The USA International Harp Competition announced that Uno Vesje is the winner of the 2018 composition contest. As part of their mission to expand harp repertoire, the sixth contest received 90 applications by composers from 33 countries. Other finalists include Maxwell Lafontant (USA), Marc–Henri Cykeirt (Belgium), Uri Brener (Israel), Ceiri Torjussen (USA/UK), Mingwei He (China), and Natalie Wong (Australia).
Vesje, a Norwegian harpist and composer, won the contest with his piece for live harp and soundtrack, titled Life is flashing before my eyes and I realize that it all started with a blackbird. “I usually compose more rhythmical pieces using the percussive elements of the harp, but in this piece, I rather embraced the resonance and ringing sound of the instrument,” he says. “I wanted to combine traditional harp playing such as arpeggios and glissandos with more modern techniques like hitting the wires, the thunder effect, whistle tones, and the electronic element.” Inspired by Marcel Tournier’s piece La Volière Magique, Vesje considered what a captured bird might feel, and focused on the duplicity between the captured and the free, life and death.
Vesje says this is his fourth submission to the contest. Next Stop, the piece he submitted in 2012, was selected to be performed at the composer forum at the 2013 USA IHC, though it was not in the finals. “I have always used this competition as a deadline to create a new solo piece, so even though I’m very honored and thrilled to win, I am a bit sad that this was the last time I’m allowed to submit a work.”
Reflecting on logistics for USA competitors who are about to embark on the journey of learning this new work, Vesje says, “I give the performer a lot of freedom to make their own interpretation of the composition. They need to be flexible around the recorded part so the music sounds organic and alive.” He is delighted at the thought of other harpists learning the piece. “That harpists around the world will practice, record, and perform my music when there is so much good music out there inspires me to continue developing new repertoire for our fantastic instrument.”
Vesje studied harp performance at the Manhattan School of Music and earned his master’s degree at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. In 2017, he received a second master’s in composition from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. As a composer, Vesje won third prize in the International Edvard Grieg Composition Contest, and his harp concerto, Bragi’s Harp, was selected to be performed with the Bergen Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. He recently released his second full–length album of his own compositions for harp, strings, and flute, titled Oslo(ve). Outside of composition, he performs regularly with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra, the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Norwegian Opera and Ballet, and was a semi–finalist in the 2018 World Harp Competition.