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Anna Quiroga - Harp


1- Was the harp the instrument you started with and at what age did you start your training?

I started playing the harp at the age of 5, literally 1 day after trying the piano (I suppose piano was not meant for me after all…)

2- Is your family musical?

Yes. My mother plays the flute and the traverso and my father, the Spanish guitar and all sorts of historical guitars such as tiorba, laud... You should hear what our home sounds like in the mornings!

3- You did your Junior Department study with Maria Lluïsa in the Conservatori Municipal de Música de Barcelona. How do you remember this stage of your development?

I really miss that stage. I started learning with Maria Lluïsa from the very beginning (when I was 5), since she worked together with my mum in the Conservatory, we had a duo together, and also we were close friends; after a few years learning with her, she became some sort of ‘auntie’ or ‘second mum’ to me, although she was very strict during the lessons and exams. Also, we were quite a few harp students in the Junior Department and we quickly became close to each other as well.

4- Later you undertook a Bachelor Degree in Music Performance at the Conservatorio Superior de Música del Liceu, studying with Abigail Prat. What abiding memories do you have of this person and institution?

I remember the first time I ever entered Abigail’s classroom after the entrance exams. I was completely terrorised because it all was new, and we had heard that she was overly strict during the lessons. I suppose she noticed that, because her first ever words as my teacher was ‘I shall never hurt you’ and then started laughing openly at my confused facial expression after hearing them. After that I relaxed and could start working. She was strict yes! But we also had lots of fun working together.

5- You recently graduated from a Masters Degree in Performance at the Royal College of Music, where she studied with Ieuan Jones, Rachel Masters and Daphne Boden. Was this also a fulfilling period of development for you?

The past two years have been some of the craziest and liveliest in my whole life. Leaving home to land in a country where I was not even able to speak the language, and finding myself surrounded by all these incredible musicians and human beings from all over the world is one of these life-changing experiences. So far, I have learnt A LOT during my time in the RCM. I have not only improved my musical skills, but also changed all my perspectives about lifestyle and work. Ieuan, my main teacher, is one of these teachers with the ability of encouraging you to push yourself to the limit, by reflecting exactly what you are doing wrong and should change, without ever directing a mean word to you. The feeling will always be ‘this certain thing you are doing is just not good enough. But you can make it better and I believe that these are the means’, so you never have the feeling of clashing against a brick wall. With Rachel, we did several orchestral seminars in relevant harp orchestral repertoire, which she knows widely after her several years of experience in the orchestral field, so I gained a lot of confidence in orchestral playing during the last two years; Daphne has helped me throughout these two years during our Faculty classes with the rest of harpists. She has quite different perspectives than Ieuan regarding repertoire and is very clear on what she expects from each piece, so it is very interesting for me to work with both of them.

6- Can you share with us an abiding memory in connection with one of your performances or competitions?

It is difficult to pick one, really. Some performances memories are abiding because they are indeed good memories, and some of them are only there to remind you that everything in this world can go backwards. Let’s go for one that started in a very stressful manner but ended up fairly good. A few years ago, I decided to join the ‘Concurs Permanent de Joves Intèrprets’ contest in Maó, Menorca. This decision, from the very beginning, would suppose an upheaval at home. Remember I have mentioned both my parents are musicians? This can be such a help for a young musician who is still learning everything about the career, but sometimes it can also be quite mad. Just to give you a taste of what home became after my decision, let’s just say that my parents decided to inaugurate their own particular competition to help me set in a competition mood: ‘should we really do that competition?’, ‘what is the programme?’, ‘how do we take a harp to Menorca?’, ‘who is doing a better job helping Anna learning the programme?’ along with journey arrangements, concert clothes and even number of socks I should take with me... Of course all my parents’ answers to all these questions would oppose each other’s. But somehow we managed to survive. Taking the harp to Menorca Island was still a problem though, and we decided to ask the Conservatori de Menorca to borrow one. They kindly agreed and when I got to the venue, the harp was already waiting for me. It was a very good instrument, with only one problem: it was a small straight soundboard student harp that would not be ok with my loud, indelicate Viking-like playing and repertoire choice. So the strings kept breaking and I wasn’t managing to get a good broad sound from it. Luckily I had flown one day in advance precisely to get used at an instrument that wasn’t mine, so after 5 new strings and a fair amount of frustration, I made a deal with the small and patient harp and… I could play! The time of the performance arrived. Passed the first round, subsequently passed the final round, and achieved the second prize of the contest! It was quite an adventure, and nowadays I am still working yearly with the organization that set the contest.

