Studying harp in orchestra

  • Participant
    unknown-user on #145044

    an interesting debate regarding harp in orchestra has risen over a couple of other threads these past few days, which i feel it would be interesting to open a new discussion on the matter….

    1. should one know the harp part from memory or not? i personally feel like there is no need to memorise it all, altough practice would do that naturally, but yet i feel its important to know at least the first two or three bars of each entrance by heart…. that is as to be able to just look at the mro and make sure you get it right in place. however then there are works for which i believe one should be performing from memory… such as cadenzas and works which are performed really fast… at times tempos are just too fast to have time to look at the music…. i remember those hell of three poems by fiona mcleod, composed by Griffis (its not Griffits)… the harp is shifting so fast and pedal changes are so abrupt that there is no way that you’ll be looking at the music at any second… then in solo cadenzas, i feel that looking at the strings rather than music, will allow me to feel more certain that i’m plucking it right… when you’re looking at sheet music, there is always that doubt in your mind… “Are my fingers on the right strings or not?”

    2. Entrances — ok we all know, at times you would have to count never ending number of bars… it pops to mind Bartok’s concerto for orchestra and Planets by Holst…. yep, what we all end up doing is writing a key point where to start counting some couple of bars before, and given that one is not too drunk, it always work….at times rather than writing a key point… like let’s say…anight on the bare mountain mussorsky… you can think… buildup… then abrupt stop… then long pause.. then i’m in…. i feel like its more helpful personally to follow a particular musical line of just one instruments… preferibely choosing one that is near to you at the orchestra… as not to have problems with picking it up… i remember in Ravel’s Don Quichotte a Dulcinee (spelling???) i probably am more familiar with the first horn part rather than the harp itself… and in Copland’s The Golden Willow Tree… the harp perform these intervals (acciaccatura and note every crothchet or so) in exact accordance with the flute, howver playing it inverse to the flute… apart from counting in my entrance… i would also make it double sure by looking out at the flutist, and following when he puts up the flute to start playing…leaning the harp at the same moment when the flutist is taking up his flute, apart from being visually pleasant to the public, it will also assure the maestro that the orchestra is well coordinated and everyone knows what he’s doing… just pray that you will get a great looking Italian first flutist as to enjoy it even more : )

    3. Knowledge of the score… ok now this is the most important factor which determines whether you’re a great orchestra member or not in my opinion (and it applies to all instrument, but i will stick to the harp here…) unfortunately, at times, we get the parts, we study them to perfection, however we go to rehearsals (and usually the harpists are only asked to attend the final one or two… at least it was always like that with me) without knowing what our role is in the orchestra…. that is whether we are just filling in, melody solo, or melody together with another group of instrument, performing an accompaniament or so….personally what i do is this…. whenever i’m contacted by an orchestra to permorm with i always make sure i get do one of the following two.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #145045

    One thing I always did was position my stand with the desk high up so I could see the music and the conductor at the same time, and see the strings from the corner of my eye. Why have it over to the left somewhere so they have to move your head? I also try to finger parts so that instead of leaping I place secure intervals like octaves which I can do without looking. I don’t trust memory, and having to find your place in the music again. Muscle memory seems best, along with the ear. But it depends on the piece. If there’s nothing after the cadenza, solo away. Copland parts can be very tricky. I remember that part of the Golden Willow Tree. I think I placed ahead.

    Maybe no-one else on stage does, but I like to think of the harp as one of the most important instrument on stage, on par with the principal players, and more like the oboe and concertmaster in the number of solo passages we get.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #145046

    One thing which i havn’t decided yet…. where do you prefer to be placed…right or left of the Conductor…. at times i feel its more comfortable to be on the left hand side… as Saul mentioned… seeing the conductor and the music at the same time is more comfortable from the conductor’s left… but i hate that i’m always hidden after the harp… and usually to take a trip to the right hand side….

