If you’re on Facebook and you’re a harpist, chances are pretty good you caught a glimpse of British harpist Oliver Wass in his video performance of Manuel de Falla’s “Spanish Dance” posted two weeks ago by Classic FM radio. The socks. The red socks! Who among us could resist sharing? Because the video is only available on Classic FM’s Facebook page we can’t show it here, but just head on over to Harp Column’s page to take a look. (While you’re there, give us a like!) We caught up with Oliver to find out more…
Q: We couldn’t help but notice your “Spanish Dance” video making the rounds on social media. Bravo! Can you tell us where, when, and why the recording was made?
“Thank you! It was filmed in St. John’s Smith Square a few weeks ago by Classic FM. They saw me play at the St. John’s season launch concert and decided they’d like to film something for their website.
Q: So, I’ll get it out of the way right at the start: what’s with the red socks? Do you always play barefoot?
“Haha, it was actually a total accident. I always practice in socks, as I find it more comfortable, but I had brought my harp-playing shoes along (which are actually dance shoes). However, as I hadn’t had to get changed out of what I was wearing, I completely forgot to put them on. It’s hard for us guys, because men’s shoes are usually too thick and wide to have proper control over the pedals. The ideal shoes to wear for the harp are high heels, but I haven’t found any that suit me yet…
Q: I must say another thing I noticed in the video is how tall you are. Do you think that gives you any advantage to playing?
“I sit at the harp higher than most people, as I don’t like having to reach above my head to get to the top strings. My height means I can still reach the bass even though I’m sitting quite far away from the bottom of the harp.
Q: Tell us about your “Spanish Dance” rendition.
“It’s a transcription by the great French-American harpist Marcel Grandjany. It’s actually one of the few transcriptions I play which isn’t my own. I have a big interest in transcribing piano repertoire for the harp, and spend just as much of my time playing piano music as I do playing original harp music. Classic FM also filmed my transcription of Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau,” which they’ll be putting up at some point. Watch this space!
Q: You won a big award at your school in May. What was that about?
“The Guildhall School of Music’s Gold Medal is its most prestigious award for musicians. It’s awarded every two years, and has been running since 1915. I was the first harpist in its history to get to the final, so I was excited enough just to make it that far! The three finalists performed a concerto of their choice to a sold-out Barbican Hall, which was quite an incredible experience. Some pretty big names have won it in the past, so it’s fantastic to get my name up with the likes of Jacqueline du Pré and Bryn Terfel. (Oliver performed Ginestera’s Concerto for Harp.)
Q: And you’ll be playing at Wigmore Hall in November. That’s kind of a big deal. How did that come about and what will you be playing.
“I’m playing there with my flute, viola and harp trio, the Pelléas Ensemble. We won an award from the Tillett Trust, and as part of it we’re giving a recital in the Wigmore Hall on 21st November. We’re playing Ravel and Rameau, as well as a new piece which has been written for us by the fantastic jazz composer Misha Mullov-Abbado. I’ll also be playing a solo slot in the concert with Britten’s Suite for Harp.
Q: Tell us a bit about your background and teachers.
“My mother is a professional harpist, which means she absolutely didn’t want me to play the harp, as she knew she’d have to drive it around until I could learn to drive! Unfortunately I decided I was determined to do whatever she didn’t want me to do, so I ended up starting when I was about 9. I now study with the fantastic Imogen Barford, who is the head of harp at the guildhall.
Is there anything else you want Harp Column readers to know about you?
“Things your readers might want to know… I’m a keen chemist, and I spent much of my childhood making fireworks! I had a little laboratory in the garden shed, and I would spend all year making fireworks, and then put on a display every November 5th for Guy Fawkes Night.