LBMC: Claire Jones, harpist

The golden girl with the harp

On Saturday 20th February 2010 Leighton Buzzard Music Club presented an evening of harp music by Claire Jones, currently harpist to HRH the Prince of Wales.

On entering the theatre one found the stage dominated by Claire Jones’ magnificent golden ‘Salvi’ harp, romantic and ethereal, albeit some seven feet tall. Anticipation was high, therefore, when the golden girl from Wales joined her glorious instrument on stage.

Her programme was varied, and designed to show off the harp’s capabilities and party tricks. During the evening she also explained something about how the harp is played, how to buy a new one, how to travel with one, what it was like to play regularly for royalty and their guests and how to solve amplification problems when playing a harp in the middle of the Millenium Stadium for an international rugby union match!

She began with Fantaisie on themes from ‘Eugene Onegin’ by Tchaikovsky, gracefully coaxing from her instrument extraordinary ornamental runs and trills. Next we were given Partita No 1 by J S Bach, a particular favourite of Prince Charles. This piece showed us a different side of the harp and the harpist. It sounded as though it had originally been written for the harpichord. The music moved in a stately but lively fashion quite unlike the bird-like work in the Tchaikovsky.

Next we were given a modern piece by Patrick Hawes – a name some readers will be familiar with as he is Classic FM’s composer in residence. How Hill was obviously a favourite of Claire’s. She completed the first half of her concert with her own arrangement of Men of Harlech, demonstrating that a harp can be commanding as well. While Claire plucked music from the instrument it threw golden highlights from its pillar and highly varnished sound board around the theatre, as well as notes.

After the interval the evening continued with Rosetti’s Sonate, which music poured over us like honey, sweet and hypnotic. This was followed by another modern piece written for the harp by an Arabian composer, Ami Mayammi, about whom I can find nothing – except to encourage you to search her (or him) out for yourselves. Maqamat was music redolent of indolence, the seraglio and the oasis; Claire made the harp purr and maiow, producing luscious discords and pedalled drops in pitch.

Her penultimate offering was the Theme from ‘Schindler’s List’ by John Williams, which, again, she had arranged herself. The familiar melody felt almost as though it were being produced by a guitar – but, of course, a guitar of many more than usual strings and greater sonority. The final item in the concert allowed Claire to demonstrate her dexterity with glissandi and harmonics with her new Salvi harp. Finally, warm applause called her back for an encore, a melody drenched in lovely arpeggios.
‘Thank you for having me,’ she said as she sat down to play her final piece. The pleasure was ours, golden girl. The Prince chose his harpist well*.

* Claire Jones is no longer the Prince’s harpist.

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