Indiana University’s Jacob School of Music alumna joins Des Moines Symphony

Erin Brooker-Miller joins the Des Moines Symphony this fall for their 80th anniversary season, Music in Motion, after a successful audition for the Principal Harp position.

Ms. Brooker-Miller is the Executive Director of the USA International Harp Competition, a founding member of the Archaea Tree Ensemble (flute, percussion, and harp), and a member of the pop harp quartet HarpCore4. She received her MM degree in harp performance from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2017 and BM degree in harp performance from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in 2014. An advocate for interdisciplinary music making, she is both a Classical and Irish harpist dedicated to expanding the knowledge and repertoire of the harp through performing works new and old.

Erin Brooker-Miller

Erin Brooker-Miller

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Heavenly Talent on Strings

Remy van Kesteren was the winner of the 2013 harp competition.

Remy van Kesteren was the winner of the 2013 harp competition.

The current issue of “Harp Column,” a magazine published with the stated purpose of providing “practical news for practical harpists,” features on its cover a beaming Susann McDonald. On that cover, she is described as “America’s grande dame of the harp.” Inside, she is acclaimed as a “living legend” and “the great ambassador.”

Susann McDonald has given her life to the harp, that angelic sounding instrument so devilish to play. She’s done so as practitioner, a world class artist heard in major concert venues far and wide. She’s done so as teacher, as distinguished professor of music, a mentor both at her home base, Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and in master classes at uncountable places. She’s done so as artistic director of the World Harp Congress, an organization founded and designed to assist harpists and promote the instrument. And she has done so as founder and artistic director of the USA International Harp Competition, the 10th of which gets underway this coming Wednesday afternoon here in Bloomington, that endeavor’s welcoming and only home.

Forty-three young harpists from 16 countries will be here to compete. Many of them, 26, by choice, will stay in local homes, having accepted invitations to do so. A few will be with friends. Two will be hosted by the Meadowood Retirement Community. All, as has been the practice since the competition’s founding, will be pampered, so much so that word has spread over the years about Bloomington as the place to be, a competition site to covet.

Finding those receptive homes is difficult, says McDonald. Raising sufficient funds to run the competition is difficult, sometimes a “frightful worry’ almost right to the opening ceremony. Somehow, undoubtedly in no small way aided by the prominent and trusted presence of founder McDonald, the homes and the funds have been located. “It is a constant struggle, but the effort is worth it,” she says. “Think of the fine musicians we’ve given a boost, not only the medal winners but so many others. I know competitions are not for everyone, but there are many players who have benefited from the challenge, the pressure of preparing, the discipline of sticking to a goal, the opportunity to learn new repertoire and hear the upcoming harpists of the moment. There’s value in such an experience.”

Erin Brooker Miller chimes in. She’s the competition’s program director, a classical and Irish harpist herself, earning while still learning by fulfilling the duties of a job that has her willingly taking on some of McDonald’s administrative burdens. “The contestants here,” says Miller, “are required to master a massive amount of music. What we demand can be discouraging, but it pushes a young artist toward greater achievements. A serious competitor will have spent perhaps two years preparing for our event. That will have stretched the harpist’s repertoire and quite possibly assisted her or him in finding management.”

McDonald notes with obvious pride that the USA International “has become so important. It is the largest harp competition, and it stands today as the primary competitor of the longer-standing International Harp Contest in Israel, the 20th of which is due to take place in 2018. “We’ve come a long way,” says McDonald, “and if we find the means, we should have a thriving future. The Jacobs School’s involvement as host gives us access to space for the four rounds of competition and for guest recitals and for the use of an orchestra in the finals: All that gives us an edge and enriches the experience for the participating harpists. I’m so grateful for that.”

McDonald and colleagues have rounded up a stellar group of judges; their vitas can take one’s breath away. Judy Loman of Canada, the jury president, for instance, long served as principal harpist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. She teaches at the Curtis Institute and the Glenn Gould School of the Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music. Her concert career has been vast, and she was honored recently with the Order of Canada for her service to the arts.

