Hi-tech harp concerto with samples gets world premiere

Watch Sioned Williams demonstrate the Midi-harp in rehearsal

The BBC Symphony Orchestra is giving a premiere to a concerto written for a "revolutionary" hi-tech version of the harp, an instrument dating back thousands of years.

The Midi-harp combines other recorded sounds, including samples of dialogue, with the instrument's natural sound.

The concerto has been written for principal harpist Sioned Williams.

The composer said it turned the traditional concept of the harp "on its head".

Ms Williams, from Mold, Flintshire, has been principal harpist with the BBC Symphony Orchestra for 20 years.

"It's a dream come true that I'm able to bring the first ever concert MIDI harp into the contemporary music area in such a spectacular way," she said.

How the Midi-harp works

  • On the face of it, the instrument looks like a full-size conventional pedal harp
  • But each of the 47 strings has an individual pick-up which can make the instrument an 'electric' harp
  • Those sounds convert through a computer process and trigger other sounds

"To perform a most imaginative concerto on this revolutionary instrument - the result of many years of technological experimentation - is in itself exciting.

"To perform in the iconic Maida Vale Studios - so appropriate since the pioneering BBC Radiophonic Workshop was created here - with my colleagues in the brilliant BBCSO will be an incredible experience."

Midi stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and the instrument has been in development for some years.

No Doubt has been written by composer Graham Fitkin and includes dialogue from former US president George Bush.

Mr Fitkin says the ability of the instrument to play recorded samples or trigger Midi effects means the "archetypal Western perspective of the harp and its associated heavenly docility can be turned on its head".

The concerto is being performed on Wednesday 1900 GMT and will be broadcast on Radio 3 next month.

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