INAUDIBLE HARP PARTS

  • Participant
    carl-swanson on #145564

    OK. Here’s the dirty truth about orchestra playing. Many of the parts that you have to play are simply inaudible, no matter what you do. Sometimes it’s the whole part and other times it’s sections of a part. Some of these parts show up on auditions regularly. So my question is: What are the most thankless parts that you’ve had to play? They may be parts that are easy but inaudible, or very difficult but inaudible.

    Sarah Bullen, Principal harpist of the Chicago Symphony, told a funny story at a masterclass she did in Boston a few years ago. When she played her audition for the New York Philharmonic-her job previous to Chicago- she was playing the final stage and was asked to play the Magic Fire music. She got to the really bad pedal section and screwed up. She stopped and apologized and started the excerpt again. She screwed up again in the same place. When she stopped the second time, Barenboim,who had been asked by Mehta to sit in on the harp auditions, burst out laughing and said something like “Oh hell, don’t worry about it. You can’t hear it anyway!”

    Participant
    rosalind-beck on #145565
    The last two pages of the final movement of the Sibelius Symphony No. 1. The part literally looks like wallpaper.
    Participant
    David Ice on #145566

    I agree with that one……there’s more black ink than white paper on those two pages!

    Spectator
    Sid Humphreys on #145567

    LOL @ David’s post!

    This happens to me at a local cathedral that I shan’t name! Why do they bother to mike me when half the time the engineer forgets to turn me on or in the final CD or video post, they turn me down not to be heard?

    Two weeks ago we did Faure’s Requium. The Sanctus starts pp. During the dress rehearsal the executive director kept coming up to me and asking for more sound. I finally played it forte. For the performance I brought my small portable amp and hid it in the percussion section. After the performance, the principle oboe was impressed at how the harp “carried all the way to her section, she totally heard it!” Just viewed the video yesterday, hallelujah, I could be heard.

    I once asked another conductor if he needed

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #145568

    That’s where placement is so important. The harp must not have other instruments and bodies in front of it as they absorb the sound.

    Participant
    Mel Sandberg on #145569

    In my experience, the worst I ever encounterd in terms of difficulty vs. inaudibility was in the Overture to the Flying Dutchmann of Wagner.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #145570

    Mel- I would add most of the Wagner parts to the ‘difficult but inaudible’ catagory. Maybe that should be subtitled the ‘thankless’ catagory. Part of the problem is, Wagner often called for 6 harps on one part. But who ever performs them like that. Even worse is when the conductor decides that one harpist should combine harps I and II, where in the original 3 harps played each part. And they wonder why the harp can’t be heard. If I were still playing orchestra gigs, I’d love to show up at a rehearsal of some Wagner piece like the fire music, and quietly hook my harp up to an amplifier. Then I’d turn the knob up to full blast and wait to see the conductor’s face when I started playing!

    Participant
    catherine-rogers on #145571

    Has anyone ever done that–used an amplifier in orchestra? (I don’t mean outdoor concerts where sound reinforcement is used for most of the group anyway.)

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #145572

    I can tell you for a fact that a whole orchestra in a major opera house in Europe is “discretely amplified.” A man who used to be in the orchestra and was also personnel manager told me this.

    Also, this summer I was in London for a few days and went to a proms concert at Royal Albert Hall, which seats 6,000 people. I’m certain the orchestra there was also “discretely amplified.” Given the size and shape of the hall, the orchestra just sounded too good not to be amplified. And I could hear every single note the harpist played!

    Spectator
    Sid Humphreys on #145573

    Close enough Catherine, read post #4 on here. I didn’t tell the conductor that I amped the harp. Only the percussionists knew. Of course I made sure to do this at our last rehearsal in case the conductor disapproved of the sound!

    Sid

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #145574

    I believe that the Royal Albert Hall does not require amplification, because the audience is sitting all around the orchestra, and the nature of its acoustics are such that all can hear. I have read many descriptions of concerts over the years there, and none mentioned any difficulty in hearing. Some halls are just that wonderful.

    Participant
    rosalind-beck on #145575

    Catherine, yes.

    Participant
    carl-swanson on #145576

    I think that problem with Albert Hall was a bad echo. So, lots of sound, but not very clear. There are now modern acoustic clouds hung below the original ceiling and the orchestra had a kind of shell around it. The orchestra didn’t sound amplified at all but rather was incredibly clear and resonant. The fact that the harp was SO easy to hear led me to believe that there may have been amplification.

    I have been in the afore mentioned opera house several times and never once thought that the orchestra was amplified, but it was. Here in Boston we have a huge gorgeously restored 1920’s movie house that seats 3,400. It’s beautiful, but the acoustics stink. A friend of mine plays harp in the Boston Ballet orchestra and she insisted that they were not amplified when I thought they were. Then one night I was in there for a performance and when the orchestra started the overture it sounded thin and distant. Then, maybe 20 seconds into the music, someone flipped a switch and they suddenly sounded as they usually do. So it is possible to amplify orchestras and not have it sound amplified as we are used to thinking of it.

    Participant
    paul-knoke on #145577

    My own theory about “Dying Flutchman” is that each of the six harpists took one note of each chord, and that’s how they got through it. Maybe that it way it would be audible!

    My own favorite “why am I bothering?” harp part is most of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. Lots of notes at breakneck speed totally buried in the orchestra.

    Participant
    Tacye on #145578

    I have a vague recollection of another story- I think about Sidonie
    Goossens telling Vaughn-Williams a part wasn’t playable or maybe effective.

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