The French Harp Competition goes to China
February 5, 2021
The Concours Français de la Harpe in Limoges has been an unmissable fixture in the Camac France calendar for over a decade. Well over 100 competitors every year, from the smallest beginners to young professionals, flock to its supportive and experienced environment.
Used to welcoming harpists from at least twenty nations to Limoges, artistic directors Marie-Monique Popesco and Véronique Chenuet were thinking about expansion even before the Covid crisis. “We founded our competition in 2010 with the aim of “developing and exchanging about the harp repertoire”, Marie-Monique Popesco recollects. “Particularly French harp repertoire, of course. As the competition grew in size, we started to wonder how we could bring our project closer to those who might not otherwise think of travelling to Limoges, or who could not afford to go so far. I was just starting to work on this in earnest, when Covid hit.”
The 11th edition of the competition came just in time; held live on February 28 – March 1, 2020, it was one of the last events to take place before the crisis. As the Camac team applauded the contestants and wheeled harps around the Limoges Conservatoire, little did we imagine what was about to happen.
Another competition that Camac has supported for over a decade takes place annually in London. It was scheduled a month after Limoges, and was therefore one of our first events to be cancelled. As an experiment (and because nobody at Camac is good at doing nothing), we put it online. We were amazed to receive 170 entries from throughout the UK and Ireland, and a lot of feedback from competitors, teachers and parents about the initiative’s benefits.
Winding back the narrative to the summer of 2019, we had also much enjoyed organising our first harp tour of France. Co-created with our China distributor Duoli Wu and Chinese professors Guan Wang, Lin Lin Wei and Xue Mei Zheng, we welcomed thirty Chinese harpists to France. Like the mission of the Concours Français de la Harpe, the idea of the tour was to explore French harp repertoire and culture. We all became firm friends, and forged many future plans to develop our activity in China.
As the pandemic evolved, Camac President Jakez François watched its impact on festivals, competitions and all types of music-making the world over. He was mindful that competitions are a key part of harp traditions in Asia (and China in particular), and indeed Guan Wang had already spoken with him about her wish to organise a competition in her country. Jakez was also aware that the Concours Français had hoped to expand. Finally, Camac and Duoli Wu were also keen to realise another project together at the first opportunity. “So I thought”, Jakez remembers, “Covid or no Covid: why not bring it all together?”.
This is how the “Chinese Concours Français de la Harpe” came into being! It was, obviously, an online competition, similar in format to what had been tried out in London, but on a more ambitious scale and following the vision of Limoges to create opportunity around a core part of our repertoire: French music.
“The realisation of this new “French Harp Competition” in China is a true opportunity for the development of the competition. Indeed, when we created it in 2010, our aim was to “develop and exchange about the repertoire of the harp”. Throughout the last 11 years, our contact with the different partners, harp makers, teachers, jury members, and students, have made this competition a reality in an extraordinary way, both in terms of teaching and human connection.
I would like to thank our different partners from the bottom of my heart, for the realisation of this new Chinese version of the competition. I hope that the initiative can continue to develop, to give everyone a chance to make their dreams come true.” – Marie-Monique Popesco
President and Founder of the Concours Français de la Harpe
It was a true collaboration right from the beginning. Marie-Monique and Véronique, in Limoges, provided the artistic direction, suggesting the (French) set works and – together with Sylvain Blassel – forming the core of the jury. Guan Wang, Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and Duoli Wu, were in charge of operations in China. Guan defined the categories and made the final selection of repertoire from Limoges’s shortlist; Duoli administered the video entries. What did Camac France do? We sponsored the prizes. The first prize winner of the most senior competition receives an all-expenses-paid invitation to perform at the live edition of the competition in Limoges.
“2020-21 is a very hard period for everyone in the world. I think we can do something interesting in these extraordinary times. More and more people play the harp in China. Even during the crisis, they need learning goals and a chance to perform. Jakez introduced me to Mme Popsco and Mme Chenuet. I would like to thank them for such a beautiful repertoire list!
I am also thrilled by the response from harp teachers in China. We received a huge number of videos, and the candidates were very well-prepared. Thank you very much to all the jury, to Jakez, and to Duoli from Camac China!”- Guan Wang, Professor of Harp, Chinese Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing
“I was honoured to have the opportunity to work on a nation-wide video competition for the first time. I was so impressed with the number and quality of the entries, and the commitment of the parents and teachers in mastering the online registration process. We tried to keep it simple, but it was a new experience for everyone.
We have achieved the first online harp competition in Chinese harp history. In these difficult times, I draw a lot of comfort and inspiration from the fact that so many young Chinese harpists could nonetheless experience the Concours Français de la Harpe, and perform French harp music to a French jury of this calibre.” – Duoli Wu, Beijing Aria – Camac Harps China
This brings us to the story’s – or at least, this chapter’s! – denouement. Duoli received four hundred competition entries from across the length and breadth of mainland China. The jury had expected to be busy, and the work also turned out to be a pleasure. “I was very happy to take part in the conception of the programme, and in the jury, for the online China edition of the Concours Français de la Harpe”, reflects Véronique Chenuet. “The candidates were very well prepared, well presented and playing the most beautiful instruments. The French music programme chosen required a delicate and sensitive approach that the best were able to bring out and convey through the screen. This competition has been a success because of the large number of participants and the quality of the performances”.
Congratulations to 庄媛媛 Yuanyuan Zhuang, who won the Grand Prize, and to all the other laureates for their success in the face of so much competition! For the full list of results, click here.
“I am impressed by the response from Chinese harp teachers, and by the number and quality of the candidates”, Marie-Monique Popesco concurs. “The videos allowed us to appreciate the results of their work with a very precise approach to the different texts imposed. Congratulations to everyone for this magnificent achievement”.
Naturally, online is not the solution to everything. “We missed the warmth of the meetings and direct conversations”, says Véronique. “We couldn’t see their eyes shining when the results were announced!”. But it does allow more people than ever before to make contact with each other, to work together on a common goal, and to discover something of the other’s world. “It has always preoccupied me that travelling to France for a competition is simply too expensive for many students further away”, says Marie-Monique. “At the dawn of a new era, technology has enabled some innovative perspectives.”
“In the age of social distancing, an online competition is a solution to continue promoting the harp, its repertoire, and supporting young harpists. Each candidate received a commentary on their performance, by way of making a connection. Let us hope that the two formulas can coexist in future, to create new links with harpists from far away – and that we can meet again for the next Concours Français de la Harpe, live in 2022.
I would like to thank all the team who have worked hard to create this event, and Jakez who has made the link with the Chinese organisers and juries and our French team”. – Véronique Chenuet, Artistic Director and Founder of the Concours Français de la Harpe
“At a time when internet access is almost like drinking water, online music is better than no concerts at all. But it remains only an alternative: no Pinterest gallery will ever replace the real colours of the real painting. The internet does not allow artists to live, only to survive. Performing alone in front of a camera is both depressing and stimulating. Depressing because there is no audience, but stimulating because it is a resistant act.
This is why I would like to thank Camac for having been active in cultural resistance. This project has succeeded in stimulating the young artists, and I would like to congratulate all the candidates. It’s common knowledge that you plays differently alone in your room, and each competition evaluates how you play in public. Everyone had no choice other than to play in their own room, but act as if they were on stage. The exercise may seem artificial, but this is immediately refuted by the commitment and determination of each candidate.
This bodes well for the return of better times. Congratulations to all.” – Sylvain Blassel