7- You have collaborated with various orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra (BBCSO Pathway Scheme). Can you tell us more about this scheme and your feelings at the time?

When I first stepped in Maida Vale to rehearse with the BBC last year, I was both excited and scared. I was excited to have the opportunity to play with such an amazing and renowned orchestra… And I was scared to do a single wrong note while playing with such an amazing and renowned orchestra! But the fear soon disappeared when I met the harpists, Sioned Williams and Louise Martin, who made me feel like at home from the very beginning and gave me very good advices in orchestral playing, preparing the scores for action, setting up for a rehearsal, and even how to place my music stand to better see the conductor! During the whole year, I have been learning new repertoire with them almost weekly, gained a lot of experience on orchestral playing, confidence on sight-reading and also had the chance to meet and share the day-to-day at work with such outstanding musicians as the BBC harpists and players in general. I do still keep in contact with the BBC harpists, and in fact Sioned is very kindly mentoring me and helping out with one of my projects this year.

8- How often do you practice?

I practice every day, leaving one day off weekly to rest my arms and give myself a break. I normally try to not practice more than 4 hours a day, since I do not think it is healthy to do much more than that… But of course sometimes you have so much to learn as 4 hours won’t suffice!

9- Would you consider teaching music in the future?

Yes, regardless having more than half of my life (literally!) on a stage and I intend to carry on doing the same, I do enjoy teaching. There are fewer things more satisfying than seeing your students improve and gain confidence with the instrument!

10- Who is your favourite musician and why?

This one is always a complicated question to answer! I really enjoy Benjamin Britten’s writing, especially for harp, which is very intricate and contains so many different colours it is astonishing (not everybody gets that on a harp!). I also enjoy Arvo Pärt and his capacity or reaching the most hidden corner at the deepest part of your emotionality, Ginastera, Philipp Glass, Boulez, John Adams, Josef Tal… There is a large etcetera really!

11- How do you balance your study, performance and leisure times? What are the biggest sacrifices?

Sometimes I completely lack this balance, at the stage of my life I am in. As a freelancer who is starting to build his/her career, one does not have much time left after spending hours and hours in front of the instrument, followed by several hours more in front of the laptop. But I do try to give one or two hours a day to devote to my hobbies, like watching a film or series (cinema is one of my big passions), and at least a few hours a week to see my closest friends. One thing that has been troubled by my working schedule is exercising, which I try to do 3 times a week if I can, but not always manage!

12- Do you think the harp as an instrument should gain wider acceptance in orchestral settings? How well is it appreciated in your native Spain, a land with its own individual musical traditions?

I believe that the harp as an orchestral instrument is much more widely accepted than a solo instrument, in general. That might sound counter-intuitive, but I even have musician friends who express their surprise after watching me on recital about the fact that the harp can do something else other than glissandi and soft notes. Nevertheless, I have noticed a change in the general conception of the harp between Spain and UK; there is just not so much a tradition in Spain, there are very few of us, and not so much communication between us either. I suppose it makes sense that in UK there is much more of a harp tradition, since even the Royal family seem to enjoy their bit of harp music (the prince of Wales listens to harp playing while drinking tea and even hires a particular harpist), so it is a bit less strange and more socially accepted to see a weird big multi-stringed oven mitten-shaped instrument wandering around the streets of London than it would be seeing it making its way across the warm Seville! We just need to think about the Spanish setup and tradition: it is a country of fewer strings and more portable instruments (guitar) along with warm and spiky rhythms to be danced whenever the strong sun allows it (of course that is slightly different in Catalonia, but this is a chat for another occasion). A harp has way too many strings and it is too romantic in its conception to fit in that scenario historically, although nowadays the number harpists with new ideas who want to disrupt this image and introduce the harp as an instrument that can play all kinds of repertoire, is growing, and all is looking good for the future of the instrument.

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submission September 2015