Q and A with Joel von Lerber

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Joel von Lerber first leapt onto the musical scene in 2013 after winning the Louis Spohr Competition in Germany. Following that feat, he was awarded sixth prize in the USA International Harp Competition (2013), third prize at the Golden Harp Competition in Russia (2014), and second prize in both the Mexico International Harp Competition (2017) and the International Harp Contest in Israel (2018). He has since performed frequently as a soloist with orchestras throughout Europe—until Covid–19 hit. As a result, von Lerber has spent the past two months performing daily on a German cruise ship. We reached out to find out how he adjusted to a different performance schedule and what cruise life looks like in the midst of a pandemic.

First, can you tell us how you got connected with this gig? What made you decide to take this opportunity?

I got to know the singer Thomas Schreier who has worked for a few years for TUI Cruises, a German cruise company, and he asked me to join the ship. Since March, all my concerts have been cancelled due to the corona crisis, so this was a perfect opportunity for me to perform on the ship for two months.

What precautions is the cruise line taking in light of the pandemic? Do you feel safe?

Everything here on the ship has the highest hygienic standards. We have to walk around with masks (of course we can take them off when we sit in restaurants, at the pool or on stage, but everyone wears a mask when going from point A to B). Everyone keeps their distance: only four people are allowed in an elevator, there are strict distances between the tables in restaurants, and the crew and passengers hold distance wherever possible.

And after every performance in the theatre, they disinfect the stage and the whole theatre for two hours and make sure that everything else is disinfected. People really respect the rules and everyone including me feels super safe. I think it‘s more likely to get corona in a big city than here on the ship.

I also had to do a corona test 48 hours before boarding, and it had to be negative, otherwise I wouldn‘t have been allowed to enter the ship.

You’ve posted some photos on your Instagram of your harp on the outer deck! How safe and secure is your instrument?

Yes, I did a photoshoot on the ship, and it‘s definitely no problem for my Salvi Arianna to be outside for a while. Usually the harp is on stage or backstage in the theatre, and there‘s a good temperature and everything stays safe.

What does your daily schedule on the ship look like?

Usually I get up and have breakfast in one of the many restaurants here on the ship, then I go to gym. If the weather is good, I will go to the pool, and I meet other guest artists for lunch, dinners, and drinks.

Every day, my performance schedule looks a little different. Sometimes I‘m free, sometimes I play a 30 minute program around lunchtime, in the evening, or late in the evening after dinner.

Joel von Lerber (left) with singer Thomas Schreier

What kind of repertoire have you been performing?

I have three different programs here:

One musical program, titled “Be Our Guest,“ with singer Thomas Schreier, where we play songs from Cats, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and others

One classical program, “Lied meets Opera,” also with singer Thomas Schreier, where we play “Widmung“ by Schumann, “Auf dem Wasser zu singen” and “Gretchen am Spinnrade“ by Schubert, “Der Abendstern“ by Wagner, “La Donna è Mobile“ by Verdi and “Nessun Dorma“ by Puccini.

One solo recital where I perform different pieces, usually “The Moldau” by Smetana (it suits the ship with the water!), “Spanish Dance” by de Falla, Sarabanda e Toccata by Nino Rota,  “Fantasy on Themes from Eugene Onegin” by Walter-Kühne, “Rondo Zitti-Zitti“ by Bochsa, among others.

Any funny stories or interesting observations you can share with us?

Life here on the ship is its own little microcosm; once you are on this huge ship, you forget about the world out there. We have our own shopping mall, 12 restaurants and 17 bars, pools, a spa, a basketball court, a gym, etc. You just move in this world and you stop being aware which day of the week it is.

It has been a super nice experience, but I will be happy to go back to Berlin and see my friends after having played here for six weeks.

Subscribe today to read our interview with von Lerber following his second prize finish at the International Harp Contest in Israel. Visit his website at joelvonlerber.com

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About Author

Stephanie Gustafson Amfahr is a harpist and teacher based in Houston, TX. Currently principal harpist with Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, she is also a co-founder of the Houston Youth Harp Ensemble, young artist with Da Camera of Houston and on faculty at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Twin Lake, MI. She started writing for Harp Column in September 2017.

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