I just noticed that the USA Competition has announced it’s latest competition for a new piece for harp. I’m old enough now to have seen many such competitions come and go. What I have to say now is probably going to open up a hornet’s nest of controversy. But again, I’m too old to worry about it!
There are literally thousands of contemporary compositions for harp, written in the last 60 years or so, that were the result of either competitions or commissions by orchestras or individuals. I remember seeing someplace a thick book that listed all of the concertos written for harp since the late 1940’s. There are at the very least 100’s of them, perhaps thousands. Only one of these competition pieces, concertos or solo pieces, has made it into the standard repertoire for harp, and that is the Ginastera Concerto.
I remember years ago talking with Suzanna Mildonian. During her career she premiered many contemporary concertos for harp. But she got to the point where she refused to do any new compositions. She told me she would work 6 months or more on some new concerto that had been commissioned by an orchestra or some other organization. She would play it 2 or 3 times for the scheduled premier performances. And then never get another chance to play it again. She was sick of learning new(and difficult) pieces that were not going to be of any use to her.
My point here is this: Composition competitions do not work for adding useable repertoire for our instrument. They are a total waste of money and time. We need to find another way of adding repertoire.
There have been new pieces for harp that have entered the standard repertoire. The Sonata by Germaine Tailleferre, as well as her Concertino. There are two pieces by Jesus Guiridi that are wonderful. And of course we have lots of good repertoire added by Bernard Andres.
I believe that the key to getting good and useable pieces for harp is using composers who understand the harp well. I’ve said this before here: If we want composers to write well for the instrument, start by giving them a year of lessons on the instrument BEFORE they write anything for it. It’s critically important that anyone writing for the harp have a clear understanding of how the harp sounds, and what works and doesn’t work on the harp. So the American Harp Society, or the USA Competition, or Israel Competition should include in their composition competitions a way for the contestants to work for an extended period of time with a harpist BEFORE they enter the competition.