Others on the jury include Emmanuel Ceysson of France, gold medalist in 2004 at the USA International and now principal harpist at the Metropolitan Opera; Jason Chang of China, professor at the Shanghai Conservatory and formerly a principal with several orchestras, including the Phoenix Symphony; Sarah O’Brien of Switzerland, former principal with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam and the Munich Philharmonic; Florence Sitruk of Germany, recipient of an Artist Diploma from IU, a very active concert artist and currently professor at Cracow University in Poland; Caryl Thomas of the United Kingdom, head of the harp department at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and an acclaimed soloist; and Irene Zingg of Russia, professor of harp at the Civica Scuola di Musica Claudio Abbado.

Those seven teachers and artists require vast knowledge of instrument and repertoire. They also require stamina and patience as the competition moves through the rounds. Like the players, they must understand the rules, in themselves not an easy task. Take one paragraph from the written explanation: “In the final stage, the competition winner is determined based on overall performance. Each juror awards a single numerical score between 21 and 25 (inclusive) to a contestant. Stage 4 jury scores are totaled and averaged, as in stages 1, 2, and 3. The average scores from the four stages are then summed for each contestant, resulting in an overall competition value. The first prize goes to the contestant who has the largest summed total. Second prize goes to the next highest summed score. In the event of a tie, the jury president will cast the deciding vote.”

Several paragraphs of such instruction need to be mastered. And then, there are hours upon hours of listening as the contestants supply hours upon hours of playing. The top eight contestants get prizes; in addition, there are special awards for the best performance of the composition written for this 10th competition; another for the best performance of the Alberto Ginastera Harp Concerto, and one, interestingly, to the highest ranked Italian contestant.

The bounty collected for the winner among winners is substantial: a Lyon & Healy Concert Grand Harp worth an estimated $55,000; a debut recital at Lyon & Healy Hall in Chicago; a CD recording; a recital in Hong Kong; a trophy; a five-city tour in China; a $5,000 prize given by avid supporters of the USA International, David and Linda Rollo in memory of Mindee Rollo; and an exchange recital that sends the USA winner to Israel and brings the winner of the Israeli contest here. Impressively substantial, wouldn’t you say?

The road to victory goes through four stages, each requiring the candidates to learn works for the harp. In stage one, they must play two movements of a Jon Ladislav Dussek sonata plus two more challenging pieces chosen from a list of four. Those who make the 50 percent cut to stage 2 must choose three works from a list of eight. The eight candidates chosen to continue must perform a recital of 40 minute duration that includes Jeremiah Siochi’s “Sublimation” music that won the Competition Contest. The three finalists then join the IU Festival Orchestra to each perform the Alberto Ginastera Harp Concerto, Opus 25. And, of course, since all 43 contestants probably consider themselves as potential winners, they must arrive in Bloomington prepared to handle all those requirements. A heavy assignment, indeed!

You are invited to partake of the rounds, from the initial to the climax, along with several evening recitals that spotlight former contest winners and a group of rising stars. Consider Bloomington, from June 8 through June 18, as harp capital of the world. And know everything that happens started with an idea that came to the head and heart of Susann McDonald who will be feted with a Celebration Gala, a musical tribute for what she so heroically has accomplished.

If you go

• Wednesday, June 8, at 5 p.m. in Auer Hall: Opening Ceremony.

• Thursday and Friday, June 9 and 10 – 9 a.m. to 1:20 p.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m. – in Recital Hall: Stage 1 performances.

• Saturday, June 11 – 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. – in Recital Hall: completion of Stage 1

• Saturday, June 11, at 7 p.m. in Auer Hall: Laureate Recital featuring 2013 Silver Medal winner Marta Marinelli.

• Sunday, June 12, at 1 p.m. in Auer Hall: Composer’s Forum.

• Sunday, June 12, at 3 p.m., in Auer: 19th International Harp Contest in Israel Winner Recital by Yuying Chen.

• Monday and Tuesday, June 13 and 14 – 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 3 to 6:30 p.m. – in Recital Hall: Stage 2 performances.

• Wednesday, June 15 – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2:30 to 6 p.m. – in Auer Hall: Stage 3 performances.

• Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m. in Auer: Stars of Tomorrow Concert.

• Friday, June 17, at 3 p.m. in Alumni Hall of the Indiana Memorial Union: Celebration Gala, A Musical Tribute Honoring Susanne McDonald.

• Saturday, June 28, at 7 p.m. in the Musical Arts Center: Final Stage performances, followed, at 9 p.m., by the Award Ceremony.

And to switch instruments: this evening at 6 in Auer, the Summer Guitar Academy offers a closing recital. It, as all of the above, is free of charge.

Contact Peter Jacobi at

© Herald Times

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Harpist finds ‘Rocky’ road to Q-C Symphony

By Jonathan Turner


While learning to play harp in her native Hong Kong, Lillian Lau had no idea how formative a place Rock Island would be in her future career.

“One of my mentors, Susann McDonald, was born in Rock Island. She’s one of the most famous harp teachers in the world,” Ms. Lau, principal harp for the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, said this week. She went to college at Indiana University to study with Ms. McDonald, who studied in Paris and founded the World Harp Congress. “She’s such a huge deal in the harp world,” Ms. Lau said.

Harpist Lillian Lau

Harpist Lillian Lau

Now 33 and living in Chicago, Ms. Lau auditioned for the QCSO in 2006 at Augustana College in Rock Island, and will solo this weekend with the orchestra in Maurice Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro for Harp (including the Sunday concert at Augie’s Centennial Hall).

“It’s very romantic, rhapsodic, it’s almost dreamlike,” she said of the 1905 work, originally a chamber piece accompanied by flute, clarinet and a string quartet. But the piece often is performed using a full string section, and the QCSO did not premiere it until 2003 with harpist Sally Goodwin Vogel.

“That’s why Ravel is such an impressionistic composer. It’s got lots of dialogue going on between the instruments,” Ms. Lau, who has played harp since she was 9, said. “I do like the fact it’s a smaller ensemble, it’s easier for the harp to be heard.”

Ravel’s harp piece came about to illustrate what the heavenly instrument can do, she noted. In 1904, a competition ensued between Paris’ two harp companies.The Pleyel Company had a new, improved model and commissioned Claude Debussy to write a work to demonstrate its new capabilities. Not to be outdone, the Erard Company answered the challenge a year later with its own new-model harp, commissioning Ravel to write a piece as well.

Debussy produced his “Danses sacree et profane,” and from Ravel, his Introduction and Allegro, and both works are staples of the harp’s concerto repertoire, according to the QCSO program notes.

“The French do like the harp,” Ms. Lau said, noting the biggest challenge is mastering the instrument’s seven pedals (one for each pitch on the scale). “Each string is like the white keys on a piano. For the accidentals, pedals change the length of the string. It’s a complicated mechanism.”

Ms. Lau’s orchestral engagements include performing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia Festival, Grant Park Music Festival and Elgin Symphony Orchestra in major concert halls throughout Europe and at the World Harp Congress. Just last month, she was featured at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago (the biggest cathedral in the city) at the installation mass for Chicago’s new archbishop.

Ms. Lau also is a founding member of the Lyrebird Ensemble with flutist Ellen Huntington (also a QCSO member). They are dedicated to performing, promoting and publishing repertoire composed for flute and harp and book performances throughout the U.S.

Ms. Lau maintains a teaching studio in the Chicago area and the University of Chicago, and she is assistant editor of the best-selling orchestral guide “Principal Harp Book 2” by Sarah Bullen of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

She has served as a vice president of the American Harp Society, president of the Greater Chicago AHS chapter and National Summer Institute co-chair. Ms Lau holds bachelor and master of music degrees from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, and a Professional Diploma in orchestral studies from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University.

Under the direction of conductor Mark Russell Smith, this weekend’s concerts showcase the talents of other QCSO soloists Marc Zyla (horn), Naha Greenholtz (violin), Hannah Holman (cello), Andrew Parker (oboe) and Benjamin Coelho (bassoon).

The program includes works from Saint-Saens, Haydn and Mozart. In keeping with the theme of this 100th season, there is a world premiere piece from one of Iowa’s most acclaimed composers, David Gompper.

