Asni: harps and imagination - newsletter #2
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Hello, kia ora and welcome to the second Asni: harps & imagination newsletter!

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THE YEAR OF TWO TIMES SPRING

I am glad that when I promised to write this newsletter “fairly regularly”, I did not specify the interval in between each instalment, although I admit that I envisaged doing it slightly more often than every half year – so it won't get too long!

In this edition you will find information on CURRENT PROJECTS & UPCOMING EVENTS, a summary of my EUROPEAN TOUR in April and May, including the Edinburgh International Harp Festival which was filmed for BBC's “Destination Music” and broadcast on BBC World in June. There will also be the New Zealand Culture Paragraph – which I intend to make a somewhat regular feature of this newsletter – this time on the topic of MATARIKI. And last but not least, there are the SHOP NEWS. Happy reading!

Which reminds me – Christmas is drawing near, lots of people are getting wed, and I currently take bookings for the upcoming season. The amount of time I will have available is a wee bit limited due to other commitments, so be quick! First in, first served. Check my offers and fees here. And don't forget that a harp cd just makes such a wonderful Christmas present!

Times have been busy indeed. After coming back from my European tour I had to find myself a new place to live, and am happy to say that after only one false start, I have now found a beautiful one bedroom flat all for myself, with a private outside deck and small garden, a big kitchen, and even a view. The new suburb Northland is just up the hill from the parliament side of town, and it's great to be able to walk to town without the hassle of parking spaces or public transport. The best thing about the flat is that I am able to set aside a space for rehearsing and teaching (and painting), and even have parties over for harp gatherings and such - or friends who don't mind sleeping on the floor.

The other news is that I am not working at my old caregiver job any more – and although I do miss the kids, sometimes, otherwise there really is nothing to miss about that job. I have been busy job hunting for the last few weeks, and despite the very good effort that the folks at Work & Income New Zealand have made to keep me out of work, this week I started my new job as “Executive Team Assistant” for The Bridge Networks - a company selling high tech radio and tv transmission equipment. I'll let you know how it goes with my new incarnation as a corporate person in my next newsletter! Perhaps I'll even add a photo of me in a suit.

CURRENT PROJECTS & UPCOMING EVENTS

My next public appearance in my capacity as harpist was going to be in Wellington on 24 September, in a concert of Medieval Music by Machaut and his contemporaries (well - give or take a few hundred years). Unfortunately, I have just had to decide to cancel my participation due to, well, I suppose the polite phrase is “artistic differences with the director”. I had been looking forward to performing with one of my friends who is also involved in the project, but I guess I have come to a stage in my musical career where I am just not prepared any more to put up with someone who exploits his musicians under the pretext of community spirit and idealism and who combines bad manners with a total lack of professionalism. On the whole, this is probably a good thing, and aids in my current process of shedding some unneccesary baggage.
Apart from that, my musical projects currently are more long-term and less live-performance based, but I'll get round to planning my next set of concerts soon and will keep you posted.

In 2007, I will be offering evening classes in music appreciation, music history and music theory at Wellington High School Continuing Education – I also hope there will be an opportunity to start a Medieval Playgroup, a pipe dream of mine ever since I've moved to Wellington. So far, dates have not been determined – I'll pass on more details as they appear.

I have decided to become more proactive in furthering my future as a music and film critic and expert authority on contemporary New Zealand culture. To that end, I have recently launched a whole new section on my website, under the resounding name of Asni's Aotearoa. The section will contain reviews of concerts, gigs and art shows here in Wellington, as well as film reviews, largely of films that have been screening at the Wellington Film Festival. Of course I will make a point to publish my opinion on most New Zealand films that hit the big screen. So stay tuned!

I will also be appearing on Concert FM's lunchtime show Upbeat! on 28 September, to review one of the Recorder 2006 festival concerts here in Wellington. Tune in to hear my official New Zealand debut as a music critic! I promise to make it worth your while.

The last few weeks have seen me get busy as a web designer – I have been designing my good friend Pepe Becker's page, have a look, do! – This has led me to launch a new business venture Websites For Musicians – so if you need a site that fulfills all a musician's needs, let me know and we can talk about it!

