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Louise Thomson reflects on the Manchester Harp Festival

Harpist Louise Thomson reflects on the success of the inaugural Manchester Harp Festival, which took place earlier this year.

Tashmina artist Louise Thomson launched the Manchester Harp Festival and Competition in January 2024, a two day event featuring world-class performances, workshops, meet the artist events, children’s activities and a competition for harpists of all abilities.

A versatile and experienced musician, Louise has appeared at prestigious concert venues and festivals around the UK. Her ties to Manchester began as a prizewinning student at Chetham’s School of Music and the Royal Northern College of Music, since which time she has appeared with some of the region’s most respected ensembles, including the Hallé Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and Manchester Concert Orchestra. Alongside her busy performing career, Louise has built up a highly vibrant harp community around the North of England, teaching at Chetham’s School of Music, Withington Girls’ School, The Manchester Grammar and Huddersfield University, and examining for the Royal Northern College of Music.

In Louise’s words

The Manchester Harp Festival and Competition 2024, generously sponsored by Salvi Music London, surpassed all expectations, delivering an extraordinary weekend filled with inspiration, energy, and inclusivity.

From its dynamic launch concert featuring esteemed harp tutors Louise Thomson, Anne-Marie O’Farrell, and Marie Leenhardt, and then sparkling second half showcasing the captivating performance by the incomparable Esther Swift, the festival set a high standard of musical excellence from the start.

One of the highlights of the opening night, an electrifying 8-harp arrangement of Widor’s Toccata by Anne-Marie O’Farrell, left the audience in awe.

Saturday, the main festival day, offered a diverse array of talent and workshops catering to all levels of expertise.

Marie Leenhardt’s informative Alexander Technique masterclass emphasised the importance of body awareness and the importance of mindset in practice and performance, while Rachel Dent provided invaluable insights into ABRSM exam preparation. The engaging and approachable talk on harp and string maintenance by Billy and Brad Hornby proved to be a hit among attendees.

Joris Beets, exhibiting his groundbreaking new harp-e’s, delivered an exceptional workshop and demonstration, illustrating the potential of this exciting new instrument to revolutionize the world of harp playing.

His presentation highlighted how the harp-e makes the harp accessible to a broader range of people, opening up new avenues for musicians of all backgrounds and abilities to explore the beauty of harp music. Beets’ passion and expertise shone through as he introduced attendees to the innovative features and capabilities of the harp-e, leaving them inspired and eager to incorporate this cutting-edge technology into their musical journeys.

The virtuosic recital by Huw Boucher demonstrated his remarkable musicality and warm personality, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

Keziah Thomas’s dynamic children’s concerts, featuring excerpts from her impressive arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, delighted both the young members of her audience and their grownups. Showcases by pupils from RNCM and Chethams epitomised the vibrant and diverse harp community in Manchester, with a standout performance by 23 harp pupils from Withington Girls’ School taking centre stage at The Stoller Hall.

The heart of Saturday belonged to the highly anticipated competition, kindly sponsored by Salvi Music London, where finalists displayed their exceptional musical and technical talents.

With a distinguished panel of adjudicators including Anneleen Lenaerts (Principal solo harpist, Vienna Philharmonic), Tom Redmond (Musical Director, Chetham’s School of Music), and Chris Hoyle (Head of Strings, RNCM), the competition was fierce. Congratulations to Melicia Huang and Defne Anar, First Prize winners of the Open and Advanced categories respectively, as well as Katie Lo Sin Yan and Lucia Foti for their outstanding performances.

We look forward to welcoming Katie back to The Stoller Hall for her 2nd prize winning performance, whilst Defne will perform her First Prize winners performance at the Salvi Music London Showroom.

The festival concluded on a magical note with a solo recital by Anneleen Lenaerts, whose breathtaking performance left the audience spellbound. Her rich tone and flawless musicality served as a fitting finale to an unforgettable weekend celebrating the beauty and versatility of the harp.

The Manchester Harp Festival and Competition 2024 truly lived up to its promise of being an amazing, inspiring, and inclusive event, leaving participants eagerly anticipating future editions. Watch this space!

Thank you once again to the wonderful Salvi Music London for their generous sponsorship.

Louise Thomson – Harpist

Read the article in the UK Harp Association’s journal by following this link.

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