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Carolyn Mills & Helen Webby introduce New Zealand harp repertoire


Harpist Carolyn Mills  (photo right) has been described by critics as a musician of “great sensitivity and technical accomplishment” and “intense expressiveness.”  She was appointed as Principal Harpist of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in 1989, and is Artist-Teacher of Harp at the New Zealand School of Music.  Carolyn is co-founder of Flight, with flautist Bridget Douglas, which has toured in major festivals and series throughout the Pacific region and has commissioned and recorded several new works from distinguished composers.

Carolyn provides comments about some of her favourite pieces:

Kenneth Young's Autumn Arabesque for solo harp
"A work which is not only beautiful and melancholy, but which exploits the harp's natural qualities of resonance and harmonic blend to best effect."

Gillian Whitehead's Karohirohi for harp and orchestra
"It shows up the dark and light in the harp's palette of sound, and successfully pairs the harp's timbre with the orchestra in imaginative ways. The colours are always changing, haunting, and leaving us in wonder." 

You can hear a recording of Gillian Whitehead's Karohirohi  here.  In 2012, the NZSO recorded several orchestral works by Gillian Whitehead's, featuring Carolyn Mills playing Karohirohi, which is due for release 23 September.  Please contact SOUNZ if you would like to pre-order this CD!

Helen Fisher's Otari for solo harp
"Atmospheric and evocative of NZ's natural world, including musical bird calls and whispering wind and water."

Gareth Farr's From Forgotten Forests for solo harp
"This piece draws the listener using driving rhythm and subtly changing patterns, into a kind of musical hypnotism."

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Flight

Atoll Records 2009

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Carolyn says "Each of these composers were fantastic to work with. They each approached the harp with true dedication; Gareth actually took lessons on the harp before beginning to write.  Both Gillian and Helen spent many hours with me next to the harp, trying things out, and being very open to suggestions. Ken's long experience playing in the orchestra and studying scores taught him much about how the harp works best."
         
         

Helen Webby  (photo right)began playing the harp at the age of twelve, and studied with Dorothea Franchi (Auckland), Rebecca Harris (Auckland), Edward Witsenburg (Holland) and Maria Graf (Germany).  She was appointed as Principal Harpist with the Christchurch Symphony in 2000. Her subsequent concerto appearances, solo recitals and chamber recitals have been warmly acclaimed by critics. In 2012 Helen performed the Australasian premier of the Harp Concerto by Rautavaara with the Christchurch Symphony, and has recently released on ODE Records the first anthology of NZ harp music, the CD ‘Pluck’ (pictured right).

Helen provides some insight into the creative process behind two of the works she recently commissioned:

Lyell Cresswell's The Harp Sang for voice and harp
"Harps make fine companions in disaster …  you can float on a harp as the ship goes down.  These words by Canterbury poet Fiona Farrell were set by Lyell Cresswell, in The Harp Sang, which I commissioned from Lyell in 2011 for my CD Pluck.  Fiona and I had just removed ourselves from quake stricken Christchurch, and were sitting in Dunedin’s Octagon talking about the text she would write for Lyell.  ‘Something about harps… and the earthquake’ I requested! From these disparate elements Fiona came up with a text about wood, gut and dancing china.  The song-setting that Lyell created for this was described by Ian Dando in The Listener as ‘…once heard never forgotten’.  Working with Lyell on the harp part was a very positive experience.  Some of the initial harp figuration I would never have been able to play in 100 years of practice.  However Lyell came back with some handy harp friendly alternatives that worked great.  Putting the piece together with soprano Pepe Becker had its challenges: often the voice and harp are rhythmically disconnected from each other, but they come together at significant parts of the text… magical when we get it right!  I premiered The Harp Sang with Pepe Becker in Dunedin’s St Pauls Cathedral, in the 2012 Otago Festival of the Arts."

Mark Smythe's Moto Mojo for solo harp with delay pedal
"This is one of the most fun pieces I’ve had the pleasure of premiering.  I commissioned Mark to write a piece for me, after hearing his ‘Alleuia’ for Baroque Voices, which I find incredibly happy and uplifting.  I wanted Mark to somehow do the same for harp!  On his Christmas break in Nelson 2011, Mark sent me the draft of the opening riffs, and shortly afterwards the whole piece arrived.  The surprise element of this piece is that it is performed with an exactly calculated amount of digital delay.  I recorded it straight with no digital effects in Otago University’s Albany studio, then producer John Egenes mixed in the digital delay.  Then suddenly I heard the work as Mark intended: the notes bounce back and create a rhythmic counterpoint to the harp part.  I finished my recital at Otago Festival of the Arts with Moto Mojo, and it was a totally fun experience to perform Mark’s piece in the enormous space of St Pauls Cathedral.  Afterwards an elderly concertgoer said ‘I could have danced to that last piece’. …. I wish she had. Next time please do! Dancers always welcome!"

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Pluck

ODE Records 2012

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Love's Nature

ODE Records 2011

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"I am extremely grateful to Creative New Zealand for their support in commissioning the nine composers recorded on my CD Pluck"

Explore SOUNZ's complete catalogue of harp works here.

       
         

Harps Make Fine Companions documentary screening

Helen's documentary screened at SOUNZ Monday 9 September at 5.30pm, followed by a Q&A session with Helen Webby.  


When the Christchurch city centre became an earthquake disaster area, and all the concert halls closed, Helen made plans to commission and record nine original pieces for solo harp written by some of New Zealand’s foremost composers.  This documentary follows Helen as she produces her album, Pluck.

See the trailer here.

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