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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Tuesday, 07 January 2014 01:15

January 7, 2014 - Elizabeth Hainen, a highly regarded harp soloist and principal harpist for the Philadelphia Orchestra is also a “harp ambassador” whose nonprofit harp organization, the Lyra Society, helps kids of all ages and backgrounds experience her instrument. She performed for LiveConnections at our October 27, 2013, ClassicAlive concert, along with storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston. Here’s why she thinks it’s important to stretch the boundaries of her instrument:

Elizabeth HainenThe show you played with LiveConnections at partner venue World Cafe Live was much less formal than a typical concert hall — what appealed to you about playing in that kind of setting?
I’d been interested in playing in less formal venues for a few years. I think it’s really crucial for artists to explore a range of audiences, and that usually means you have to go different places. I’ve always loved playing house concerts in a salon setting. I like it when people are up close and can get more of an idea of what my instrument is and how it works. That makes it more interesting for everyone.

You collaborated with a quartet from the Orchestra, and with Charlotte Blake Alston, storyteller. How did you choose your repertoire?
This concert happened to coincide with my most recent CD being released, and since it was new music, I really wanted to perform from it. And one of the pieces — the Capulet “Mask of the Red Death” — was of course relevant to Halloween.

What type of composers or works appeal to you?
I like to pursue music that portrays the harp in a different way. I’ve commissioned a variety of works and done the U.S. premieres of some already commissioned works. Music that pushes the limits of how people think about my instrument really intrigues and challenges me.

As a result, you’ve earned a reputation as a harp ambassador. Why is that important to you?
I like to find audiences that maybe wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to the harp, which is why I started a nonprofit called the Lyra Society. I take my harp into schools and help more kids get exposed to the harp.They have a chance to see it played up close and also to play it and touch it. I think that’s a really important opportunity — to see that the harp isn’t just something that exists in movies. Trying to do something outside of my professional goals to enrich kids’ lives is very important to me.

Your parents are both music educators; how did that affect your music training as a child?
I started on violin and piano when I was 11. My dad would have me bring harp into the schools and I would play with my father, who is a violinist. (My mother is a singer.) There’s definitely a science of engaging the public in different ways, and that’s particularly true when it’s a student audience. The more informal setting of a LiveConnections concert is very different from what I grew up with. I either performed in church, school or a concert hall, so it’s fun to have this option to expose classical music in a different setting.

Your premiere as soloist of Tan Dun’s new piece for orchestra was extremely well received here in Philadelphia — what’s next for you?
I am so excited to accompany the orchestra on its China tour next spring to play the Tan Dun piece. That’s an amazing opportunity. I’ll also be performing in Australia and Spain — so that piece will actually be performed in three continents. I also had a CD come out on December 12th. It’s been an exciting time!

Curator’s Note from Mary Javian, ClassicAlive curator: I’ve known Elizabeth Hainen for the past 15 years through my connection to the Philadelphia Orchestra, and I have always been impressed by the range of her artistry. Liz, although having an orchestral position, is an extraordinary soloist. Her work in schools also inspires me and gives us another way to collaborate. When I learned about her idea to perform with storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston, I thought it was the perfect fit for this year’s ClassicAlive season, which focuses on innovative projects by solo artists. Liz’s performance included a variety of tremendous harp pieces, but the highlight was hearing Charlotte recite Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” and then Liz and her string quartet perform André Caplet’s music based on the story. It was inspiring and definitely a little creepy!  

LiveConnections is presenting four more ClassicAlive concerts this season. The next one is February 2 with cellist Gabriel Cabezas and dancer Chloe Felesina of BalletX. We hope you'll join us for more innovations and collaborations!


[Read PART 2 of the interview with Charlotte Blake Alston here.] 


[Images: Conrad Erb Photography]


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