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.
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

Comments are closed.