Katherine Siochi, gold medalist of the 10th USA International Harp Competition (USAIHC) in 2016, released her new CD Nocturne on July 1. The album, sponsored by Lyon & Healy as part of her USAIHC award, includes works by Parish Alvars, Debussy, Chopin, and Salzedo. Nocturne also features the winning composition of the 5th USAIHC Composition Contest, written by Siochi’s brother, Jeremiah. We asked Siochi to tell us more about her recording project.
How did you come up with the idea for your new album?
This album was one of the generous prizes from Lyon & Healy Harps as a part of winning the 2016 USA International Harp Competition. I am very grateful to them for sponsoring this recording through every part of its process. Had it not been for the prize, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to get this project off the ground!
Tell us about the recording process. What were the most challenging and the most rewarding moments?
For me it was challenging to record the 60 minutes of music in the limited time I had in the studio. I recorded over three days, with a few hours on each of those days. It’s hard to keep going without stopping every time there is a small mistake. There is an elusive balance between maintaining an extremely high standard, and also knowing how far is too far in terms of nitpicking and when you need to just let something go. It’s also hard to feel fresh every time you re-record the same piece, without getting burned out the more you repeat it.
But by far the most difficult part was the editing process. I was very open about the fact that this took me much longer than it should have—I recorded in December 2017, and the album was only just released. I didn’t want to face my mistakes every time I had to listen to a new set of edits, so I just kept putting it off, sometimes waiting months in between to listen. My wonderful recording engineer, Mary Mazurek, kept nudging me to continue the process and release the album. I am so glad that she did, because I really needed that push to get over myself and accept that the album is still worth releasing even if it’s not 100 percent perfect. Absolutely the most rewarding part is seeing and hearing the final product, sharing it with others, and hearing how much they enjoy listening to it.
How did you choose the pieces for your album? What makes them special to you?
The album is book-ended by two hefty harp solos, with the middle containing several of my own piano transcriptions, as well as my brother Jeremiah Siochi’s composition. The pieces on this album were ones I played on my concert tour in China in August 2017, sponsored by Hantang Culture, as another part of the USAIHC prize. So they were the pieces that I had in my fingers at the time. The first piece, Grande fantaisie et variations de bravoure, by Parish Alvars, is the rarely-performed complete 14-minute version of “Introduction, Cadenza, and Rondo” (which comprises the second half of the piece). It’s a real monster, and I thought it would be nice to have a record that I did, at one point, manage to play it!
Then there are three Debussy piano pieces and three Chopin piano pieces. Debussy and Chopin were two composers I loved listening to as a kid, especially their solo piano music. So their music has always held a special place in my heart, but particularly the Chopin nocturnes. My favorite pieces on the album are his first two nocturnes from opus 9. It’s some of the most emotionally compelling music that exists—it’s so personal, vulnerable. You can really pour your heart out in these little gems. That’s why the album is titled Nocturne, since for me that’s the emotional heart of the album.
Then there is Jeremiah’s composition Sublimation, which I had to include because it won the 2016 USAIHC composition contest. And the last piece is Salzedo’s Scintillation, one of my absolute favorite harp pieces. I love the contrasts in styles and characters throughout the piece—the otherworldly, strange, and mysterious atmospheres, alternating with the unbridled energy of the rhythmic glissando passages.
Is there anything else you want to share about this recording project?
I just want to share an aphorism that resonated with me recently in regards to battling perfectionism with this album: “Perfect is the enemy of good.” If I had decided, as I was tempted to, not to release the album because it wasn’t perfect enough, then many people would not get to experience the beauty of this music. There are those few really special heart-tugging moments of music that get me every time, and being able to share them makes it all worth it. I hope others can find this relatable and take comfort in realizing they are not alone. Perfectionism is the never-ending struggle of musicians everywhere.
You can read Harp Column’s cover interview with Siochi in our September/October 2016 issue. The album is available from Lyon & Healy, as well as on Amazon and Apple Music. For more information, visit Siochi’s website.