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #145047

    Brava, Esmeralda, on a very constructive and helpful essay on orchestra playing! You have made excellent points! Starting with the last: I have played on both sides of the orchestra, but I also prefer to sit on the conductor’s left. Since the harp often plays accompanying figures, it is helpful to be as close to the soloist as possible, and if you’re in front of the brass, it is very hard to hear the detailed melodies in the violins, at least in our concert hall. I totally agree that it’s best to memorize cadenzas, important solos and any fast passages. Sometimes one has to compromise between looking at the conductor and looking at the strings, i.e. the quintuplets in L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune. If I cannot study the score or listen to a recording in advance: at the first rehearsal, I mark in cues throughout my part, wherever there are large numbers of bars to count, i.e. m4 trpt. I also divide the multi-rests into phrases, i.e. 8/12/8 instead of a multi-rest of 28 bars. In some pieces, the rehearsal numbers are not in logical places, or only on every tenth bar (i.e.Candide, Sleeping Beauty). This is where the division into phrases is so useful. I recommend Beatrice Schroeder Rose’s “The Harp in the Orchestra”. It has some fabulous suggestions on editing of impossible parts. I also have an article published in the Summer 2000 Teachers’ Forum of the American Harp Society Journal on how to prepare to play in an orchestra. Saul, good point about the placing. Fingerings can make or break a passage, especially when you have to keep an eye on the conductor.

    Participant
    rosalind-beck on #145048

    I concur that it is better to be stationed on the conductor’s left, behind the violins, although

    Participant
    unknown-user on #145049

    Speaking of conteporary music and entrances…

    when i studied the Bartok violin concerto and Lindberg clarinet

    Participant
    paul-wren on #145050

    Very good Esmeralda!

    I have been placed all over the stage. Once even between the 2nd violins and the violas! To be honest, I loved it! I could hear everything. The woodwinds didn’t like it. But I do perfer the conducters left, just behind the 2nd violins if I can get in there. Many times the percussion push me more towards behind the 1st violins. At that angle, many times the spotlights are too bright and when you take a glimpse at the strings, they are washed out.

    I will always memorize entrances and passages where the conductor is slowing or speeding up, just so I can watch him. I will also mark the music with a red pencil, so my eyes will find the place where I need to be after watching the conductor.

    I have had conductors tell me,”oh you dont need to be there till closer to the perforamance” , I just say thank you, but I prefer to be there as much as you will allow me to. You can work or phraseing all day long, but if the conductor is doing something totaly different than what you are use to, it can really throw you off. I just did the Franck Sym in D last weekend. My fifth time to do it and no two conductors have done it the same!

    I have had some really bad conductors, one that yelled at everyone, me included. But for the most part I find that most conductors are not so bad, they just do not regconize the harp as being an important part of the orchestra, so they ignore us.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #145051

    As many people know already from my article on the subject, I favor having the harp placed behind the first violin section so the harp can be angled toward the right wall of the auditorium and have no obstructions in front of it to block the sound. I am finding the sound of my harp changes tremendously in different parts of my studio depending on what is near it. With the piano on one side and the wall on the other, the sound was quite contained, and on the other side of the piano, farther away with bookcases behind it, the sound is still contained, though I can hear it open out into the room. Having objects behind us absorbs sound as much as in front or alongside. I don’t think it helps much to put the harp on a podium, like the Minnesota Orchestra did for years, with the harp between the first and second violins. I think it also makes sense for the harp to be right up near the conductor between violas and cellos, on par with the other principals, only he will always think you are too loud. But the harp is pointing right out, which is good. I have seen the BSO do this for the Bruch Scottish Rhapsody.

    I think we would all benefit from republished parts that are written out from our point of view. I hope to publish some as my facilities to do so are developed.

    Participant
    laura-smithburg-byrne on #145052

    What a great subject Esmeralda!
    If only people knew what we have to do to be a successful part of the orchestra.
    There are so many key points here for preparation such as fingering , placement ahead of time , clear and logical pedaling, and memorization. Your rehearsal ideas are marvelous and show how important it is to work with your musician colleagues as if it were a chamber music performance.
    I learned so many of these important points from my teacher Alice Chalifoux who was brilliant in her ability to create logical fingerings and pedals in harp parts. She

    Participant
    David Ice on #145053

    Hi Esmeralda,

    What I’ve done occasionally (like Wagner’s RING CYCLE) is to get a first violin part and follow that during rehearsals/performance.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #145054

    Hye david..

    the Hansel and Gretel you mention… is it the one by Humperdink? assistant of Wagner????

    Spectator
    diane-michaels on #145055

    Regarding the thought that playing along with a recording could some how be “cheating”:

    Any way that you can prepare a part (or piece) is fair game – unlike a math exam, showing your work is not part of a performance.

    I introduced

    Participant
    rosalind-beck on #145056

    I always make it a point to obtain CDs of orchestral works to be performed and play along with them.

    Participant
    unknown-user on #145057

    however, altough i agree with listening to recordings…

    Spectator
    diane-michaels on #145058

    By comparing different recordings (i.e 4 different Tosca’s), you learn not how to play a particular rubato, but rather where one may exist – in other words, where you need to prepare flexibility (an oxymoron if I ever heard one!).

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