“No celebration of our 100th season would be complete without featuring our wonderful musicians,” said executive director Ben Loeb. “Our principal soloists will display their talents in a diverse program that will not only include a world premiere work from David Gompper, but also one of the most beloved works in the orchestral literature – Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Attendees will relish the opportunity to applaud these stellar musicians from within the QCSO family.”

“I do have to say my favorite thing as harpist is to play with orchestra,” said Ms. Lau, who was featured in a Signature Series concert a few years ago at the Figge Art Museum. “I play in all kinds of settings, and I prefer orchestra over playing as a soloist.”

Mr. Gompper — at the University of Iowa since 1991, where he’s professor of composition and director of the Center for New Music — has lived and worked as a pianist, conductor and composer in New York, San Diego, London, Nigeria, Michigan and Texas. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London, and after teaching in Nigeria, he received his doctorate at the University of Michigan, and taught at the University of Texas, Arlington.

In 2002-2003, Mr. Gompper was in Russia as a Fulbright Scholar, teaching, performing and conducting at the Moscow Conservatory. In 2009, he received an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City.

Mr. Gompper’s compositions — heard throughout the U.S. and Europe — include “Transitus” (for wind ensemble), premiered in 1999 at Carnegie Hall, and a number of his works have premiered in London’s Wigmore Hall.


© 2014


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MUSIC REVIEW: Harpist Emily Levin

The glorious harp

By Peter Jacobi


On Saturday evening in First United Church, the USA International Harp Competition presented in concert the most recent recipient of its Bronze Medal, Emily Levin, a very young and formidable talent who did her undergraduate work in the Jacobs School with the eminent Susann McDonald as her harp mentor and now has started additional studies, for a master’s, at the Juilliard School.

If she’s at Juilliard to gain another academic credit, so be it. If it’s to enhance excellence, I wonder, because Ms. Levin is a remarkable performer already.  She played some 90 minutes, maybe more, of music, all from memory, all in necessarily shifting styles, all with total assurance, all in smashing fashion. She is a winner.

Her repertoire on Saturday, which she titled “Songs without Words,” was wide and varied.  She began the recital with Marcel Grandjany, the legendary French-born American harpist, a smashing performance of his “Rhapsodie,” which allows harp and harpist a world of opportunities to shape beauty.  She ended with “Variations on a Theme in the Ancient Style,” by another legendary French-born American, Carlos Salzedo, a piece that requires every possible skill to realize and which Levin certainly realized, so much so that the audience with enthusiastic applause begged for an encore. She responded generously with Franz Liszt’s “The Nightingale,” as transcribed for harp by still another legend, the French harpist and composer Henriette Renie.

In between, one heard a new work of Impressionistic nature, “Nebula Blooming,” by the Japanese composer Sayo Kosugi; Bach’s elegant French Suite Number 5; a subtle Spanish Dance Number 1 by Enrique Granados and a fiery and famous one by Manuel de Falla, the Number 1 from “La Vida Breve;” Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Harp, and Liszt’s “Un Sospiro” (again in a Renie transcription). Levin played from peak to peak, exhibiting technical wizardry and artistic intuition throughout.


© Herald Times 2014

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Jacobs alumna Natalie Salzman releases first EP

By Francesco Ferrara


Natalie Salzman, harp player and Jacobs School of Music alumna, recently released her first extended play, titled “Ebb & Flow.”

She said her main goal in release singles is to play music that people want to listen to.

“In the music world today, it’s better to release singles because people pay attention to singles more than an entire album,” Salzman said.

Salzman has been playing the harp since she was 7-years-old.

“I walked into a violin store and they had a harp for rent, and I didn’t want to leave the store until I took the harp home,” she said.

Her parents promised her they would rent the harp for the weekend, but the instrument ended up playing a huge part in the rest of her life.

“I loved music, and the harp has such a unique sound,” Salzman said.

She said the harp, which requires simultaneous hand and foot coordination from the player, is difficult to play.

“It takes an amazing amount of coordination and intellectual memory,” Salzman said. “It’s a real workout.”

