Different side of the harp
Sun Shimeng, who recently completed her music studies abroad, introduces fans to a livelier sound
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.