Dif­fer­ent side of the harp

Sun Shi­meng, who re­cently com­pleted her mu­sic stud­ies abroad, in­tro­duces fans to a live­lier sound

China Daily - - CULTURE - By CHENG YUEZHU [email protected]­nadaily.com.cn

While the harp of­ten seems to be en­veloped in an aura of seren­ity and mys­tique, Chi­nese harpist, Sun Shi­meng, is com­mit­ted to in­tro­duc­ing a live­lier type of harp mu­sic to China.

Sun per­formed along with the Bei­jing Sym­phony Or­ches­tra, un­der the ba­ton of Chi­nese-Aus­tralian con­duc­tor Dane Lam, at the For­bid­den City Con­cert Hall re­cently. At the con­cert, Sun played Danses Sacree et Pro­fane (a sa­cred and pro­fane dance), a harp concerto writ­ten by Claude De­bussy. Ac­cord­ing to Sun, Danses Sacree et Pro­fane is one of the most renowned com­po­si­tions writ­ten specif­i­cally for the harp, and its rich vari­a­tions of mood and tonal­ity fully re­flect the pow­er­ful ex­pres­sive­ness of harp mu­sic.

“The piece was first writ­ten for cross-strung harps, mean­ing that some parts are un­suited for the modern sin­gle-course pedal harp used at con­certs,” says Sun.

“Though later mu­si­cians adapted this piece, it is still very dif­fi­cult to play, but be­cause this piece is so beau­ti­ful, peo­ple nowa­days are still will­ing to over­come these ob­sta­cles and per­form it on stage.”

Sun, 27, re­cently com­pleted her stud­ies at the Royal North­ern Col­lege of Mu­sic in the United King­dom, spe­cial­iz­ing in harp per­for­mance.

For­merly a grad­u­ate from China’s lead­ing mu­sic academy, the Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic, and a harp teacher at the Tian­jin Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic since 2014, Sun has de­voted her­self to pop­u­lar­iz­ing the harp.

In 2012, she as­sisted in the prepa­ra­tions for the se­cond Ca­mac Fes­ti­val in France, and in 2014, she helped run the first Cen­tral Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic In­ter­na­tional Harp Fes­ti­val held in China.

“When we speak about the harp in China, we al­ways think of lyri­cism, divin­ity and el­e­gance,” she ob­serves. “how­ever, in Scot­land and Wales, the harp is a folk in­stru­ment, and some­times when we per­formed at mu­sic fes­ti­vals in Scot­land, peo­ple would hold hands and start danc­ing.”

Study­ing and per­form­ing in the UK, Sun was ex­posed to a range of modern com­po­si­tions, dif­fer­ent from the ed­u­ca­tion she pre­vi­ously re­ceived where there was a spe­cial fo­cus on clas­si­cal sym­phony. Mean­while, she per­formed

Danses Sacree et Pro­fane at the Royal North­ern Col­lege of Mu­sic and Lan­caster Uni­ver­sity in March. As the piece was orig­i­nally writ­ten for harp and quin­tet, Sun’s pre­vi­ous per­for­mances were both pre­sented in a small cham­ber set­ting.

“Then, we didn’t have a con­duc­tor, so the co­op­er­a­tion was largely based on in­di­vid­ual judg­ment,” she says.

“But work­ing with Lam was dif­fer­ent, for he is very fa­mil­iar with this piece, and pays at­ten­tion to the bal­ance be­tween me and the or­ches­tra.”

The harp and or­ches­tra ver­sion of this piece re­quires a high level of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the harpist and the or­ches­tra.

Sun notes that she ini­tially had qualms about per­form­ing with an or­ches­tra, as the harp sec­tion re­quires a de­gree of free­dom that is not en­tirely in ac­cor­dance with the over­all tempo. How­ever, af­ter the first re­hearsal, her con­cerns were ad­dressed when the co­op­er­a­tion be­tween all par­ties ran smoothly.

“When there’s a soloist, it’s about know­ing what she’s go­ing to do and show­ing the or­ches­tra so that they can fol­low,” Lam ex­plains.

“Sun Shi­meng is a won­der­ful col­lab­o­ra­tor, very clear about what she wants, and she’s in­ti­mately ac­quainted with the piece.”

Sun has now de­cided to teach at the Tian­jin Con­ser­va­tory of Mu­sic and to pro­mote the harp among stu­dents at the af­fil­i­ated mid­dle school of the con­ser­va­tory, but she is not giv­ing up per­form­ing.

This month, Sun will be per­form­ing Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with the BBC Na­tional Or­ches­tra of Wales as a guest soloist on its China tour, which in­cludes Bei­jing, Chang­sha and Wuhan.

Study­ing and per­form­ing in the UK, Sun was ex­posed to a range of modern com­po­si­tions, dif­fer­ent from the ed­u­ca­tion she pre­vi­ously re­ceived where there was a spe­cial fo­cus on clas­si­cal sym­phony.


Chi­nese harpist Sun Shi­meng.

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