“The Harp at the Heart of the Orchestra”, Vol. 1
December 16, 2020
Elisabeth Colard spent 36 years as Principal Harp of the Euskadi Orchestra in San Sebastian, and also 15 years as Professor of transcription and orchestral repertoire at Musikene. Now in retirement, she has brought out the first in her new series of orchestral excerpt books for harpists. This is a valuable addition to the libraries of every professional harpist, and those of students getting started in the field. It contains some excerpts not much documented elsewhere (La Mer, Bohème, Manon Lescaut, Tod und Verklärung), and also detailed hints.
“In my fifteen years of teaching experience”, explains Elisabeth, “I have noticed that orchestral preparation is not to be underestimated. Students have many other topics to deal with, and the performance of a lot of this repertoire might seem a long way off. But most orchestral auditions are called on too short notice to learn every excerpt from scratch, and you will also get called to jump in as a last-minute substitute. The more you study your excerpts in advance, the better you’ll be able to handle this, and the more likely you are to win a job or a reputation as a reliable freelancer.
What’s particularly underestimated is studying the part in the context of the whole piece. In an audition, you can see immediately if somebody really knows the piece and can sing its melodies in their head, or if they have only prepared the harp part. Once you’re through the audition, you also need a good understanding of the context in order to avoid nasty surprises!
In my excerpt book, I have therefore explained as much as I can. For example, I’ve included many melodic references, mentioned particular corners, and discussed the various rhythmic placings of spread chords. I’ve also indicated usual tempi where no metronome markings are given by the composer – or where the ones given no longer correspond to reality.
Fortunately, studying like this is much easier than it used to be. Harpists of my generation will all remember going to the library to get the full scores, and/or buying the recordings. Now it’s possible to listen to the piece immediately, get scores from IMSLP, and even usually watch a video. There, it’s always interesting to watch the conductor and see what they do, and compare different interpretations. But nothing has changed regarding how much – or how little – time you get to do it, and I cannot emphasise this enough: learn the most difficult literature while you are still at college. Later, you’ll be glad you did!
Experience is such a big part of orchestral harp playing. Having acquired this experience myself, I wanted to help by passing it on. The second volume in the series will feature pieces with two or more harp parts, because this is also a topic we don’t always get much chance to study in advance.”
La harpe au sein de l’orchestre, Vol. 1, is now available from the Camac webshop.