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EUROPEAN TOUR

By now I am sure you are all dying to know how the European tour went. Well, I have to say, being invited to teach and perform at the Edinburgh Harp Festival was not only an honour and a privilege, it was also great fun! I am always astounded at the variety of different musical styles that harpists represent these days. Gone are the times when “harp” equalled a huge mechanical monster with too many pedals and “repertory” was mostly French post-impressionism.

Some of the other tutors, such as Breton harper Dominig Bouchaud, have long been stars in my harp firmament – others I had not heard of, but was fascinated by their work anyhow. One of the best things about the festival is that it seems to have fostered a really strong harp community in the city itself, and it was fascinating to sit in the on-campus pub after hours and hear all the young folks jamming along on their old Celtic tunes. Of the concerts – which were all marvellous – perhaps the one I was personally most impressed by was that by Alison Kinnaird and Gaelic singer Christine Primrose, whose singing style almost has an Eastern European sound to it.

For me, the greatest thing about the festival was to hang out with Columbian harpist Diego Laverde and finally get an opportunity to learn a thing or three about Latin American music. It made me realize just how similar the old Spanish harmonic patterns really are to contemporary Latin music – and Diego agreed to demonstrate this to my class as well. He also offered to chauffeur me around during the entire festival, which came in very handy indeed! Muchas gracias Diego.
The other personal highlight – and fulfilment of a long-standing wish - was to take lesson with a player of the African kora – Seiko Susso agreed to squeezed me in at the very end of the last day, and though we were both fairly exhausted from a week of full-on teaching and performing, we had a good jam session which he seemed to enjoy just as much as myself.

Unfortunately I had to rush back to Germany straight after the festival and never got a chance to see any of Edinburgh, or Scotland, or pay a visit to my old friend Bill Taylor's harp workshop up in Strathpeffer. But my next concert was at the Bachhaus Eisenach on Easter Saturday – a gig I was slightly apprehensive about since it was such a prestigious spot, and they had insisted on a more baroque focused programme, so I had to replace a few pieces at the last minute. But I should not have worried – playing in a room where the Bach family might have gathered for their Hausmusik was definitely inspiring, and so was the fact that the concert sold out.

In the meanwhile I had been coming down with a bad cold, which upset my travel plans a wee bit – but I got back on my feet just in time to drive down to Prague, where I was warmly welcomed by Lenka Mitasova, who had turned the fact that I had had to cancel my previous date last August into an advantage and organized a whole harp concert series this year – Six Faces of the Harp. The concerts take place in the beautiful but rather neglected baroque church at Chotec, on a hill in among the fields just outside Prague, and I think the idea is that they contribute to the conservation of this treasure of a church. The performance must have gone well, because I can't remember any of it – only a blur of beauty and festive atmosphere, but apparently in the course of the concert a thunderstorm came down, of which I have not the slightest recollection – indeed I was entirely surprised that when we left the church after the concert the day had turned from sunny to drenched!

The next day, I was teaching a class at the Collegium Marianum in Prague, in front of an enthusiastic audience for most of whom this was the first face to face encounter with a baroque harp. There is a strong early music scene in the Czech Republic – after all former Bohemia has always been famous for its musicians and has a harp tradition that is perhaps just as strong as the Celtic. After the class I was invited to attend a beautiful concert of medieval music with local ensemble Ritornello in another of those pretty baroque churches of which there seems to be an abundance in the area around Prague.

Now I had two weeks off and spent them at my old village in Bavaria, doing, for the most part, absolutely nothing – a rest that was badly needed after the pressures of preparing the tour, and the rather exhausting first few weeks. Then it was time to go to Sweden, where my friends Lia Lonnert and Eva-Lis Carlsson had been organizing a concert and harp course at the Medieval museum in Malmö, which features a reconstructed medieval kogg, a sailing ship. I got to perform *inside* the kogg which was a first both for me and for the ship. It turned out to be a really cool performance space, with water lapping background noises and slight floor movement as an added benefit.

Back in Berlin, I spent half a week rehearsing with Gaby Bultmann and preparing our “Rent a Nightingale Reloaded” concert, which alas! was very sparsely attended. But it was worth doing it just for the joy of performing with Gaby, and we came up with a harp and recorder version of my “Elvish hymn” which I liked so much that now I want to put it on my next cd.

