The harp is known for its dreamy, magical sound, and we don't often hear it as a solist in front of a symphony orchestra. The harp concerto as a format is quite rare, but during the pandemic-induced lockdowns, Martin Stauning wrote a new one for the Danish National Symphony Orchestra's young solo harpist Zachary Hatcher. Today, Martin Stauning's Harp Concerto is released as a digital album by Dacapo Records.
One of Martin Stauning's initial concepts while writing the concerto was to see the harpist as a puppeteer pulling strings. Every time the harpist plucked a string there would be an instantaneous or ‘mirror’ reaction from within the orchestra – as if the ensemble were a giant puppet theatre under the harp’s control.
'Over time, it became apparent that the strings acted as bars under which the harpist was physically trapped and unable to escape’, says Martin Stauning. At the concerto’s conclusion, he explains, the harpist ‘literally sits and tears the strings and simply cannot get out.’
Stauning's Harp Concerto adresses themes such as isolation and confinement, and contains a darkness which is rarely connected with the harp. Furthermore the concerto contains technical elements, which have not been seen before on the harp.
During the writing process, Stauning continuosly sent fragments and drafts to Zachary Hatcher, who (according to the composer) did not really seem to have many techincal limitations. Together, the composer and the harpist explored the boundaries for what is technically possible on the harp. For that reason, some passages did not fall into place until shortly before the first performance of the work, for example a particularly challenging passage in which the harpist plays sixty-fourth note trills for a minute and a half.
Martin Stauning's Harp Concerto had its first performance in May 2021 by the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Joshua Weilerstein, who is also conducting this live recording.