Salzman lived in Boston for the majority of her life, but moved to Israel with her family as a teenager.

She originally planned to live in Paris during her college years, but said she got cold feet about living in a foreign country without any family or structured school system.

“If I went to school in America, I only wanted to go to Jacobs,” she said. “It was the only school I applied to.”

Because there are only a handful of harp teachers in the country, she said she was willing to sacrifice leaving her family to come to the U.S. to become a better musician.

During her time at IU, Salzman spent a lot of time with harp professor Susann

“Natalie was an exceptionally bright student,” McDonald said. “She was always eager to learn and practice hard.”

In addition to releasing her EP, Salzman has performed at several venues, including The Bitter End in New York City.

She has also found online success by posting adaptations of popular songs such as Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” on YouTube.

“I want to make music because I love it,” she said. “I want to touch and move people.”

© Indiana Daily Student 2014


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Debut EP: Ebb & Flow

For the past month, Natalie Salzman has been recording her debut EP at the legendary FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This studio is famous for fostering the careers of the biggest blues and soul artists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Sledge, and Clarence Carter. Since then, famous artists such as The Rolling Stones, Lynard Skynard, Simon & Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Jimmy Cliff, Linda Rondstadt, The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, and many more have made the pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals to find and hone their sound. She was very fortunate to have the opportunity to record with the original session musicians, who are now legends and rock and roll of fame inductees, that recorded on these iconic albums.

Natalie Salzman is originally a classically-trained harpist and received her BM under the guidance of Susann McDonald, but has pursued a career in performing and singing blues and country-rock on the harp since graduating last May. She performed all over NYC this past summer, and is now based in Nashville. The debut EP, titled “Ebb & Flow,” will be released this January 5th. There will be a release party and show that evening at the iconic Bitter End in Greenwich Village.

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Alumna Natalie Salzman (BM ’13) to release EP

999437_407875886006692_1536847021_nNatalie Salzman is currently recording her debut EP at FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. FAME has fostered the careers of many blues and soul artists from the 1960s and 1970s, such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Sledge, and Clarance Carter. Other big names include The Rolling Stones, Lynard Skynard, and Simon & Garfunkel, Willie Nelson, The Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton, and many, many more.

Salzman’s EP, “Ebb & Flow,” will be released on January 5, 2014. A release party and show that evening will take place at the Bitter End in Greenwich Village. A short promotional video about “Ebb & Flow” is available here on YouTube.

Salzman is a classically trained harpist and studied with Susann McDonald while at Indiana University. Since graduating, she has focused on performing and signgin blues and country-rock music on the harp. This summer, Salzman performed widely in New York City and is now based in Nashville, Tennessee.

To learn more about Natalie Salzman, visit her website.

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Student Update: Natalie Salzman

Debut EP: Ebb & Flow

For the past month, I’ve been recording my debut EP at the legendary FAME recording studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. This studio is famous for fostering the careers of the biggest blues and soul artists of the 1960s and 1970s such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Percy Sledge, and Clarence Carter. Since then, famous artists such as The Rolling Stones, Lynard Skynard, Simon & Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Bob Seger, Jimmy Cliff, Linda Rondstadt, The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, and many more have made the pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals to find and hone their sound. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to record with the original session musicians, who are now legends and rock and roll of fame inductees, that recorded on these iconic albums.
I am originally a classically-trained harpist and received my BM under the guidance of Susann McDonald, but have pursued a career in performing and singing blues and country-rock on the harp since graduating last May. I performed all over NYC this past summer, and now am based in Nashville. The debut EP, titled “Ebb & Flow,” will be released this January 5th. There will be a release party and show that evening at the iconic Bitter End in Greenwich Village.

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Chicago Harp Quartet announces plans to record debut album

CHQFounded in 2012 by Jacobs School of Music alumnas Emily Granger (B.M. ’10) and Cathy Litaker (B.M. ’08), along with Marguerite Lynn Williams and Katie Ventura, the Chicago Harp Quartet is excited to announce plans to record their debut album.

Plans for the album include a range of classical and contemporary music, as well as a world premiere. The group is currently fundraising via a Kickstarter campaign to cover production costs for the CD.

