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Counting down to the Midi harp concerto ...

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Sioned Williams Sioned Williams | 13:39 UK Time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Picture of the Camac Midi Harp

The Camac Midi Harp

Yes - Musical Instrument Digital Interface… does that sound like a heavenly harp? No, but you can forget images of angels - this is a new era in harp sounds. The new Camac Midi Concert Harp is a fantastic instrument. Basically - for those who are not so technologically minded - the harp looks like a full-size conventional pedal harp, and is shiny black with some matt black stripes down the soundboard and a white edging. Each of the 47 strings has an individual pick-up which can make the harp be just an ‘electric’ harp (if it is not switched on this harp makes no acoustic sound at all). But in addition, these sounds convert through a computer process and therefore can trigger any sound possible: how about a harp which sounds like running water, or a crowd at a football match, a dog barking or cars tooting ...

When I first saw and heard a demonstration on Camac’s prototype at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, my creative juices went wild. As I am principal harpist in the BBC Symphony Orchestra, I tentatively asked our very patient general manager Paul Hughes whether he would consider my playing a concerto for the instrument. The result? Tomorrow, Wednesday 26th January, at 7pm, a completed concerto by Graham Fitkin will be conducted by Andrew Litton and performed by me at Maida Vale Studio 1 at 7pm. You can hear the broadcast on February 1st on Afternoon on 3.

The harpist lives on - just about - having made friends with a new breed of harp, screamed for technological help from a long suffering Dominic Murcott (composer and technological expert) and longed for peaceful massages to relax the confused brain and soothe the painful limbs after many, many, many hours of practice!

I explained to listeners to Woman’s Hour (Radio 4) and In Tune (Radio 3) that the new harp has required some adjustment to my technique: audiences have been fascinated, as they were at the recent midi harp seminar –‘New era or fancy toy?’ at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’…

Why not come and make your own mind up about the instrument and its potential? The concert is officially full, but if you are really keen, you could make a request through the contact page on my website www.sionedwilliams.com. I have a few spares from friends who are unable to make it now …or maybe they are not daring enough to try it out! I will let you know on this Blog, how it all went.

Sioned Williams is principal harpist of the BBC Symphony Orchestra



  • Comment number 1.

    The build up to this event has been something else, and I for one cannot wait for wednesday's premier. A few months ago I joined Sioned to take some publicity photographs of her with the MIDI harp and it is truly a mighty instrument with a sound like no other.

    Wishing Sioned, and everyone involved the very best of luck.

  • Comment number 2.

    Very much looking forward to the broadcast of this. MIDI electric guitars have been around for quite some time, and although they're a different beast to the original, they've opened up a whole range of sounds.

  • Comment number 3.

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    My name is Sofie Van den bergh and I am a Belgium student (Free University Brussels, VUB). I am doing a research about the BBC Symphony Orchestra and I am looking for people to interview.
    My paper will deal with the Public Service Broadcasting aspect of the orchestra.
    I would like to get in contact with people from the orchestra, people from the BBC, people from BBC Radio 3 and audience.
    I tried to search for contact possibilities, but I couldn't find them on the website.
    If anyone can help me, please contact me: [Personal details removed by Moderator]

    Thanks in advance

    Sofie Van den bergh

  • Comment number 4.

    A remarkable performance last night at Maida Vale and good to see so many harpists attending this important premier on this new instrument.

    The possibilities provided by the midi harp are really intriguing and it's a shame that this concert is only going to be broadcast on radio and not on TV, as the visual aspect of seeing the strings being plucked but sampled voices and noises coming out really needed to be seen.

    The other thought that came to mind is that of course the strings on the midi harp don't need to trigger sound. They could trigger visual cues.

    Wouldn't it be great to see the musician also trigger visual footage on a large screen so that it could become a whole multi-media experience?

    Well done Sioned & the BBCSO!


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