 and ‘Rambla!’ in 2008. What – if anything – has changed in your compositional style between the two pieces? Did you change anything in your approach to writing with the second piece?
Almost everything about the two pieces is different. The first time, writing for the group, I spent a lot of time imagining and conceiving grand ideas and wonderful twangings and clangings of all 4 harps, either playing all together or having solo moments. By the time I wrote ‘Rambla’, I had six more years of experience with the harp quartet and it was rather a luxury to be able to learn from other composers’, and arrangers’, mistakes, as well as my own. Rambla emerged much more naturally, usually sitting at the harp to compose it, engaging many of my favourite effects (I love the ‘whispering’ tremolo effect called bisbigliando) and freely moving between using one, two, three or all four harps at any moment.

Do you compose for anything other than harp (or harp with other instruments)?
Yes I do, but not really at the moment. I am also terrified of writing for brass which I would love to get over at some point. I am currently writing songs with a Dutch singer-songwriter called Angela Moyra, who occasionally asks me to send her over sound files of ‘mystical harp goodness’ – well, it’s a hard life, but if I must…

As a harpist, is there anything that annoys you about how today’s composers write for the instrument?
I sometimes feel it can be a little soulless and relying too heavily on the beauty of the harp’s sound. That may be why I commissioned my dear friend Thomas Hewitt-Jones to write me a solo piece, about five years ago now. The result was ‘Spirits of the Night’ which I re-named, for myself, Shades of Grief, as the first time I played through it I found myself playing through tears that just kept coming the more I played.

What about your life most inspires you to compose? On a similar note, what do you do if you get writer’s block?!
I have never been very good with words – getting a poem or an essay out of me at school was like getting blood out of a stone. I am very slow at writing anything, in fact. I wouldn’t say that was writer’s block, in particular, although I do have memories of donning a coat on top of my nightie and pacing angrily around the block, trying to make an idea come to the fore. In general, music flows more easily for me than words do and I love improvising. Composition for me is a combination of learned skills, structure, improvising, and always wearing my heart on my sleeve

What Hollywood actress would you choose to play you in a film?
Going back in time for this one I’m afraid, it could only be Lucille Ball.

What three things would you take with you to a desert island?
My two kids and a harp of course! (The harp could double up as a raft….)