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Welcoming Ensemble Cymru’s new principal harpist, Anne Denholm

Anne Denholm_credit Timothy Ellis
©Timothy Ellis

Ahead of Ensemble Cymru’s new season launch at the end of October, the Ensemble’s newly appointed principal harpist, Anne Denholm, gives us an insight into her role as Royal Harpist, her love of chamber music and how growing up in Wales helped nurture her ambitions to pursue the harp as a career.

Originally from Carmarthenshire in South West Wales and of Scottish heritage, Anne was first introduced to the idea of learning the harp at school as it was one of the instruments that her primary school offered as part of their instrumental lesson scheme – something which is “definitely more likely to happen in a Welsh school!” according to Anne.

As an eleven-year-old, Anne was a member of the National Children’s Orchestra and already beginning to consider a career in music. And by thirteen, she remembers that her mind was set on a musical career and she was, in her own words, “determined to give it my best shot!”

And this determination more than paid off. Anne went on to receive her Master’s from the Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in London with distinction, graduating with the Renata Scheffel-Stein Harp Prize, the Sir Reginald Thatcher prize and a Regency Award for notable achievement.

Anne soon began earning a reputation as one of the UK’s leading young harpists and it wasn’t long before she received the invitation to take up one of the highest profile positions in the country, as the Official Harpist to HRH The Prince of Wales.

06.07.15 - TRH Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall Evening Reception, Llwynywermod
©Gareth Everett

The post of Royal Harpist was reinstated in 2000 by HRH The Prince of Wales with three aims: to promote the harp as an instrument, to promote Welsh culture, and to support young artists. The process of being appointed Royal Harpist comprises nomination, application, audition and interview. In July 2015, Anne was appointed to the role and remembers feeling “incredibly honoured and elated”, before adding, “my first few months in the post were a time of great excitement and development.”

Amidst other duties, the role of Royal Harpist enables Anne to promote the harp to audiences and composers alike, something which she feels strongly about: “The harp community is greatly indebted to The Prince for reinstating this role that allows the harp to be known and experienced by a wider audience, and the post certainly helps to promote the harp in the world of classical music.”

Anne is passionate about taking classical music to the wider community. Since 2015, Anne has been performing under ‘Live Music Now’, an organisation that offers musical experiences and accessible concerts for everyone, including children and the elderly. Anne also works with ‘Bach to Baby’, a project specifically geared towards providing quality concerts to children of all ages.

bach-to-baby-2015_laura-ruiz_
Bach to Baby ©Laura Ruiz

It is fortunate, then, that Anne is principal harpist to Ensemble Cymru; a North Wales-based company that shares much of Anne’s spirit for sharing classical music with as wide an audience as possible. As part of Ensemble Cymru’s upcoming tour this October and November, Anne, along with another three ensemble members, will be taking chamber music to communities throughout Wales with performances in hospitals and schools, in addition to the main touring circuit of concert venues.

Not only does working with Ensemble Cymru ensure Anne continues her work taking music to communities, but it also helps to further promote the harp and its repertoire, a chance which Anne relishes:

“Any opportunity to include the harp in chamber music is a valuable chance to demonstrate the incredible versatility and power of this instrument”, said Anne. “It is fantastic that an established group such as Ensemble Cymru have decided to feature the harp in their programmes, and I am absolutely delighted to be a part of this initiative!”

Take a glance at Anne’s previous work projects and it’s clear to see she has a passion for chamber music, something which can be traced back to her upbringing in Wales where performances with other young musicians were a regular occurrence; “I was extremely lucky to be a part of a group of families who encouraged their children to play in small ensembles. From an early stage I played regularly with other people my age and we were also fortunate to be in the vicinity of excellent music festivals and competitions (such as the AFYM, Eisteddfodau and the Gwyl Cerdd Dant) where we could perform publicly and receive constructive feedback. I owe a great deal to these early formative experiences.” 

Anne for web
©Jerome Woodwark

It is with this enthusiasm for chamber music and the harp that Anne, alongside Artistic Director Peryn Clement-Evans, co-created the programmes for Ensemble Cymru’s 2016-2017 concerts. Staged in three parts, both the Autumn and Spring tours take a diverse approach to music for the harp. On the one hand, the company will be examining 20th century music for a variety of ensembles; on the other, the musicians have taken examples from the more traditional classical repertoire and arranged the works so that they include the harp. Paring CPE Bach with Dialogues by Welsh composer Mervyn Burtch, will surely demonstrate the range of capabilities and expression the harp has to offer.

Talking about co-curating the new season programme for Ensemble Cymru, Anne said, “Our goal was to show a variety of instrumental combinations featuring the harp (the Autumn programme is for harp and woodwind, and in May we explore the more traditional combination of flute, harp and viola), and to create programmes that are diverse, entertaining, and sometimes challenging – there is something for everyone!”

Ensemble Cymru’s new season launches at Pontio Bangor on 30th October followed by Neuadd Dwyfor Pwllhelli on October 31st, Capel Gad Cilcain on November 1st, The Ucheldre Centre Holyhead on November 2nd, Venue Cymru Llandudno on November 3rd and 5th, Galeri Caernarfon on November 4th and Aberystwyth Arts Centre on 27th November. See our events page for full details.

Anne is the first recipient of the Gaynor Cemlyn-Jones International Chair for Harp.