The last two concerts of the tour took place near Bielefeld – I had played my very last two concerts in Germany before leaving for New Zealand at those same venues 3 years ago. This time it was “Travels in Middle Earth”, and I was extremely gratified to find that not only were both concerts crowded, but I also spotted Fellowship brooches and a One Ring in the first row, which makes me think that more people read my website than I ever believed, and that they like what they see, hear and read.

After an all too short excursion to my old hometown Bremen, and catching up with a bare minimum of very good old friends from my study days, it was back to Berlin and then to Bavaria again, where I spent the last few days of my stay in Europe, and finally got to climb what according to Maori traditions, I have decided to declare as “my mountain”.

MATARIKI

When I got back to New Zealand in early June, it was just in time for Matariki – the Maori New Year. Matariki is the Maori name for the constellation of the Pleiades – their reappearance above the horizon after disappearing for a short while from the Southern skies marks midwinter and the beginning of the new year. Te Papa, the national museum in Wellington, has been at the forefront of a recent initiative to giving the Matariki festival a bit more official recognition. After all, it is a festival that is native to New Zealand and in accordance with the local seasons, as opposed to all the imported European festivals. I do admit that I find Christmas at the beach a very appealing concept, and celebrating the summer solstice instead of the one in Midwinter probably tunes in with my Skandinavian roots. But Easter in Autumn? Thanksgiving in Spring? Now those are just plain wrong.

Since a few years, Te Papa has been running a two week Matariki festival, including various family activities and performances and a series of highly interesting lunchtime talks and discussions on all subjects Maori. This year the focus was on Maori arts and their contemporary development, from the preservation and, in some cases, reconstruction of traditional techniques and procedures to adopting modern techniques, concepts and ways of doing things. I was thrilled to learn that there are people engaged in not only building, but sailing reconstructions of traditional Polynesian waka (double hulled sea going canoes) all across the Pacific. Perhaps they will finally be able to convince the faint-hearted (or downright jealous) that yes, Polynesians were able to make it all the way to America long before Columbus ever boarded a ship.

Another talk was on the subject of storytelling – in film, tv and literature. The tension between oral tradition and modern literacy is a topic that interests me hugely, and it was a fascinating insight that people from a culture which has until fairly recently been entirely oral, might feel drawn to tv and film as media which are closer to their storytelling traditions than European style book literacy.

To round up this year's Matariki celebrations, Wellington City Council put on an open air concert at our new and completely remade Waitangi Park – formerly a bit of an inner city mudhole known as Chaffer's Park, now a very appealing area of artificial wetlands, playground, skateboarding area and neat little gravel walks. Open Air festivals are the thing to do in New Zealand during the long summer, but putting one on in the middle of winter, particularly in Wellington's notoriously Southerly gale force wind affected climate, betrayed a degree of foolhardiness.

Luckily the day of the event turned out to be a reasonably mild one. I had to move house that day, so I missed the Maori Volcanics – a showband which had been hugely successful in the 1970's and is currently having a bit of a comeback – and Whirimako Black, whose performance at Te Papa last year had impressed my deeply. But I managed to catch the tail end of Katchafire's set. The crowd which had assembled was not as huge as one could have expected for a free event like this, but whoever was there was determined to enjoy themselves despite the cold, and I suppose that it rather encouraged people to keep on skanking. The band was clearly used to higher degrees Celsius, as well as a better sound system, but as always the boys put on a show which gave credit to their consummate professionalism, as well as their enthusiasm and generosity towards their audiences. It was a perfect end to a day of hauling boxes into my new flat, and a perfect highlight to this year's Matariki festival.

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SHOP NEWS

I am currently working on making available some music downloads in my shop - as a trial, these will be some tracks from my yet-to-be-released cd Travels in Middle Earth. To get a taste, click here for excerpts from a live recording done at the Adam Concert Room, Victoria University Wellington, on 22 September 2005. I will notify the subscribers of this list once the download feature becomes available!

Plans are also underway to start selling photographic prints in my shop in the near future, I hope to be able to offer these before the end of the year.

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last updated: 22 September, 2006