Q and A with Julia Rovinsky

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Ed. note: The prestigious triennial International Harp Contest in Israel takes place October 15–25, 2018, in Akko, Israel. Our reporter Sunita Staneslow is on site to provide updates throughout the competition. She spoke with new Music Director Julia Rovinsky to find out more about this year’s event.

I spoke with Julia on the phone on the 8th of October while she was picking olives. Yes, it is the season for harvesting olives and I am so impressed that in Julia’s demanding schedule she is able to find time to sleep and I never expected to catch her out in her garden.

Background: Julia Rovinsky is from St. Petersburg and in 1988 she was a prize-winner at the National Harp Competition in Moscow. She immigrated to Israel in 1991 and since 2003 has been the principal harpist of the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra. Julia Rovinsky is a prominent performer in Israel as a soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist. She teaches and is active in the Israeli harp community. Basically Julia Rovinsky does it all! She is no stranger to the Harp Contest in Israel either. She has attended all the Contests in the past 25 years, competed in 1992 and has been a part of the jury.

Define your role as the Music Director:

“I help to select the music for the Contest and invite the members of the jury. (This year I will also serve on the jury.) I am constantly thinking about repertoire for the Contest. I even dream about it! This Contest, we have added music that has been arranged for the harp rather than focusing on music that was originally composed for the harp.”

The Contest has had a tremendous impact for all harpists by adding to the harp repertoire. A new work has been commissioned by an Israeli composer for every Contest. What was different this time?

“We held a competition between three composers from three different generations (age 40 and below, from 40–60 and above 60 years of age). One work was selected but the other two pieces can be performed in the free choice section. This year, three new pieces have been added to the harp repertoire.”

What are some of the new things featured in this year’s Contest?

“The first place winner can now choose a new harp from either Lyon & Healy or Salvi. The tour for the winner has been expanded and will now include performances in Argentina, China, Hong Kong, Chicago and Italy. There are a number of concerts during the Contest. Catherine Michel will give a lecture/demonstration on Debussy and Bernstein. Adina Har-Oz will give a concert suitable for families. There is now an exchange with the winners of the USA Competition in Bloomington. Katherine Siochi, First Prize Winner of the 2016 USA Harp Competition will give a solo recital in Akko on the 24th of October. The winner of the 2018 Contest in Israel will perform at the next USA Harp Competition.

The opening concert this year is very special. YuYing Chen, first prize winner of the 2015 Contest will be performing both solo and with Israeli performers in a unique program that features music from the Far East and traditional music from the Middle East—including ethnic Arabic instruments. Julia Rovinsky helped arrange some of the harp parts for this concert!”

What else would you like people to know about the Harp Contest?

“Akko is a beautiful and historic city. The competition will be held in ancient rooms built of stone, which offers good acoustics for the harp. We plan to offer a live stream of the Contest and if we can get suitable band width we will start this year. We are filming the semi-finals and finals and will post them on YouTube after the contest.”

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About Author

Sunita Staneslow is a versatile harpist best known for her books of arrangements. Originally from Minnesota, she moved to Israel 15 years ago and is a frequent presenter at harp festivals around the world. You can read more about Staneslow in our interview with her in the July/August 2015 issue of Harp Column.

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