Fresh out of grad school, Welsh harpist Anne Denholm landed a dream job—official harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales. Only a couple months into her career, Denholm has a title to top all titles on her resume, “Royal Harpist.” She’s the fifth harpist to hold the title since Prince Charles resurrected the position that had last been filled in 1871. Catrin Finch, Jemima Philips, Claire Jones, and most recently Hannah Stone have all held the Royal Harpist title in the 21st century. We couldn’t wait to hear more from the newest Royal Harpist, and Denholm was gracious enough to answer a few questions for her fellow harpists.
Tell us how you learned about your appointment as official harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales and what your reaction was.
Initially I found out by telephone and was taken aback but of course extremely happy! I subsequently received the news by official letters.
What was the process like to get the appointment? Was there an audition or interview?
There is a nominations process, followed by audition and interview.
Tell us about your background—where did you grow up? How long have you played the harp? Who have you studied with?
I am from Carmarthen in South West Wales and grew up there until I moved to study at the Purcell School in Watford. I started playing the harp when I was eight as part of an instrumental lesson scheme that existed at my primary school. I started almost by accident (!) but I loved it from the start. I was already playing the violin and the piano, but by thirteen I knew that I wanted to focus primarily on the harp. I have been extremely lucky to study with wonderful teachers, beginning with Marian O’Toole, then with Eluned Pierce and Eleri Darkins at the Junior Department of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and with Charlotte Seale at the Purcell School. During my time at the Royal Academy of Music and Cambridge University I studied with Karen Vaughan, my current teacher.
How much work does the position entail? Have you played any official engagements yet?
It is hard to say at this point how much work will be entailed by the position, but there will be regular engagements for the royal family. I gave my first performances in the role last week as part of HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall’s annual visit to Wales.
Have you met Prince Charles or any other members of the royal family yet?
I was honored to meet both The Prince of Wales and The Duchess during last week’s engagements.
What has been the reaction of your friends and family to the news of your appointment?
My family and friends have been delighted and very excited about the news – I have received so many congratulations and warm wishes, for which I am extremely grateful.
What does your harp career look like outside of the royal appointment? Are you able to keep up what you were doing previously?
I have just graduated with my master’s from the Royal Academy of Music in London and am therefore at the beginning of my freelance career proper. I am pursuing projects in a variety of fields, from solo and chamber playing to orchestral and education work. I am a founding member of contemporary experimental quartet, The Hermes Experiment, who commission new music and arrangements as well as perform live free improvisation, and we perform regularly in venues across London. I have also been doing some work with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and am looking forward to some orchestral work this summer. I have some solo and chamber recitals coming up in Wales over the summer which is a lovely excuse to go home!
Any perks of the job?
As part of the position I will play The Prince of Wales’ harp, given to The Prince in 2006 by the Victor Salvi Foundation. It is a beautiful instrument in both sound and appearance and I feel incredibly privileged to play it. The design incorporates elements from The Prince of Wales’ crest, as well as symbols of Welsh national identity, including daffodils and dragons. In addition to playing The Prince’s harp, I wear an official badge of office which has been passed along the chain of royal harpists, of which I am now the fifth since the post was reinstated in 2000.
How does it feel to follow in the footsteps of historic legends like John Thomas?
I feel very honored, but I also feel the responsibility that this position holds, and I intend to do my utmost to fulfil the role to the very best of my abilities.
Anything else you want to tell the harp world?
Our wonderful instrument is one of the most powerful and versatile – let’s keep working hard to broaden its boundaries and play it to the world!