Harpist, teacher, leader.
Anne Adams, performer, teacher, and leader within the American Harp Society, died Dec. 9, 2013, following a long illness.
Anne began piano lessons at age 4. Her great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother were all concert pianists. At the age of 9 she began harp lessons with Annie Louise David after seeing her harp at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. She also started harmony, theory, and ear training and began attending concerts performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Her dream was to be their harpist, which she achieved.
In 1938, Marcel Grandjany came to Mills College in Oakland, Calif., for a masterclass and invited Anne to be in his first class at Juilliard. While there, she performed the debut performance of the Aria in Classic Style when Mr. Grandjany became ill. We call this the “favorite family piece.” She performed the work with organ, with string orchestra, and most often with her mother on the piano. She also performed it for her mother’s wedding to her second husband, with me, her daughter Patricia, playing second harp.
In l942 Anne married Burton Adams, a surgery resident under her father. That same year she joined the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Pierre Monteau, as second harpist. In 1951 she became Principal Harpist, and in l952 she joined the San Francisco Opera. She played with many famous conductors including Arthur Fiedler and Seiji Ozawa, with whom she toured Japan. Her husband Burton went with her as the orchestra physician.
Anne was passionate about the harp. She loved performing in the Symphony and Opera, as a soloist, and in small chamber ensembles. She championed new music and commissioned many new works including the Sonata for Harp by Darius Milhaud, which is a competition piece for the 2015 International Harp Contest in Israel. Anne also taught harp for many years in her private studio and on the faculty of Mills College. She was a teacher and mentor to many who became professional harpists.
Anne Adams was a wonderful harpist and teacher and a caring and special person. Her former student Henry Spiller writes, “Her impact on me as a teacher wasn’t limited to the significant steps forward in technique and expression on the harp that she fostered. It is impossible for me to touch a harp without feeling her behind me, encouraging me to ‘press’ the strings (à la Grandjany). Each time I touch the strings, I experience once again the incredibly sensuous friction of the strings against my fingers that I felt the first time I finally understood what she was telling me to do, and how the complex chain of gestures and sensations produced such a glorious big sound—pure magic.”
The American Harp Society was fortunate to have her serve three terms on the Board of Directors, act as custodian of the AHS tape library, and perform at many conferences. In 1990 her husband Burton established the Anne Adams Awards in her honor, which encourage harp students toward excellence and help many young harpists financially. The repertoire for the Awards always includes an orchestral excerpt in honor of her many years of orchestral playing. In 2000 Anne and Burton were honored to be included in the Harp Column’s list of most influential people in the harp world. In 2006 Anne and Burton received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Harp Society. Donations in her name can be sent to the American Harp Society Foundation, 646 Worcester Ave, Cambria, Calif. 93428. •
— Patricia Adams Harris