The French instrument maker Sébastien Érard was significantly involved in the modern harp’s development. In 1810, he patented the fully chromatic double-action harp. Thanks to the instrument’s seven pedals and a sophisticated mechanism, it was now possible to change the string lengths and raise each note up to two semitones. This enabled the harpist to play in all keys without retuning the instrument. Composers such as Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy took advantage of these new possibilities and established the harp as an orchestra instrument. In his “Treatise upon Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration” (published in 1844), Hector Berlioz claimed that the harp should never be placed behind the orchestra.
The harp was also brought to the foreground as a solo instrument in classical music repertoire. The French harpist Henriette Renié (1875 – 1956) played a significant part in this popularity. Thanks to her highly virtuoso playing, her own compositions and arrangements of pieces by other composers, she decisively influenced the music for harp solo at the beginning of the 20th century. She also inspired other composers (including Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel) to write works for the harp and was a much sought-after teacher with many successful pupils. In 1914, she launched the “Concours Renié”, the first international harp competition. In her own works, Henriette Renié often dealt with fantasy topics. Such is the case in the Légende d’après «Les Elfes» de Leconte de Lisle, which she wrote in 1901 after a poem by French author Leconte de Lisle. The text is about a black knight riding at night through the forest in search of his bride. He encounters malevolent elves that try to seduce him. When they fail, they kill the knight’s fiancée. The knight then also dies out of desperation and love. The Légende pointedly begins with the harp’s lowest note, which keeps on reappearing in the following bars like an urgent reminder. An incisive scale in unison follows it. This is the starting point of a partly descriptive musical programme. The horse’s galloping and the elves’ nimble movements are just as perceptible as the eerie atmosphere of the dark forest, the treachery of the elves and the last breathe of life. In the final bars, the low note is heard once again. It now announces the tragic end like a death knell. In her Légende, Henriette Renié greatly expanded the harp’s sound range, masterfully using all the instrument’s possibilities. Her precise performance instructions and the tremendous technical challenges on the performer are striking. Renié’s virtuoso Danse des lutins (Dance of the Goblins, composed in 1911) also takes us into a fantasy world: goblins jump back and forth, do somersaults, suddenly stop and then resume their merry dance. In this piece, the harpist must have both nimble fingers and very agile feet to achieve rapid successive harmonic changes with the pedals. The Danse des lutins is reminiscent of Franz Liszt’s Gnomenreigen (Dance of the Gnomes), a composer who much influenced Henriette Renié. She transcribed some of his piano pieces for the harp, including Le Rossignol (The Nightingale). Franz Liszt wrote this piece after an eponymous song by the Russian composer Alexander Alyabyev. [..]
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JOEL VON LERBER
Joel von Lerber was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1991. He was only six when he took his first harp lessons at the Bern Conservatory with Nathalie Châtelain and in the following years with Simon Bilger. His Bachelor’s degree (with Sarah O’Brien) was followed by a Master of Arts (Performance) with Sarah O’Brien at the Zurich University of the Arts in 2014. Two years later, he obtained a Master of Music with Prof. Maria Graf at the Hanns Eisler School of Music Berlin. In 2019, he took the “Konzertexamen”, equally with Prof. Maria Graf. The exam concert at the Konzerthaus Berlin, which he passed “with distinction”, was also his debut with the Konzerthausorchester Berlin. Joel von Lerber also received artistic stimulation through masterclasses with reputed artists such as Helga Storck, Isabelle Moretti, Jana Boušková, Xavier de Maistre and pianist Pavlin Nechev. In addition, Joel has benefited from various scholarships, including those of the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) and the Migros - Kulturprozent.
Joel is a prize-winner of numerous international competitions, including the International Harp Competition of the Franz Josef Reinl Foundation in Munich (2011, 1st Prize), the International Louis Spohr Competition in Kassel (2013, 1st Prize and Audience Award), the Golden Harp Competition in St. Petersburg (2014, 3rd Prize), the Michal Spisak International Music Competition In Poland (2015, 2nd Prize and Special Prize), the International Harp Competition in Mexico (2017, 2nd Prize) and the renowned International Harp Contest in Israel (2018, 2nd Prize and two special prizes for the best interpretation).
Joel von Lerber regularly performs as a soloist in Switzerland and Germany, with ensembles such as the Bern Chamber Orchestra, the Fribourgeois Chamber Orchester, Kammerphilharmonie Graubünden, the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, the Vorpommern Philharmonic Orchestra and the Filmorchester Babelsberg. He has also performed with the State Hermitage Orchestra in St. Petersburg, the Mexico City Symphony Orchestra in Mexico City, the Filharmonia Zabrzanksa in Poland and the Haifa Symphony Orchestra in Israel, as well as with the Brandenburg State Orchestra.
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