Pluck: the story


'Harps make fine companions in disaster … you can float on a harp as the ship goes down.' These words by Canterbury poet Fiona Farrell were written after the earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand, on 22 February 2011. This CD of New Zealand harp music is a direct result of that event. I evacuated myself to Dunedin shortly afterwards, and with unexpected and enjoyable time on my hands decided to launch myself in to a massive and absorbing recording project: to commission nine NZ composers to write works for harp. I am extremely grateful to Creative New Zealand for their support in commissioning the composers, and equally grateful to the University of Otago for the use of their magnificent Albany St studio, a southern hemisphere version of the famous Abbey Road studio in London.
 
The aim of this project was to make a CD of music for harp that would create a ‘gateway’ in to the contemporary sound world of New Zealand’s Art composers. I chose nine NZ composers who I thought had a fascination and an empathy with the harp. I wanted each composer to have complete freedom to write whatever they felt inspired to, and to have fun writing for the harp in a way that expanded the possibilities of the instrument and the performer. The only directive I gave them was to write something short for any of my many harps. The works I have recorded here are performed on full size concert harp, Irish lever harp, small lap harp and wirestrung medieval harp. Sometimes the harps are combined in the same piece, sometimes the harps are enhanced through the use of digital technology, and two works feature the words of New Zealand writers Fiona Farrell and Rachel Bush, sung by soprano Pepe Becker. The tenth composer on this CD is Gareth Farr, who has already written some beautiful works for harp. Here is ‘Frozen Landscapes 1’ which I commissioned from Gareth Farr in 2006.’
 
……Helen Webby
 
Classical CD Review (Listener, March 30 2013) 
Pluck, Helen Webby (Manu). Well, here's enterprise for you. Christchurch Symphony Orchestra harpist Helen Webby is also second-call harpist whenever the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is playing a work needing two harps. Unintimidated by Christchurch's ferocious 2011 quake year, she relocated to Dunedin and contacted nine Kiwi composers, asking them to write a work each. Creative New Zealand funded it. Anthony Ritchie taps spiritual sources, Gareth Farr an Antarctic landscape, Chris Adams something slightly Spanish, Mark Smythe something so tuneful you remember it all instantly. My top two are Lyell Cresswell's superb song-setting, where poet Fiona Farrell's words match the confrontational style of Cresswell's writing - once heard never forgotten - and Pepe Becker's work, where percussive sonority musters the most original scoring. Webby's choices and execution are tops. .... Ian Dando
 
CD Review (New Zealand Harp Society Journal): 
Contemporary music is perhaps the most difficult genre to play as a harpist - there is no ‘Harp composition for Dummies’ manual to help composers write for an instrument that already makes huge demands on the player. The Russian harpist Tatiana Tauer once told me that anyone can play notes, but not everyone can make music. Yet make music is what Helen Webby does on her latest album ‘Pluck’. In collaboration with New Zealand composers, Helen has put together a mellifluous journey through different styles, colours and musical textures. Webby clearly demonstrates her understanding of contemporary music and her interpretation breathes life and meaning into the scores. Her even playing, rich tone and mastery of not one but three types of harp make the album an ‘easy listen’. Pepe Becker, voice, expertly joins Helen on a couple of tracks; I would love to hear her sing works by Benjamin Britten. ‘Pluck’ …. a ‘must have’ for the contemporary music buff, an album definitely worth adding to the collection for the rest of us!  .....Brynmor Williams.
  

REVIEW OF PLUCK ON ‘THE CRITIC’S CHAIR’ Radio New Zealand NOVEMBER 2012

Thankyou for tuning in to The Critic’s Chair. I’m Ken Young and finally today we have a brand new release of New Zealand works for solo harp by the Principal Harpist of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra Helen Webby. The first of these is by Anthony Ritchie, (one) of ten works on this excellent collection entitled Pluck, performed by Helen Webby and released on the Ode label.

