Storytelling at the Dutch Harp Festival

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—by Elizabeth Jaxon

The theme of this year’s Dutch Harp Festival (Feb 26—Mar 2) is “No Harp, No Story”, which makes reference to the traditional role of the harpist as storyteller and bearer of news. Wandering musicians, carrying a harp and singing tales of the events of the day, have been known by many different names in different countries: bards, troubadours, minstrels, etc. Long before the internet, telephones, or even the printing press, there was a tradition in this area of the world of transmitting stories through song. The medieval harp made the perfect travel companion. Next week in Utrecht, the Dutch Harp Festival pays hommage to this tradition in a program of concerts reaching beyond the typical harp-recital format and drawing the listening through a story. The opening concert explores the mystery behind the death of Edgar Allen Poe. The Harp of the Future recounts the rivalry waged between French luthiers, as the double-action pedal harp was first coming into use, epitomized in the famous works of Ravel and Debussy. And Benjamin Bagby, harpist and medieval historian, brings back to life the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf in the way it was originally told. There is even a crowd-funding campaign currently raising money to produce a creative kind of news program. If it is successful, composers will be commissioned each day of the festival to compose a harp piece based on that day’s news, to be performed the same day live in a café and broadcast on the radio.

Running parallel to the festival is another kind of story—one which will unfold before our eyes as 23 young musicians, coming from around the world, compete for the grand prize of the Dutch Harp Competition. Over the course of three elimination rounds, these harpists will have the chance to distinguish themselves and win the hearts of the jury. To see a list of next week’s competitors and to learn more about them, visit these links to the competition website.

 

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