The Chicago Harp Quartet’s upcoming 2013-14 season includes concerts at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Fourth Presbyterian Church with the International Chamber Artists, a LIVE from WFMT concert, a featured performance during the Lyon & Healy 150th Anniversary Festival as well as at the American Harp Society’s 41st National Conference in New Orleans, LA.

In addition to a full season of performances, the Chicago Harp Quartet will launch the CHQ Composition Contest in September of 2013, made possible by a grant from the American Harp Society. The winning piece will be recorded live during the 2014-15 season.

During their time at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Litaker and Granger both studied with harpist Susann McDonald. Ms. Litaker recently completed her two-year engagement with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago and continues to freelance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago and New World Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Granger is currently the Principal Harpist of the Chicago Civic Orchestra and serves on the faculty at the VanderCook College of Music, British School of Chicago, and the WISH Program at the Chicago West Community Music Center.

More information about the Chicago Harp Quartet and their upcoming album can be found at their website here.


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PREVIEW (HT): Harp Competition starts Wednesday

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist | Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 12:00 am

HARP-300There’ll be 44 harpists. They represent 19 countries. And they are all descending on Bloomington to compete in the Ninth USA International Harp Competition which gets underway with an opening ceremony on Wednesday afternoon at 4 in Auer Hall.

Now a premier world competition, the USA International was but a dream-of-the-moment for Susann McDonald back in 1989, when the first was held. “I had no idea it would catch on, but here we are 24 years later,” muses McDonald, the Distinguished Professor in IU’s Jacobs School of Music who founded the competition and continues to serve as artistic director.

“It is a very prestigious competition, pre-eminent, with probably just the Israel on a par. But, you know, that one gets state funding. We must raise all the money to run ours. Somehow, thanks to so many friends and volunteers, we’ve moved forward from competition to competition, and here we are. I’m so thrilled. I’m so grateful.”

The sum raised for this year’s USA International: $250,000, according to executive director Megan Landfair, a sum, she says, “was not easy to amass. But we’re ready to go. We’re also so lucky to have the collaboration of the Jacobs School with its concert venues and practice spaces and 15 harps that contestants can use. Also, we have the wonderful support of Lyon and Healy, which not only lends us 15 harps but, of course, contributes the $55,000 gold harp that goes to the Gold Medalist.”

That Gold Medalist, in addition to the harp, earns two debut recitals, a CD recording, career promotion, and a $5,000 monetary award. Musicians who win second through eighth receive dollar amounts ranging from $5,000 down to $1,000. An additional $1,000 goes to the harpist who best plays the Carl Reinecke Harp Concerto in E Minor required of the finalists. And a prize of $1,500 is reserved for the contestant who bests his or her peers with a performance of a composition written expressly for the competition.

Titled “De l’obscurite II,” that eight-minute work was written by a young French composer, Benjamin Attahir,” who is coming to Bloomington to hear it played by contestants that reach the third stage in the competition and must include it in a 40-minute solo recital. Attahir’s composition was chosen from among 81 submitted. He received $2,000 for his victory.

The competition is designed in four stages. During each, the number of harpists is reduced so that only eight remain for the third stage and three for the final, which requires a performance from each of the Reinecke concerto, this in the Musical Arts Center on Saturday, July 20, with a full orchestra led by David Effron.

A jury of eight distinguished musicians has been named to determine who goes and stays each stage and who leaves with the gold harp. They include, among others, the 2001 Gold Medalist, Dan Yu of China; two-time Silver Medalist Maria Luisa Rayan-Forero of Argentina; Jacobs School faculty pianist Emile Naoumoff, and — as jury president — Sarah Bullen, principal harpist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The harpists, according to rules for the USA International, are evaluated on their musicianship, technique, and artistic presentation. “We have a whole outline of guidelines, very specific,” says Bullen. “We’re to have no contact with the players. We’re not to talk among ourselves. If we taught contestants, we refrain from judging them.”