“Harps make fine companions in disaster......you can float on a harp as the ship goes down.”

These words by Canterbury poet Fiona Farrell were written after the earthquake that struck and devastated Christchurch and its population on the 22nd of February 2011.

Helen Webby evacuated herself to Dunedin shortly afterwards and with time on her hands decided to launch into a massive and absorbing project of commissioning nine short new works from New Zealand composers. The tenth work on the disc is by Gareth Farr and was previously commissioned by Helen in 2006. I have actually observed Gareth performing on the harp rather successfully; such was his commitment to understanding the technical ins and outs of this compositionally elusive instrument.

Some of the works make use of instruments other than the standard orchestra pedal harp. Instruments such as the Irish lever harp, lap harp and a wire strung medieval harp are employed. Here is an excerpt from a work featuring the latter instrument by Ross Carey.

The album was recorded in the University of Otago’s Albany Street studio, a southern hemisphere version of the famous Abbey Road studio in London. The expert recording and production is by John Egenes from the University of Otago Department of Music. I feel compelled to mention him as there are occasions when the harps are enhanced through the use of digital technology. There is also some marvellous balancing of timbres when in some of the pieces Helen is required to record more than one part on different harps. Full credit must be given to the performer as this can be a very exacting task in a recording studio. There is a beautiful example of this in Claire Cowan’s piece for lap harp and pedal harp entitled The Sleeping Keeper.

That Helen Webby is a fine harpist there was never any doubt but what many won’t know is that her brother, Kim, is one of the world’s finest and most sought after harp makers. He made his first harp when Helen decided she would like to play one. What a cool brother. Since then he has hand-crafted scores of lever harps and several concert grand pedal harps. They are internationally acclaimed for their warmth, clarity and responsiveness as well as supreme craftsmanship. Kim uses New Zealand and North American timbers to create unique designs inspired by New Zealand flora and traditional art. They really are beautiful works of art as well as wonderful musical instruments.

Another feature of this interesting and varied collection of miniatures is the use of the human voice. There are pieces by Gillian Whitehead and Lyell Cresswell which, along with the harp, feature vocal lines based on the poetry of Fiona Farrell and Rachel Bush sung by Pepe Becker. Becker also sings wordlessly in a composition of her own on the disc entitled Capricorn 1: Pluto in Terra.

Other works on the disc from Graeme Downes, Mark Smythe and Chris Adams explore many interesting and thoroughly idiomatic aspects of the harp. All of the works are superbly conceived for the variety of instruments available to them. Many composers and arrangers make the mistake of treating the harp in much the same way as they would a piano. A huge mistake which frequently frustrates harpists as they struggle with 47 strings and 21 possible positions combined for the seven foot pedals. No such fraughtness here. This is an exciting and valuable collection of works and Helen Webby is to be roundly congratulated for her vision and advocacy. The title of the CD is Pluck and it is available on the Ode label.

You’ve been listening to The Critic’s Chair here on Radio New Zealand Concert. I’m Ken Young and thanks for tuning in today.

I’d like to leave you with one last track off Helen Webby’s album. It is by Gareth Farr, is written for both lever harp and wirestrung harp and is entitled Frozen Landscapes 1. Enjoy. ..... Ken Young


  

 

 

New Zealander Kim Webby built his first harp when his sister Helen began to play. Since then he has hand-crafted scores of lever harps and several concert grand pedal harps, internationally acclaimed for their warmth, clarity, and responsiveness, as well as supreme craftsmanship.

Kim uses New Zealand and North American timbers to create his own unique designs, inspired by NZ flora and traditional art

 

New Zealander Kim Webby built his first harp when his sister Helen began to play. Since then he has hand-crafted scores of lever harps and several concert grand pedal harps, internationally acclaimed for their warmth, clarity, and responsiveness, as well as supreme craftsmanship.

Kim uses New Zealand and North American timbers to create his own unique designs, inspired by NZ flora and traditional art

 

 

 

 
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