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Dasson An Delenn: our Breton lever harp competition

2014 saw us organise a new lever harp competition, at home in our native Brittany – Dasson an Delenn. It was open to student harpists under the age of twenty-one, and of all nationalities. The competition repertoire featured set works and free choice at all levels – all of Breton inspiration, be it traditional Breton music, music composed by Breton composers, or Breton arrangements for the harp. Note the .bzh on the end of the competition website address, www.dassonandelenn.bzh. This means “Breizh”, “Brittany” in Breton: we had to apply for this www., and we were very proud to have been accepted.

We are also very grateful to our partners in this project for their support: the Conservatoire de musique et de danse de Pontivy CommunautéSavarez Strings, the Pontivy Communauté and the Conseil Général du Morbihan.

 

 

This first Dasson an Delenn took place on May 23rd and 24th, 2014. Fifty candidates across four categories, from junior to young professional standard, battled it out at before a specialist jury of Lisardo Lombardia (president), Armelle Gourlaouën, Florence Jamain, Sunita Staneslow, and Mathilde Walpoel. And the results were as follows!

Category I, eleven years old and under:

First prize with the congratulations of the jury: Bleuen GUILLOUARD

First Prize Ex-Aequo: Paul VIEUXLOUP, Aurore ESPOSITO

Second Prize Ex-Aequo: Ines JUHEL, Nour MIDOUNI

Third Prize Ex-Aequo: Arthur CLOAREC, Hermine D’APREMONT, Maïwenn CUMUNEL

 

Category II, fourteen years old and under:

First Prize: Céline BOURREAU

Second Prize: Emma PICHENOT

Third Prize: Klervi MONTFORT PERRIN

 

Category III, seventeen years old and under:

First Prize: Adèle ETAIX

Second Prize: Awena LUCAS

Third Prize: Matthieu COURTEILLE

 

Category IV, twenty years old and under

Second Prize: Matthieu COURTEILLE

Congratulations to them all!

 

We were also very touched and moved to receive a tribute from Mariannig Larc’hantec, who has been in the audience in Pontivy. Mariannig was so impressed after the first day of the competition, that she has written down how much it reminded her of when she launched the first Kan Ar Bobl competition. That competition was won by Kristen Noguès, the inspired Breton harpist who died too soon. And the first Dasson an Delenn competition has been taking place in the Rue Kristen Nogues…

“Born in 1953 in the hands of the young Alain Cochevelou, the lever harp has grown up into a beautiful, wise princess. The concerts at the Ancenis festival showed how this harp has joined the ranks of its big sister, co-existing without any sense of inferiority. The competition in Pontivy confirms that, if professional harpists are now enjoying their place in the world of music, the upcoming generation is also of amazing quality. This shows that the teaching of the lever harp has matured, too.

How can I not but think of Kan Ar Bobl? Both places set exactly the same scene: a large and beautifully-decorated room, an impressive jury, and nervous parents. In the dressing rooms, the candidates wait even more nervously, sometimes a little gauche in their stage presence. In the corridors, and also in the rooms, the teachers are armed with a tuning key in their right hand and a packet of tissues in their left, in anticipation of a problem that of course will not happen, on the look-out for a hypothetical wrong note, rhythm, lever or even a failure of taste. At times taking their pupils under their protective wing, at times pushing them a little because they consider this necessary to bring them on…everyone has their own style. There is a master of ceremonies, announcing the candidates’ names and their programmes, and finally the fateful “you’re on”, throwing the young person onstage as a concert artist.

I found all this again at the Pontivy competition, without anything changed in the form. Yet nothing is the same, and nothing will ever be the same again. The quality of the instruments, the level of the candidates (so also that of the teachers), and the rigour of the jury are the first things that spring to mind. But what really struck me was especially the unbroken suites on the programme, which were like small miracles. There, everyone, this Saturday, noticed how the harps always well-tuned and well-regulated, the music varied, the playing conditions comfortable, and the room blessed with suitable acoustics for this type of event.

Over time

In this mirror of the past, I could not avoid seeing in this elegant CEO of the house of Camac who announced the candidates, and raised or lowered their harp stools with a word of encouragement, the young Jakez who, for my colleagues and myself, has always been so attentive, with the same gestures and the same words. It also hardly seems long to me since the jury themselves had been trembling in their dressing rooms in their beautiful concert clothes. I remembered my own tuning key and handkerchiefs, and the days – not so long ago, after all – when electronic tuners did not exist, where the Japanese harps were a collection of unequal technology, where the repertoire was almost non-existent, yet seemed admirable to us, and where the harp appeared to all to be perfectly good enough as it was.

We did not realise how we were embarking on an extraordinary adventure, in which each had his part to play. We were giving life to a musical instrument.

The first harp competition recognised by the Breton musical community took place at the heart of Kan Ar Bobl in 1975, squeezed between the dance songs and accordion categories. The first victor has left her mark on history: “first prize with congratulations of the jury: Kristen Noguès.” It is fitting that Dasson An Delenn has set up camp for its first edition in the Rue Kristen Noguès. Without a doubt, the great artist will be watching over its rounds.”

Mariannig Larc’hantec

2 Replies to “Dasson An Delenn: our Breton lever harp competition”

  1. HarpChick says:

    I really wish you would open the contest up to all ages. I got very excited by the post, as I thought it would be a good motivator to explore Brenton music, but I am long past the age of 21. Also, is it open to people from the USA? I took French in high school but that was a very long time ago.

  2. Hello HarpChick, we decided to make this one a youth competition because older harpists have the Trophée Camac in Lorient. This happens every August as part of the Festival Interceltique. The first prize is an Aziliz harp and is open to any age and nationality. It always requires some Breton music and then there is usually an additional special focus on one or two of the other Celtic lands, for example this year competitors were required to perform at least one Breton tune, and one either Cornish or Manx air. The flyer for the competition is usually released around March and is printed in French and English. If you email us your contact details, we’ll be happy to send you one about the 2016 competition. Also, feel free to email us any time if you have questions about Breton traditional music or events in France, we are all happy to speak English. All the best! Helen

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