Bullen previously served as judge in 1998. “It didn’t tire me at all, listening to the many contestants. I’m a harpist. I love the harp. I love hearing it. It’s a privilege to be a judge and aid a new generation.” Determining a winner is a challenge, she admits, “but it becomes clear as we go along who stand out. “There’s harp quality, exceptional mastery of the instrument that we’re looking for, someone who seems comfortable as performer, who has stage presence and a sense of artistry. A winner needs heart and spirit, someone who can relay the poetry and offer inspiration. Back in 1998, it was Xavier De Maistre who later became principal in the Vienna Philharmonic. He was remarkable. From the first time I saw and heard him, I sensed his confidence and smooth delivery.”

De Maistre is one of four USA International Gold Medalists from France, the others being Gaelle Vandermoot (1995), Emmanuel Ceysson (2004), and Agnes Clement (2010). Marie Casale of the U.S. won the first competition in 1989. Others who took the harp and prize were Jana Bouskova of the Czech Republic (1992), Dan Yu of China (2001), and Maria Krushevskaya of Russia (2007).

“They’re all quite distinguished now,” says Susann McDonald. “They hold chairs in major orchestras, teach at top institutions, and concertize prominently. I think we’ve had an impact. This year, we have a tremendous field of contestants, including some very experienced ones. The competition should be interesting.”

Ten of the contestants come from this country. There are four each from France and Japan; three from China, Germany, and the United Kingdom; two from Austria, Mexico, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, and single entrants from Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey.

Thirty-three will be living with host families while in Bloomington. Says executive director Landfair: “It’s something special, really unique that we do to help the contestants, some of them so far from home, feel welcome in a close-knit environment. To have these families volunteer, to have all the other devoted volunteers, to have IU and the Jacobs School, it takes a village, you know, to make something like the USA International happen. We started right after the 2010 ended. It takes much time and many people.”

“Megan has been a fine addition,” says McDonald. “She’s a harpist. She’s come through the Jacobs School. She’s had arts administration training. She understands what we’re about and has taken many things off my back. We have a strong local board, tremendously devoted, and international advisors. We have the volunteers and the host families. And we’ve had Charles Webb and Gwyn Richards at the helm of the Jacobs School to faithfully support our efforts. The city is on our side. Without such community-wide assistance, we probably wouldn’t still be here. But here we are.”

So, starting Wednesday, there’ll be ten days of “here we are” competition, a once-every-three-years welcome addition to Bloomington’s musical summer.

Reach Peter by sending an email to with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

Ninth USA International Harp Competition

Schedule of Events

  • Competition events are free and open to the public.
  • Wednesday afternoon at 4 in Auer Hall — Opening ceremony.
  • Thursday, 9 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. and 3 — 6:30 p.m. in Recital Hall — Stage 1 Competition.
  • Friday, 9 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. and 5 — 6:30 p.m. in Recital Hall — Stage 1 continues.
  • Saturday, 9 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. and 3-5 p.m. in Recital Hall — Stage 1 completed.
  • Saturday evening at 8 in Auer — Laureate recital featuring 2010 Gold Medal Winner Agnes Clement.
  • Next Sunday, 9 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. and 3 — 6:30 p.m. in Recital Hall — Stage 2 Competition.
  • Monday, July 15, 9 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. and 3 — 6:30 p.m. in Recital Hall — Stage 2 completed.
  • Tuesday, July 16, 10 — 11:30 a.m. in Recital Hall — Composer’s Forum featuring Harp Competition Contest Winner Benjamin Attahir.
  • Tuesday, July 16, 3 — 6:30 p.m. in Auer — Stage 3 Competition.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 10 a.m. — 1:30 p.m. in Auer — Stage 3 completed.
  • Wednesday, July 17, 7 p.m. in Recital Hall — “Stars of Tomorrow” recital featuring talented young harpists from around the nation.
  • Thursday, July 18, 11 a.m. in Ford-Crawford Hall — Performance Preparation and Presence Seminar.
  • Thursday, July 18, 8 p.m. in Auer — Jazz harpist Park Stickney in concert.
  • Saturday, July 20, 7 p.m. in the Musical Arts Center — Final Stage of Competition.
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