Borletti-Buitoni Trust
19 September 2008

Divertissements and “Musical Terrorism”

by Meijer Lavinia

Lavinia Meijer reflects on the release of her first solo CD and an extraordinary response to a world premiere.

As a little girl of eight, I was already captivated by the magical sounds of the harp, so pure and rich. Once I discovered the instrument’s wealth of possibilities during my first lessons and my years at the conservatory, I quickly set myself a goal: I wanted to promote the harp as a solo instrument, wherever and however I could. I wanted to do this not only through the performance of well-known pieces, but also by encouraging contemporary composers to produce new harp compositions.

For my first Channel Classics CD, I have chosen a combination of three 20th-century French masters. The Parisian firm of Érard, in particular, created technical innovations to the harp which considerably broadened the instrument’s (chromatic) capabilities; these innovations, followed by the first ‘minor’ masterpieces by Debussy and Ravel, soon made Paris the epicentre of a veritable harp explosion. More and more well-trained harpists appeared, and so did composers who became interested in the harp. Even though André Caplet did not compose much for the harp, the ‘Deux Divertissements’ are now an indispensable part of the repertoire. They are one of the harpist’s ‘musts’. And I cannot imagine why Jacques Ibert’s ‘Six Pièces’, those surprisingly colourful miniatures – are so rarely performed in their entirety.

French-American Carlos Salzedo occupies a special place in the world of the harp. Famous both as a performer and teacher, he was immensely influential. This grandmaster of the harp was responsible for a whole range of new virtuosic effects. Composer Elliott Carter noted that Salzedo “presents a whole new repertory of effects for that instrument that are still not incorporated into our composers’ vocabulary”.

Recording this CD with Channel Classics was an eye-opening experience for me. It required an extremely high level of concentration and dedication to get the most out of the three days we had to record. Challenging myself with the highest expectation of performance, I found that I could put a lot of myself into this recording.

To promote this CD, I have used a part of my BBT fellowship to make a promotional film. As I had already been invited to London for both a solo recital and a Masterclass, I combined these events with the making of the film, as well. I believe it is extremely important for a musician to make themselves known to the audience, especially in a personal way. Perhaps this applies even more to the lesser-known instruments, such as the harp. I’m already thinking about the possibilities of the next project to make a film about the “making of the harp”, that involves going to the factory in Chicago (Lyon & Healy) to bring the audience as close as possible to the harp; in this case even inside the instrument!

In the search of bringing new, challenging music to the audience, I had the privilege of working with the Dutch composer, Jacob Ter Veldhuis (www.jacobtv.net). He wrote a new piece for me, called “Cities Change the Songs of Birds”, for which I gave the world premiere at the 10th World Harp Congress, held in Amsterdam this summer. This is quite a remarkable piece, where recorded voices of female drug addicts are combined with the live sounds of the harp. During the piece, I had to speak/scream certain sentences as well to emphasize the spoken text. It was an amazing experience, as if being part of a movie. A part of the audience was extremely moved by it, as well as the Dutch newspaper, Trouw who wrote “The harp could use this more burly image, quite a relief after all the sweet music that was heard before. A remarkable composition”. However, another part of the audience felt extremely uncomfortable hearing this piece, which contained a lot of rude and violent language. A forum appeared on the internet (http://www.harpcolumn.com/forum/message-view?message_id=1638427) in which they speak of “musical terrorism”. This sparked a lengthy and emotional debate involving many people, both for and against this piece. Finally, I posted my own point of view on this piece. Although this piece has caused controversy, it has nevertheless reached many more people than only those present at the actual performance.