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This special edition of Embrace. New Directions for Irish Harp features a handsewn booklet with closeup images of playing techniques, demonstrating the groundbreaking developments by Anne-Marie O’Farrell in this recording. It also includes links to related online material including a video performance of the opening track, and online articles about the repertoire. The stunning sleeve and case design is by Martin Gaffney.
This album reflects a long journey of exploration, following pathways and roads less travelled by myself or other harpists. That is the reason behind the journey, to embrace the unknown, pushing the Irish harp further and further away from its clichés, both new and old, and affirming its place on the concert platform. I’m absorbed by what happens when you turn a limitation – a lever on every string to make each semitone – into a highlight of its design, technique and repertoire. By exploiting this very feature, you can change the course of the its musical journey. Only then can the Irish harp, or lever harp as it is also known, provide a new home for pieces such as Bach’s Chaconne and Dowland’s Farewell, previously only ever heard on other instruments. Its expanded reservoir of music, newly indigenous to the Irish harp, encompasses pieces by Félix Godefroid and David Bremner, and works by Daniel McNulty, John Kinsella and Joan Trimble, commissioned by Sheila Larchet Cuthbert for her landmark publication The Irish Harp Book. My own compositions here also embrace a range of styles, techniques and traditions, further widened by the inclusion of arrangements and transcriptions from the classical pedal harp or Irish harp duet repertoire.
Integral to my development of music for Irish harp is my approach to its semitone levers, a simple lever mechanism for each string operated usually by the left hand to create semitones. While the levers are frequently considered an obstacle in the playing of more varied musical languages, I regard them instead as a means to achieving more instrumental colour. This has propelled me to explore new levering techniques, and to fully absorb them into my playing, composition, and transcription for Irish harp. Along the way, I’ve assisted Salvi harps, the world’s leading harpmakers, with lever design when they began making lever harps more suitable for concert performance. This in turn led to my exploiting even more fluid levering techniques, and to the advancement of levering notation in published sheet music, further expanding the canon of music the Irish harp now calls its own.
This recording was supported through funding from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media as administered via the Music Industry Stimulus Package 2020.